Meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

 

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are the second of the three traditional sets of events in the life of Christ upon which Catholics meditate while praying the rosary. The other two are the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. A fourth set, the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary was introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002 as an optional devotion.

The Sorrowful Mysteries cover the events of Holy Thursday, after the Last Supper, through the Crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. Each mystery is associated with a particular fruit, or virtue, which is illustrated by the actions of Christ and Mary in the event commemorated by that mystery. While meditating on the mysteries, Catholics also pray for those fruits or virtues.

Catholics meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries while praying the rosary on Tuesday and Friday, as well as on the Sundays of Lent.

Each of the following pages features a brief discussion of one of the Sorrowful Mysteries, the fruit of virtue associated with it, and a short meditation on the mystery. The meditations are simply meant as an aid to contemplation; they do not need to be read while praying the rosary. As you pray the rosary more often, you will develop your own meditations on each mystery.

01
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The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

Stained-glass of the Agony in the Garden in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Agony in the Garden in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Agony in the Garden, when Christ, having celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples on Holy Thursday, goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to prepare for His Sacrifice on Good Friday. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Agony in the Garden is acceptance of God's Will . ​

"My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, kneels before His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows what is coming—the pain, both physical and spiritual, that He will suffer over the next several hours. And He knows that it is all necessary, that it has been necessary ever since Adam followed Eve down the path of temptation. "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting" (John 3:16).

And yet He is truly Man, as well as truly God. He does not desire His own death, not because His Divine Will is not the same as His Father's, but because His human will desire to preserve life, as all men do. But in these moments in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Christ prays so intensely that His sweat is like drops of blood, His human will, and His Divine Will are in perfect harmony.

Seeing Christ in this way, our own lives come into focus. By uniting ourselves to Christ through faith and the sacraments, by placing ourselves inside His Body the Church, we too can accept God's Will. "Not as I will, but as thou wilt": Those words of Christ must become our words, too.

02
of 05

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

Stained-glass of Scourging at the Pillar, St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Scourging at the Pillar in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Second Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Scourging at the Pillar when Pilate orders our Lord to be whipped in preparation for His Crucifixion. The spiritual fruit most commonly associated with the mystery of the Scourging at the Pillar is mortification of the senses.

"Then therefore, Pilate took Jesus and scourged him" (John 19:1).

Forty lashes, it was commonly believed, were all that a man could stand before his body would give out; and so 39 lashes was the gravest punishment that could be imposed, short of death. But the Man standing at this pillar, arms embracing His Destiny, hands bound on the other side, is no ordinary man. As the Son of God, Christ suffers each blow not less than another man would, but more, because each stinging lash is accompanied by the memory of the sins of mankind, which led to this moment.

How Christ's Sacred Heart aches as He sees your sins and mine, flashing like the glint of the rising sun off the metal ends of the cat o' nine tails. The pains in His Flesh, as intense as they are, pale in comparison with the pain in His Sacred Heart.

Christ stands prepared to die for us, to suffer the agony of the Cross, yet we continue to sin out of love of our own flesh. Gluttony, lust, sloth: These deadly sins arise from the flesh, but they take hold only when our souls give in to them. But we can mortify our senses and tame our flesh if we keep Christ's Scourging at the Pillar before our eyes, as our sins are before His at this moment.

03
of 05

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning With Thorns

Stained-glass of the Crowning With Thorns, St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Crowning With Thorns in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Third Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Crowning With Thorns, when Pilate, having reluctantly decided to proceed with Christ's Crucifixion, allows his men to humiliate the Lord of the Universe. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Crowning With Thorns is contempt of the world.

"And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, king of the Jews" (Matthew 27:29).

Pilate's men think this is a great sport: This Jew has been turned over to the Roman authorities by His own people; His disciples have fled; He will not even speak in His own defense. Betrayed, unloved, unwilling to fight back, Christ makes the perfect target for men who wish to work out the frustrations of their own lives.

They dressed Him in purple robes, place a reed in His hand as if it were a scepter, and drive deep into His head a crown of thorns. As the Sacred Blood mingles with the dirt and sweat on Christ's face, they spit in His eyes and strike His cheeks, all the while pretending to offer Him homage.

The regalia with which the centurions adorn Christ represents the honors of this world, which pale before the glories of the next. Christ's Lordship is not based on the robes and scepters and crowns of this world, but on His acceptance of His Father's Will. The honors of this world mean nothing; the love of God is all.

04
of 05

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Way of the Cross

Stained-glass of the Way of the Cross in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Way of the Cross in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Way of the Cross when Christ walks the streets of Jerusalem on His way to Calvary. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Way of the Cross is patience.

"But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me" (Luke 23:28).

His sacred feet shuffle through the dust and stone of the streets of Jerusalem, His body bowed under the weight of the Cross, while Christ walks the longest walk ever made by man. At the end of that walk stands Mount Calvary, Golgotha, the place of skulls, where, tradition says, Adam lies buried. The first man's sin, which brought death into the world, draws the New Man to His Death, which will bring life to the world.

The women of Jerusalem weep for Him because they do not know how the story will end. But Christ knows, and He urges them not to weep. There will be tears enough to cry in the future, when the final days of the earth approach, for when the Son of Man returns,

"shall he find, think you, faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).

Christ knows what awaits Him, yet He moves ever forward. This is the walk He was preparing for 33 years earlier when the Blessed Virgin held His tiny hands and He took His first steps. His entire life has been marked by the patient acceptance of His Father's Will, the slow but steady climb toward Jerusalem, toward Calvary, toward the death that brings us life.

And as He passes before us here on the streets of Jerusalem, we see how patiently He bears His Cross, so much heavier than ours because it bears the sins of the entire world, and we wonder at our own impatience, at how quickly we set aside our own cross each time we fall.

"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

In patience, let us heed His words.

05
of 05

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

Stained-glass of the Crucifixion in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Crucifixion in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary is the Crucifixion when Christ died on the Cross for the sins of all mankind. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Crucifixion is forgiveness.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

The Way of the Cross is at an end. Christ, the King of the Universe and the Savior of the world, hangs bruised and bloodied upon the Cross. But the indignities that He has suffered since His betrayal at the hands of Judas are not yet at an end. Even now, as His Sacred Blood works the salvation of the world, the crowd taunts Him in His agony (Matthew 27:39-43):

And they that passed by, blasphemed him, wagging their heads, And saying: Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it: save thy own self: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, mocking, said: He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him now deliver him if he will have him; for he said: I am the Son of God.

He is dying for their sins, and for ours, and yet they—and we—cannot see it. Their eyes are blinded by hatred; ours, by the attractions of the world. Their gaze is fixed on the Lover of Mankind, but they cannot get past the dirt and the sweat and the blood that stains His body. They have something of an excuse: They do not know how the story will end.

Our gaze, however, too often wanders away from the Cross, and we have no excuse. We know what He has done, and that He has done it for us. We know that His Death has brought us new life, if only we unite ourselves to Christ on the Cross. And yet, day after day, we turn away.

And still, He looks down from the Cross, on them and on us, not in anger but in compassion: "Father, forgive them." Were sweeter words ever spoken? If He can forgive them, and us, for what we have done, how can we ever withhold forgiveness from those who have done us wrong?