If you've learned how to properly pray the Rosary, and even if you haven't, you've probably heard of the "Mysteries". How "mysterious"! I'd like to help you get a frame of reference for each of the mysteries, using Scripture and/or Tradition.
The first set of mysteries that chronicle the life of Jesus are the Joyful Mysteries. If you pray a daily Rosary, these are the meditations for Monday and Saturday, and they refer to the infancy and childhood of Jesus.
The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation.
The Annunciation is one of those "A" events that confuse many Catholics. Just remember that the "Annunciation" is an "announcement", and it was given to Mary! The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary, and tells her that she has found favor with God, and will bear a son. Read about the event in Scripture - it's the best place to go!
We find the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38 (i.e., the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26-38):
26. In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27. to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29. But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33. and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34. But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
35. And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37. for nothing will be impossible for God.”
38. Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
- Mary has found favor with God - enough so that she was chosen to bear His only begotten Son.
- Mary's response: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” God's Will, not ours - always!
The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation
The visitation refers to Mary leaving her home for several months and visiting her relative, commonly accepted as her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were older, and had no children, as Elizabeth was barren. Read the story of the Angel Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will bear a son (John the Baptist) in Luke 1:5-25. When Mary visits Elizabeth, who is now six months pregnant, the infant John leaps for joy in his mother's womb.
The story of the Visitation is found at Luke 1:39-56:
39. During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40. where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42. cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?44. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
46. And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
47. my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
48. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
49. The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
51. He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
52. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
53. The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
54. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
55. according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56. Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
- Elizabeth calls Mary the "Mother of my Lord". Jesus is God and King!
- Mary's Magnificat, the whole thing!
Note that the first half of the "Hail Mary" is found in these two mysteries:
"Hail, Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you!" - from the Angel Gabriel's words to Mary.
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" - from Elizabeth's words to Mary.
The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity of Our Lord
You're probably familiar with this Scripture. It's the Christmas Story. Linus recites this in the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special. Joseph is bringing Mary, his betrothed, to Bethlehem to be registered in a census. Mary's time of confinement arrives, and there is no room at the inn. They take refuge in what would be our equivalent of a barn. Jesus is born, and angelic beings tell the shepherds that the Messiah has been born.
The Nativity can be found in Luke 2:1-21:
1. In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5. to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7. and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.12. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” 13. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
14. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15. When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16. So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 17. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 19. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
20. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
21. When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
- Jesus, the Son of God, was born in the most humble of surroundings.
- God chose the lowly shepherds as the first to see their Messiah.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Like every good Jewish family of the time, Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord. Simeon is in the temple, and recognizes the infant Jesus as the Messiah.
The Presentation is found in Luke 2:22-40:
22. When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23. just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24. and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
25. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. 26. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 28. he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
29. “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
30. for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31. which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
32. a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
33. The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34. and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35. (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” 36. There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37. and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
39. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
- The Canticle of Simeon - all of it.
- Simeon blesses Joseph and Mary, but prophesies to Mary alone that a sword will pierce her (symbolically).
The Fifth Joyful Mystery: Finding the Boy Jesus in the Temple
Jesus traveled with his family to Jerusalem for Passover. A day after the caravan left to return home, Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus is not among the group. They return to Jerusalem, and find him, after three days of searching, amongst the teachers in the temple.
Finding the Boy Jesus in the Temple can be found in Luke 2:41-52:
41. Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42. and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.43. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,45. but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47. and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. 48. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” 49. And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50. But they did not understand what he said to them. 51. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
- Jesus is twelve years old at the time of this event. In the Jewish tradition, he is a man, and is no longer obligated to obey his parents.
- Jesus, in his father's house (the temple), is having a theological discussion with the rabbies themselves, and is astonishing in his depth of knowledge and understanding of the Lord.
These are the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. This portion of the Gospel according to Luke, from chapter 1 verse 5 through chapter 2 in it's entirety, is often referred to as "The Infancy Narrative", The more familiar you are with the events, and the scripture describing them, the easier it will be to meditate on them and to pray the Rosary.