ASK FATHER: Only the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent?

Combat Rosary right to bear armsFrom a reader…


Someone told me that during the Lenten season, every day one would pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. True?

The wonderful, indulgence-laden prayer of the Most Holy Rosary is prayed in different ways in different places. There are variations from country to country, ethnic group … community… etc. The most important element that they have in common is that they all PRAY the Rosary, however it is done. We don’t have to force unity in the matter of these devotions.

Keep in mind also that the sets of mysteries themselves – while not exactly arbitrary – are, well, a bit arbitrary.  We have the sets of Mysteries which have developed over the centuries.  Their number developed to parallel the number of the Pslams (150).  The Rosary was for a time seen as a substitution for the Psalms.  Our Lady of Fatima asked the recitation of “one third” of the Rosary (150/3=50 “Aves”).  The introduction by John Paul II of another set of Mysteries (the Luminous) goofed that up a little.  (When the Luminous were issued, some people freaked out because one third became 66.6 “Aves”.. get it?  666?  Get it?)  You are not obliged to use the Luminous Mysteries.  You aren’t obliged to use the other sets of the Mysteries either, strictly speaking.  The requirements to fulfill the work of an indulgence, however, ask for the recitation of the prayer along with pia mysteriorum meditatio… pious meditation of the mysteries.  The Enchiridion doesn’t specify the mysteries, or the day they are pondered.   Local devotion takes care of that.   So, were you on a Friday of Lent to meditate, while saying your beads, instead of the standard Sorrowful Mysteries, upon l. The Lord’s Betrayal by Judas 2. The Mocking by the Soldiers 3. The Help of the Cyrenian 4. The Last Breath 5. The Piercing of His Side… would you have said the Rosary. Sure.  Would you get the indulgence?  Probably.   For my part, I don’t see many good reasons to change anything.  But, hey, someone might slip and use one of the Stations of the Cross in place of a Mystery.

So… if you really wanted to meditate for the entire year on just the Joyful Mysteries… go for it.

You can pray which ever of the sets of Mysteries that it occurs to you to pray. Yes, there is an order which seems to have become standard, to the point of being called the “traditional” order. That order makes sense. It is time tested. It works. Hence, it makes sense to pray the sorrowful Mysteries on Friday, because the Lord’s Passion occurred on Friday. Since every Sunday is a “little Easter”, it makes sense to pray the Glorious Mysteries. Given a couple fixed points, and having the desire to play all the mysteries regularly, the order developed. It might make sense to someone to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on a Sunday of Lent. Fine. Even every day during Lent. Fine.

That said, I find it consoling to think that so many other people are praying using the same Mysteries that I am, and that this is relatively predictable.

The paramount thing is that you pray the Rosary with attention and devotion.

And please reserve a couple of the beads for me.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. kentghare says:

    For what it’s worth, this convert in the 1980s learned the order a little different: Monday and Thursday, Joyful; Tuesday and Friday, Sorrowful; Wednesday and Saturday, Glorious; Sunday according to the season, e.g. Advent-Christmas, Joyful; Lent-Sorrowful; Easter-Ordinary Time, Glorious.
    I know there is an explicit recommended order for including the Luminous Mysteries: Mon&Sat, Joyful; Tues&Fri, Sorrowful; Thurs, Luminous; and Wed&Sun, Glorious, but what I generally do is just slide the Luminous Mysteries in for Thursday and adhere to the previous sequence otherwise.

  2. Chiara says:

    I have never heard about only praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary during Lent. One of my New Years resolutions was to pray a Rosary every day, and so far, so good. It is a really good way to slow yourself down and focus on the Gospel, which is what the Mysteries are meant to bring to mind. Our Lady always seems to have time to listen to us, and Jesus, who is the most perfect Son ever, listens to her. So the Rosary is really something very special to me.

    I really love the Luminous Mysteries. Until you mentioned it, Father, it never occurred to me about the number of Hail Marys. Personally, I have always thought the Luminous Mysteries are good to pray when remembering our pastors and parish priests. These Mysteries (Baptism of Our Lord, Wedding Feast at Cana, Proclamation of the Gospel, Transfiguration, and Institution of the Eucharist) seem to me to highlight the ministries of our good priests, who bring us the Holy Sacraments. So I make a point of dedicating my Thursday Rosary for the spiritual, mental, and physical health and protection of my pastor, parochial vicar, our most recent bishop, and our Bishop Administrator (I am from the Cleveland Diocese – our Bishop Lennon retired for health reasons and Bishop Thomas from Toledo is taking care of us in the interim until we get a new bishop – the Church never leaves any of us orphans!) I will remember you, too, Father Z, this Thursday.

