The official Glorious Mysteries are: 1) The Resurrection of the Lord, 2) The Ascension of the Lord, 3) The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples at Pentecost, 4) The Assumption of the B.V.Mary, and 5) The Coronation of the B.V.Mary. I've moved the last three to another set of mysteries, the Ecclesial Mysteries, which I will write about tomorrow. For the Revised Glorious Mysteries, we meditate on the post-Resurrection encounters that the Lord has with his followers--this gives us more time to meditate upon the wonder of the Resurrection, itself, just as we take five decades to meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Lord's Passion.
The first Glorious Mystery: The Spirit of the Lord Descends to the Dead:
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (1 Peter 3:18-20)
After our Lord breathed his last on the Cross, his ministry of reconciling people to the Father did not stop. In Spirit, he descended to the realm of the dead to fetch all the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Covenant and bring them into heaven. Among the number, traditionally, was listed none other than Adam and Eve. In an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, a wonderful preacher wrote a beautiful monologue for Christ as he speaks to Adam on this occasion. The conclusion of that homily states:
"Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."
In Matthew's Gospel, the result of Christ's descent to the dead is immediate. He writes: "Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:50-53)
The mysterious reading from 1 Peter quoted at the top, however, seems to imply that the Lord descended to the dead and proceeded to preach, even to those who did not die with the grace of hope in the Messiah, as did Abraham, Moses, and David. Was his preaching designed to convert those who really had little hope of true faith in their earthly lives, so that even those not in the Covenant in life might be brought into it in death? This is a mystery, as 1 Peter does not tell us the result of the Lord's preaching to the "souls in prison".
In this mystery, we celebrate the triumph of the Lord over the gates of death. He himself who was the gate to eternal life with the Father has opened himself, and now entreats the righteous elect to enter into their reward. As we think of their joy, we look forward to our own entrance into heaven.
The second Glorious Mystery: The Resurrected Lord Appears to St. Mary of Magdala:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:15-18)
If "something strange was happening" on Holy Saturday, as the ancient homily began, then something even more strange was happening on Easter Sunday. The Lord was physically raised from the dead, and not in the way of St. Lazarus, to die again in due course; but raised for good. His humanity was changed and made ready for eternity. The Resurrection was the final proof that sin and evil and death do not have the last word for human beings, and it confirms that human beings were intended to be immortal. As Wisdom states: "God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist...the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal" (1:13-14a, 14c-15). Fortunately, even though humans invited death into the world, God was ready to fight for us. As it is written in the Song of Songs: "for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave" (8:6b). Thanks be to God, Love won the fight!
In this mystery, we meditate not only on the above, but also on the fact that our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus comes down to us from people who actually encountered the Risen Lord,--people like St. Mary of Magdala. Mary was so distraught at the loss of the Lord and at the disappearance of his body, only to find that the one she came to anoint in death was actually more alive than she was! Immediately, Jesus gives her the vocation of spreading the news to others, thus making her the Apostle to the Apostles. Sometimes, when we sit and we think about the Resurrection, and we're filled with questions, maybe doubt, let us remember that people actually saw Jesus, and from that moment on, they would not stop proclaiming that he was alive.
The third Glorious Mystery: The Resurrected Lord Appears to the Two on the Road to Emmaus:
“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)
This whole encounter of the Risen Lord with the two on the Road to Emmaus points to the structure and meaning of the Holy Mass. Think of it, we have the Lord revealed in scripture, the Lord revealed in the Breaking of the Bread, and the Lord revealed in the gathering of the faithful--these are the three central realities of the Holy Mass. They are the ways in which the Risen Lord continues to be present to all of us, who have not seen, but who believe.
So in this mystery, we think of the ways in which the Risen Lord continues to reveal himself to us, through Word, through Sacrament, through Community.
The fourth Glorious Mystery: The Resurrected Lord Speaks to St. Peter by the Sea:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Peter said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God. After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 21:15-19)
As I have argued before, I think this is probably the most beautiful of all the passages of the New Testament. I say that, because St. Peter, unlike anyone else in the whole New Testament besides the Eternal Father, gets to say bluntly and clearly that he loves Jesus. I marvel, too, at the fact that the Risen Lord makes it clear that of all the Apostles, Peter loves him most--even more than the Beloved Disciple.
As beautiful as all that is, it isn't the heart of the scene. I think the heart of this interchange between the Lord and St. Peter is the reminder to Peter that he has been entrusted with the care of the Church. Three times he is asked to confirm his love for the Lord, and three times he is reminded that that love has to play out in the shepherding of Christ's flock. For Catholic Christians, this passage will be another confirmation that, indeed, Peter was first among the Apostles--or as we would say, he was the first "pope".
This is important to meditate upon, because as we meditated upon in the last mystery, Christ left us with several ways to encounter him: Word, Sacrament, and Community. Here is a fourth: Vicar. In the person of the pope, the Vicar of Christ, we encounter Christ's leadership presence among us. It's funny, I think, in some other Christian communities non-Catholic Christians want there to be a great chasm between us and God, but Catholic Christians reject this view. The Incarnation itself is a marriage between humanity and divinity. By the Word's elevation of humanity into divinity, we humans are invited to share in God's divine life. Through Sacraments, divine power works in us to communicate grace. Through human words in scripture, God speaks to us. And through ordinary men like the pope, we encounter the man-God, Jesus Christ.
"Whoever receives you, receives me," said the Lord (Matt 10:40), and just as the Son was in the Father, and the Father in the Son (John 17:20), so we are united to God in Christ, and Christ is united to us--including the pope--not in some theoretical way, but in a real way. Catholics actually believe that we are members of the Body of Christ, and so we meditate upon this mystery, and especially on the office of the papacy, and its institution from Christ as a way for him to be present among us in the person of the pope, the successor to St. Peter.
The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Lord Jesus Ascends to the Father:
“So when they had come together, the disciples asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:6-11)
In a way, the Ascension is the strangest of all the events in the life of Jesus if someone were to try and predict what God would do next. As the disciples in the quote above, we might have hoped and anticipated that the Risen Lord would now make his move and take over all the world. Nothing could stop him, since even death could not hold him. He could conquer Rome, free Israel, and sit on his throne as divine King of all the earth. But Jesus does not do that. His rule, again, is not in the way the Jews had trained themselves to think when they imagined the Messiah. God was not quite how they had pictured him. To show them this, he does something extraordinary: he makes his exit.
Before leaving, however, he gives his followers a great task to accomplish. They are to go all around the world and preach about what they had seen. This, it turns out--not the reestablishment of the old priesthood, the old monarchy, the old prophetic ministry--was the mission of the Messiah. The Good News beginning from Judaism, turning into Christianity, was that God was Loving and Merciful, and he had shown that love in giving his own Son for the life of sinners. God's rule was a rule of love. God's love extended beyond the Chosen People of the Covenant, to all the people of the world. In fact, he had chosen the Jews for the sake of the world. Now, those witnesses of his saving work were called to spread the news.
More than that, where they went, he would be. What people love to imagine happening magically or supernaturally, God accomplishes on a very ordinary, human level--by word of mouth.
Thus, we meditate on the mystery of Jesus' ascent into heaven, and what that might mean; but we also meditate on the mystery of Jesus' continued presence on earth in us, and in the preaching of the Good News. How have we lived up to our Christian call to spread the word about salvation?
Br. Paul, OP~