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Pope to add five new mysteries to rosary

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The rosary is a powerful prayer for peace, for families and for contemplating the mysteries of Christ's life, Pope John Paul II said in a new apostolic letter.

While praising those who regularly pray the rosary in its traditional form, the pope also encouraged the addition of five "mysteries of light" -- moments from Jesus' public ministry -- to further underline the rosary's focus on Christ.

Pope John Paul marked the 24th anniversary of his election Oct. 16 by signing the apostolic letter, "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" ("The Rosary of the Virgin Mary"), during his weekly general audience.

The pope declared a Year of the Rosary through next October, asking everyone to recite it frequently, lovingly and with the knowledge that its prayers link them with Mary and lead them to Jesus.

He suggested the five new mysteries be:

-- Christ's baptism in the Jordan.
-- "His self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana."
-- "His proclamation of the kingdom of God with his call to conversion."
-- His Transfiguration.
-- His institution of the Eucharist.

Pope John Paul also shared his own special affection for the Marian prayer and offered suggestions for how people can pray the rosary better.

"The rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty," he wrote. "In it I have always found comfort."

Just two weeks after his election to the papacy in 1978, he said, "I frankly admitted: 'The rosary is my favorite prayer.'"

And, he said, "thinking back over the difficulties which have also been part of my exercise of the Petrine ministry, I feel the need to say once more, as a warm invitation to everyone to experience it personally: The rosary does indeed 'mark the rhythm of human life,' bringing it into harmony with the 'rhythm' of God's own life."

The pope asked everyone's help in countering "a certain crisis of the rosary" marked by a failure to teach the prayer to children and by a suspicion -- supported by some theologians -- that it is outdated, superstitious or anti-ecumenical.

Especially after "the terrifying attacks" of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the revival of the rosary can be a valuable part of Catholics' efforts for peace.

Pope John Paul said the rosary has "a peaceful effect on those who pray it," it leads them to see the face of Christ in others, to recognize other's grief and suffering and to yearn to make the world "more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God's plan."

"Today I willingly entrust to the power of this prayer ... the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family," he wrote.

The rosary, he said, is and always has been a prayer of and for the family.

Reciting the rosary draws families together with the Holy Family, bringing their hopes and concerns to God and focusing their attention on images from the life of Christ, rather than from television, he said.

Focusing on the practical, Pope John Paul said that while reciting the rosary involves repetition its goal is contemplation and concentration, not boredom.

First, he said, the beads must not be seen as "some kind of amulet or magical object," but as a means of marking "the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection."

The beads also can "remind us of our many relationships (and) of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us with Christ."

The mysteries, while not a substitute for Bible reading, should draw the mind to Christ and to other events in his life, the pope said. Some people may find it helpful to have a picture or icon of the biblical scene of each mystery or, at least, to picture the scene in their minds.

Pope John Paul also suggested people read a Scripture passage related to each mystery, not as a way of recalling information "but of allowing God to speak."

Too often when reciting the rosary, he said, people forget that an essential part of contemplative prayer is silence; reciting the rosary alone or with a group of people, it is appropriate to pause silently after the reading of each mystery.

While the 10 Hail Marys of each decade are "the most substantial element" in the rosary, the pope asked people to pay more attention to the recitation of the Our Father and the Glory Be to the Father, prayers that draw people to God the Father and to the Trinity.

He suggested that when the rosary is recited in a group the Glory Be could be sung "as a way of giving proper emphasis to the essentially Trinitarian structure of all Christian prayer."

Pope John Paul also asked people to stop and look at the crucifix on their rosaries.

"The life and prayer of believers is centered upon Christ," he wrote. Like the rosary, "everything begins from him, everything leads toward him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father."

The rosary is flexible, he said. Special prayer intentions can be recited after each mystery; parts can be sung; different age groups, cultures or ethnic groups might choose a different concluding Marian prayer or hymn.

Especially when looking for ways to bring the rosary alive for children, adaptations are possible, he said: "Why not try it?"

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