    Anyway, thank you for the very interesting post on something that is dear to me. God’s peace and best blessings to all here – Susan, ofs

  3. frmh says:

    In these dark days I think we should all be aiming to do the full twenty. Five just ain’t enough these days. Throw out the TV, turn off Youtube and pick up those beads. Priests I am speaking to you first and foremost.

  4. Sword40 says:

    I do my best to say all three of the Traditional mysteries everyday, especially during Lent. And I follow the traditional Sunday’s of Advent and Lent saying the Sorrowful mysteries.

    I cannot bring myself to use the Luminous mysteries.

    Great comments, Father Z, on the Rosary

  5. John Grammaticus says:

    I don’t know about other readers but I don’t see any point in changing the mysteries during lent or advent.

  6. Michelle F says:

    While I was doing research a year or so ago on the names of the Mysteries in Latin, I came across the same instructions for praying the Rosary in Lent as did the reader who asked the question: the Sorrowful Mysteries are said on Tuesdays and Fridays, and daily from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

    I can’t remember the source, but I was looking at old Missals and Latin textbooks in Google Books while I was working on that project. Everything I looked at dated from the 1850s to the 1920s, so this way of praying the Rosary during Lent has a valid history behind it.

    I decided to do only the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent this year, and it does add more solemnity to the season because it is not the “normal” way of praying the Rosary.

  7. anilwang says:

    For the record, my parish also focuses on the sorrowful mysteries during lent and glorious mysteries during easter season, so I like to mentally combine the standard mysteries with the seasonal mysteries. They go together surprisingly well. For instance, if you focus just on the 5th mystery, they would be the crowning of Mary and the death of Jesus, the death of Christ and the Eucharist/last supper, the finding of Jesus and the death of Christ.

  8. TWF says:

    For several years now, I have tended to pray the Rosary according to the liturgical calendar (or at least my personal interpretation thereof). All things being equal, I follow the standard Sunday through Saturday arrangement…but I make exceptions for special feasts and liturgical seasons. During Advent and Christmas seasons I exclusively pray the Joyful Mysteries. During Lent, I exclusively pray the Sorrowful mysteries. During the Easter season, I exclusively pray the Glorious Mysteries. On the Feast of the Assumption, no matter what day it is, I pray the Glorious Mysteries. On the feast of the Annunciation, no matter what day it is, I pray the Joyful Mysteries. On the feast of the Lord’s baptism or His transfiguration or on Corpus Christi, I pray the Luminous Mysteries. Etc.

  9. jfk03 says:

    I am an Eastern Catholic. I pray the Rosary daily even though it is not a traditional Eastern devotion. I also say the Jesus prayer using the Komboskini (prayer rope). I particularly love the Luminous mysteries because they tie into Eastern mysticism, particularly the Theophany (Baptism in Jordan), thenproclamation of the Kingdom (it is central to the Gospels), and the Transfiguration (the Lord’s manifestation of His Kingdom in glory).

    I recite a scripture verse before each Ave, and a psalm before each decade. It takes about 40 minutes to pray the Rosary this way. The rosary connects me to the Lord, His blessed mother, and the saints in the mystical body of Christ.

  10. Geoffrey says:

    I have prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries daily during Lent for years. I read it somewhere but cannot remember where. Outside of Lent, I follow St John Paul the Great’s “revised” schedule, though I might pray the Joyful Mysteries daily during the Octave of Christmas and the Glorious Mysteries daily during the Octave of Easter.

    I love the Luminous Mysteries. I never heard of the 66.6 / 666 thing before, but I have heard arch-traditionalists complain that the Holy Father changed something that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself gave to St Dominic (even though there is no historical evidence to that effect). I have a feeling that given St John Paul the Great’s strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, she would have been “okay” with the optional addition!

  11. Sliwka says:

    Convert here, coming on 9th anniversary this Easter, and my 2 cents are thus: This is what my wife and I are doing as a couple this Lent because this is how I first read about doing the Holy Rosary without the Mysteries of Light. I am pretty sure it was fisheaters where I saw schema. During Advent/Christmas we did one Joyful Mystery every day for 5 weeks with the little ones so the three year old could learn them. Doing Sorrowful for Lent, Glorious during Easter.

    When people ask why I lean traditional I tell them that I went through RCIA but was formed prior to that by fisheaters.

