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Pope gives rosary 5 new mysteries

Thursday, October 17, 2002

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sister Mary Ann Walsh prays the rosary to avert road rage.

Pope John Paul II has called for a renewal of the rosary as a meditation on the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of his mother, Mary. (M. Spencer Green, Associated Press)

"I can't utter certain comments and, at the same time utter the Hail Mary," said the spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Now, with Pope John Paul II urging Catholics to add five more events from the life of Jesus to the mysteries they ponder as they work their rosary beads, "that's an extra eight minutes" of good behavior on the road, she said.

In an apostolic letter John Paul has called for a renewal of the rosary as a meditation on the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of his mother, Mary. While the rosary was once associated with Cold War prayers for the fall of communism, he now asks that it be offered as a prayer for Middle East peace. He proclaims the next 12 months the Year of the Rosary.

But most attention has focused on his call to add five meditations on events -- mysteries -- from Jesus' ministry: his baptism, his first miracle, his proclamation of the kingdom of God, his Transfiguration and his institution of the Eucharist.

The rosary is a series of prayers that are said while meditating on events from the lives of Jesus and Mary. The current meditations are divided into the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, each one consisting of five mysteries. The new set, called the luminous mysteries, would raise the total to 20.

The recitation of the rosary starts with the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, three Hail Marys and a Glory Be to the Father. Then come five decades, each devoted to a mystery. Each decade includes a Lord's Prayer, 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be to the Father.

Catholics use a rosary, a string of beads, to help them keep track of the prayers.

Traditionally, believers meditate on the joyful mysteries on Mondays and Thursdays; the sorrowful mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays; and the glorious mysteries on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The pope's letter asks Catholics to contemplate the new mysteries on Thursdays and the joyful mysteries on Mondays and Saturdays.

Dr. Joseph Nawrocki, 42, an oral surgeon from Canonsburg, said his family would try to make the change when he and his wife pray with their seven children.

"Certainly those mysteries he's proposing are a meaty portion of Christ's life that got left out of the mysteries as they are now. It's logical. It will just take a little getting used to," he said.

Although it will take time to prepare religion teachers, the Rev. Kris Stubna, education secretary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, expects that local children will soon learn 20 mysteries.

"We plan on running with it," Stubna said.

The rosary has been enjoying a revival. Locally, when Bishop Donald Wuerl recorded the rosary in 1990 the tapes sold so quickly that one secular music store stamped them with bright pink "hot" stickers, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The rosary took shape in the 1300s and 1400s. Not until the 1500s and 1600s did the mysteries of the rosary become fixed on the childhood and last days of Christ.

"Suggesting new mysteries to cover more of the life of Christ is nothing new," Thompson said.

For instance, in 1973 the U.S. bishops wrote a letter in which they urged Catholics to feel free to incorporate other images of Christ's life into their recitation of the rosary.

Even though most prayers in the rosary are directed to Mary, John Paul stresses that it is a meditation on Jesus. The letter echoes his earlier teaching that Mary was Jesus' first and most faithful disciple, who can help all Christians follow him.

"This role of Mary, totally grounded in that of Christ and radically subordinated to it, 'in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power,'" he wrote, quoting a central document of Vatican II.

He noted that many Catholics have been drawn to non-Christian meditation techniques, and suggests that this is because they have never been taught the right way to pray the rosary.

"It is a method based on repetition. . . If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them," he wrote.

He urges priests and youth ministers to teach the rosary to the young.

That has happened at Mount Alvernia High School in Millvale, where administrative assistant Sharyan Borgen has organized a group of students who have made more than 2,000 rosaries over the past three years. They send them to missionaries and soldiers.

"I had a girl last year who made 120 on her own. . . Once they get started they get hooked," Borgen said.

Five years ago Kim Anderson, 45, of Upper St. Clair, organized mothers to pray the rosary for students and teachers at St. Thomas More School in Bethel Park. It was only supposed to meet for a month, but the women didn't want to stop.

"It's such a peaceful thing. It puts you in that frame of mind. It calms you down and settles you," she said.

Adding five mysteries is something to look forward to, she said.

"I can't wait to get a hold of them and start praying them."

John Paul's letter is not an edict but an exhortation. Catholics are not required to pray the rosary, they do not have to add these mysteries, and some do not intend to.

Ginny Cunningham, 59, of Morningside learned to pray the rosary as a child. She is a liberal Catholic who prefers her rosary traditional.

"At this point in my life as an adult, I'm not going to give a thought to learning any more. I like what I grew up with, and that's enough," she said.

To read the pope's letter go to www.vatican.va, click on "English" and then on "Rosarium Virginis Mariae."

Ann Rodgers-Melnick can be reached at arodgersmelnick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.

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