The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
First Decade: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
Second Decade: Our Lord is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
Third Decade: Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
Fourth Decade: Our Lord Carries the Cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32)
Fifth Decade: The Crucifixion of Our Lord (Matthew 27:33-56)
My favorite mysteries of the Rosary are the joyful mysteries. I’ve always liked happy stories. Chris’s favorite mysteries are the sorrowful mysteries. When he first told me this, I didn’t quite understand. They are hard for me to pray and think about. It’s uncomfortable to dwell on this deepest of all tragedies. Then a couple things happened to change my perspective and draw me into the depths of the sorrowful mysteries.
Chris sent me a link to a blog post written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the difference between Protestant and Catholic understanding of the life of Christ. In essence, he describes the liberal Protestant approach as focusing on Jesus as a good person and nearly ignoring his death. The conservative evangelicals, he says, focus on the redeeming sacrifice of Christ’s death and nearly ignore his ministry beforehand. All this rang true to me, consistent with my experience. Then Fr. Longenecker says:
“The Catholic approach to the Life of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery–the Cross and Resurrection, then looks back to the life of Christ and sees every aspect of the human life of Jesus as mystery that reveals the Son of God… In other words, every aspect of Christ’s life from the Annunciation through the Ascension was redemptive and charged with the grandeur and mystery of God’s work of salvation.”
This view of the life of Christ was strange to me. I was used to looking on His ministry as “proof” that He is the Son of God. His death paid for my sins, and that was that. I was grateful, but didn’t like to think of it much. It’s such a gruesome and sad story after all. There was little more to it than that for me, but when you think about it that doesn’t much make sense. Christ didn’t just die for our sins. The sorrowful mysteries refuse to let you retain that perspective. Christ was humiliated and suffered the worst physical abuse before He died. Thinking about that apparently senseless tragedy was just plain depressing. It only left me with a “people are so mean” impression.
Another thing that happened to aid my understanding of Christ’s suffering is that I saw Chris willingly humiliate himself, suck his pride up in one of the hardest ways, in order to have the charity he thinks God wants of him, and only by saying “If Christ can suffer the humiliation of the cross, I can do this.”
Christ did suffer the humiliation of the cross, and I had never paid any attention to it. If every event in Christ’s life meant something, then certainly this humiliation and suffering means something. I prayed the sorrowful mysteries looking for how these seemingly senseless events reveal Christ to me.
In the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ surrenders His will to that of God the Father, saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He doesn’t just align his will with the Father’s, he surrenders his will. He does not want to suffer the horrible death that he knows is coming, but He humbly and obediently does so out of love for the Father and for us all. The depth of this action is properly understood when Christ says, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He doesn’t have to go through this. Most of us are powerless pawns, and although we may not accept the things that happen to us, we cannot stop them. Christ can stop His own suffering, and still accepts it. “A death He freely accepted.”
The second sorrowful mystery is Our Lord scourged at the pillar. This is the only event in Christ’s death that I ever heard commented on by Protestants, and that was to say “by His stripes we are healed.” This, to those I heard comment, meant not a spiritual healing, but a physical one. This, to them, meant that if we have enough faith to claim this healing, we should never suffer sickness or injury. That idea stands in stark contrast to the Catholic view of all suffering being a part of our unity with Christ. Though I find it hard to understand, this mystery tells me that in imitation of Christ, we too must take our lashes. It is not us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. His suffering has redeemed the world, and His life in us does the same when we suffer.
Then Our Lord is crowned with thorns. He is the king of kings, and he is mocked. The mockers do not see the truth, they do not give Him the respect, awe, praise, and glory that He deserves. Instead, they throw it back in His face. Christ doesn’t loose His bonds and heal His wounds, revealing His glory. He doesn’t argue with them, telling them how wrong they are and that they’ll be sorry when He shows them. He takes the humiliation. The one man on Earth who most ought to have been listened to was not. The one man on Earth who didn’t have to take it, and he did. Makes it seem a little insignificant when we are mocked and ignored.
Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on to carry the cross to Calvary. It’s the long trek in which Christ not only accepts His own death, but makes it happen. He carries it out His own death sentence, a terrible humiliation for a man even deserving of that fate, but this is God Himself. It is only in the gospel of John where Christ is portrayed as carrying the cross Himself, I’ve heard John wrote this to convey Christ’s absolute control over the event. In the other three gospels, Simon of Cyrene shares in Christ’s journey. Earlier, before all these events, Christ has told us “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) His listeners didn’t know that He would die on a cross. They didn’t know that it is the cross of Christ’s death that we must bear, like Simon. Christ has told us it is necessary to suffer humiliation and pain, to give up our own desires and stop demanding that everyone else treat us like royalty. Instead, He shows us Himself how we are supposed to live by dying, by obeying the Father’s Will, by giving Himself for others, and not just accepting but bringing about this fate himself.
In the final act, Christ is crucified on a cross. Many Christians focus on our sins redeemed by Christ’s death, but forget about the cross itself. It’s not a noble death, fit for a king. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. Yet God Himself was held high for the world to see in a slow, painful, humiliating death. Christ redeemed us, and not only paid for our sins, but gave us the way of reconciliation in Him. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21)
Through these mysteries, Jesus is revealed as loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. We are supposed to be like Christ, and the sorrowful mysteries tell us this means being loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. Though that seems like a grim prospect at times, there is an up side. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:3,4) His death is our death, His life is our life, and “[we] have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us].” (Gal 2:20) Because we are made one with Christ in His death, we are given His life. We share His suffering so that we can share in His glory, and that glory is worth all the suffering and humiliation along the way. (Rom 8:17, 18) In fact, this suffering and death teaches us the point of life in Christ. It is imperative that we love others and live for them, selflessly as a servant. Otherwise, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates so eloquently in The Great Divorce, we will get what we want, and it will all be about us to the effect that we are utterly and hellishly alone with our desires.
Fr. Longenecker says about this unity with Christ:
“We enter into [mystery of Christ who is God revealed through his humanity] not through theological speculation alone, but through a sacramental fusion with the mystery. It enters into us and we enter into it. Christ in me and me in Christ…. The result of this sacramental transaction is ‘theosis’ the transformation of ourselves, our souls and our bodies into living icons of Christ.”
It is absolutely beautiful that our God has lovingly led us by the hand and shown us the way, has become the way, for our reconciliation with Him. Our God was not exempt from these sorrows, but instead was held to the cross by His love for us. I was familiar with the idea of “imitation of Christ”, but generally thought this meant be good and nice to people. Catholicism has taught me that the Christian way is one of suffering and submission, sacrificing our pride in humility. It’s an awesome mystery that I hope to someday not only understand better but live out in my daily death to self. I’ve already had a taste of the grace in the sacraments through Reconciliation. Tomorrow I’ll be confirmed and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, entering deeper in to this sacramental fusion and, I pray, becoming more like Christ.