    I lament, but sadly see the need for what I and my colleagues call “textbook culture”. (We work at a museum that deals in history and culture.) because of an intentional forgetting there is a whole break with the regular way tradition and culture has been handed on in Catholicism and so people who want to recapture it, or at least to incorporate some into their lives have to rely on textbook-like resources to follow. These then become like “rule books” a person can use to enforce a “real way” Catholics, or Ukrainians, or Irish, or Germans, or So-and-so celebrates or practises any sort of culture.

    An example I’m currently working on is what “Ukrainians” put in their Easter basket to be blessed. There are all sorts of standard lists online, but every family we represent at our museum is different and none match the textbook lists found on the web. Are they wrong, no they we just real people who passed their traditions and adapted their traditions as best they could. If someone wants to start now I see the value of textbook culture, but zealous new practitioners can miss that these traditions can and do change or are actual particular to one or two villages that then get generalized.

  12. TWF says:

    Yes, while I have no doubt that Our Lady inspired the development of the Rosary, I think it most likely that it organically evolved over time to take its current “Dominican” form. In the East there is the little known Prayer Rule of the Theotokos, which pre-dates the Dominican Rosary by centuries, and has surprising parallels…

  13. stephen c says:

    I once read (while standing in a store of the Sisters of Saint Paul and browsing books, so I have no idea exactly where) that Saint John Paul rejected the assertion that he had “changed” anything about the Rosary, and stated that he had only passed along a beautiful new way to pray the Rosary that he had, in turn, learned from one of the great saints of the 20th century. (More precisely, from another great saint of the 20th century, but he did not know that at the time….) And in John Paul’s defense, those who still pray the Rosary in the way suggested in the years before we had heard about the Luminous Mysteries – which John Paul did not impose, but merely suggested – are still praying along with the people who prayed them all those years ago. Yesterday and today and tomorrow are all equal in the sight of God, et cetera. I too like to pray along with everybody else, so the idea of a suggested schedule is nice, but I have never once heard that the former schedule (without the Luminous Mysteries) or the new schedule (with the Luminous Mysteries) was more than a suggestion (leaving aside the question of indulgences, which I am not at all competent to have an opinion about). I will have to think about joining in with those people who pray the Sorrowful Mysteries every day in Lent (although I couldn’t pray Only the Sorrowful Mysteries – Jesus had lots of good times in his last 40 days of life….) Anyway, I enjoyed reading the alternate mysteries Father Zuhlsdorf mentioned – the help of the Cyrenian and the Last Breath in particular, I have never heard of those as Mysteries before, but they seem so right. [I just made them up… although Simon is in the Way of the Cross. Last Breath = Death of the Lord but focused on one mysterious aspect.] As an older Christian, at a point in life where more than half of my friends may have passed away (I don’t keep track, but more than half is a good guess), the last breath of Jesus and the great moment in the Cyrenian’s life on earth are closer to my heart than they may have been, say, even just 3 years ago. I also enjoy meditating on John the Baptist (who else? – I could be wrong about that…) welcoming Jesus to Sheol, or whatever it was called, sort of as an accompaniment to the Fifth Mysteries, Joyful and Glorious. If I could paint I would love to paint that scene.

  14. SPWang says:

    I have read elsewhere that changes to the Rosary were proposed to Paul VI and his response was to be something like ‘You have taken the Mass from the people, let them at least keep their Rosary.’

    Great and all JPII was, the Rosary didn’t need fiddling around with, no matter how devoted he was to Our Lady.

    A terrible shame that will take generations to rectify….(a bit like everything else)

    Although scoffing at the luminous mysteries is almost nearly as fun as saying ‘Holy Ghost’ to a neo-con Catholic.

  15. stjoe says:

    I can remember watching EWTN’s coverage of JP2’s 2002 trip to Poland. He was to celebrate Mass. He was still kneeling before a BVM statue for approximately 45 minutes after Mass was to begin. I noticed his secretaries were talking amongst themselves whether to interrupt the Pope’s prayers. The announcers were trying to “kill time.” The choir even was ordered to start singing. I remember telling my wife, I think he is getting a message from Our Lady right now. The Pope was definitely deep in prayer or some kind of mystical experience. He was not moving but simply kept his head in his hands. I kept my eyes glued to the Pope since I had never seen anyone so deep in prayer before.

    Then 3 months later, the Luminous Mysteries were published. I said at that time to my family, and still now, I wonder was he getting those Mysteries when I had watched him 3 months before?

  16. defreitas says:

    In Portuguese Our Lady of Fatima is referred to as: “Nossa Senhora do Rosario de Fatima”, and I think that is how she actually identified herself. What is called a Rosary in English is called a “Terço” (a third) in Portuguese. A “Rosario” is made up of 150 Ave Marias (my Mother, God Rest Her, had one that was about four feet long, which she prayed a number of times a day). My Grand Parents, as well as most families in our village in Portugal, prayed a daily rosary, and always in thirds. I personally was shocked when John Paul II signed a proclamation augmenting the traditional Rosario, nothing like that had ever been done. I don’t know the luminous mysteries, and have never prayed them (thought I have gone on Lenten pilgrimage, in the Azores, eight times, all the while praying the Rosary, walking 400 km). I must admit that when they proclaimed the new mysteries they did say that the faithful were not obliged to use them and could continue to use the traditional form. There are numerous prayers said on beads, I have heard of: “Crowns of Thorns”, “Infant of Prague”, “Our Lady of Sorrows”, “Jesus Prayers”, Glory Be”, “Our Father”, etc. etc. etc. If a devotee would wish to say only the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent, I would consider it a Pious act and worthy of encouragement (though I would recommend he say the other Mysteries on Saturday and Sunday but that would be my opinion).

  17. Filipino Catholic says:

    For those who take issue to the four sets of Mysteries, let it at least be known that while the traditional arrangement is eminently rich in numeric symbolism (150 Aves = 150 Psalms; also 3 sets of Mysteries = the Trinity, or the three divisions of the Church), so is the new arrangement, in perhaps a more convoluted and stretched manner.

    200 Aves = 2 x 10 x 10; two can signify the Old and New Covenants, or the love of God and of neighbor, emphasized throughout the entire Decalogue (10). Ten times ten is 100, a number used to signify a large multitude, perhaps to indicate the diverse manners and objects of our charity. The four sets of Mysteries may indicate the all-encompassingness which our love of God and neighbor must have, as 4 is often used to symbolize universality (4 elements, 4 compass directions, 4 seasons, etc.).

    Personally I’ll stick with the 150 Aves. If it was good enough to turn the tide at Lepanto, it’s good enough for me.

  18. Sliwka says:

    An aside, talking about prayer a full Holy Rosary, thirds etc.:

    When the Brown Scapular obligation for the Little Office of the BVM can be substituted by a Rosary, is it 5 or 15 decades?

  19. Legisperitus says:

    Somewhere I have an old prayer book used in a Benedictine abbey and seminary 100 years ago. They prayed the Joyful Mysteries every day during the Christmas cycle (Advent to Candlemas), Sorrowful Mysteries every day throughout Lent and Passiontide, and Glorious Mysteries every day from Easter to Pentecost. During the rest of the year, the familiar division by days of the week was used. There were also exceptions for particular feast days focused on certain mysteries (e.g., Joyful Mysteries for Annunciation; Sorrowful Mysteries for Triumph of the Holy Cross).

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    Great post and comments. Great photo and caption of the Commandant of the Swiss Guard holding a rosary from Fr. Z’s and Fr. Heilman’s Combat Rosary Project.

  21. retiredtobedlam says:

    This came up recently, and I checked the USCCB site. It recommends the usual mysteries for each day with the option to insert the Sorrowful on Sunday in Lent (and the Joyful during Advent).

  22. A.D. says:

    I love the Luminous mysteries! There always seemed to be something missing between the Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries. The Luminous mysteries filled this gap. Were I more faithful with the daily praying of the Rosary, my preference would be to say each set of mysteries in sequence day after day. Of course, that sort of schedule would severely mess with some people’s heads. What really messes with my head is: If I haven’t completed the Rosary one day, do I complete it the next or just start again with the typical set of mysteries for that day”? ‘Tis a puzzlement! Pray for me to be more faithful.

  23. asburyfox says:

    I wish Pope John Paul has issued a Luminous mysteries as its own chaplet. Distinct from the Rosary and not messing with Mary’s Psalter. The Rosary is perfect as it is with the three mysteries. There was nothing missing. It was perfectly Christocentric. It must be said and repeated to conservative Catholics over and over again that these mysteries are optional. They don’t have to be said. They are not required to be recited.

    Even Pope Paul VI rejected the suggestion to change the Rosary. He said it would give the impression that a Pope could change the Rosary and that changing the Rosary would be traumatic for the faithful. The Pope who changed and turned everything upside down wouldn’t dare mess with Mary and go near the sacred Rosary.

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