This year my Lenten resolution was to get in at least one 5-decade rosary a day.
To make it more meaningful, I’ve spliced in what I call the “Lenten Mysteries.” These are the five Gospel readings of Lent:
1. Jesus fasts for 40 days in the desert
2. Jesus is transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John
3. Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well
4. Jesus heals a man born blind
5. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
You mean you can do that?
The Rosary is an important traditional devotion in the Church; it is not an official liturgical prayer. This is an important distinction. A priest cannot make up his own Eucharistic Prayer or substitute a different reading for the one listed in the Ordo, the guidebook for Catholic liturgies. Even switching vestment colors is not acceptable. The liturgy belongs to the whole church and cannot be manipulated at will.
How does a devotion differ from liturgical prayer?
A devotion, on the other hand, is essentially a private prayer in the sense that it is not an official prayer of the Church. Ever notice that some people introduce the first three Hail Mary’s with “For Faith, Hope and Charity,” while others will say, “For the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope”? It works either way. There are different ways of introducing the various mysteries, some more extensive than others. There are two forms of the Glory Be: one prescribed for the Liturgy of the Hours, and one, in general use among the faithful, often used with the Rosary.
The Liturgy of the Hours, by the way, is an official prayer of the Church, governed by the Ordo, and not subject to indiscriminate variation, although changes can be made in readings and prayers, subject to whoever is leading the recitation.
So, yes, you can come up with new mysteries for the Rosary.
Will they be official? After centuries of praying the Rosary with three sets of mysteries, the Joyful, the Sorrowful and the Glorious, Pope St. John Paul II instituted a fourth set, the Mysteries of Light, which I must say are my favorite. Maybe everyone has a favorite set. Tradition sets mysteries for each day of the week, subject to the liturgical season as well. On Mondays, the Joyful mysteries are prayed; on Tuesdays and Fridays, the Sorrowful; on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Glorious. On Sundays of Advent, we meditate on the Joyful Mysteries, which focus on the events leading up to and surrounding the birth of Jesus. During Lent, the Sundays focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries, in keeping with the season of Lent; at other times, we pray the Glorious Mysteries on Sundays, since every Sunday is a little Easter.
So why add more mysteries?
During Lent, I want to be able to meditate fully on the Church’s message to us during this time, encapsulated in the 5 Sundays of Lent. The crux of each Sunday’s message is contained in the Gospel, and so this is worth our focus for more than just the time we are at mass. My own approach is to substitute these for the Glorious Mysteries at least one time during the week—either Wednesday or Saturday or both—saving the Glorious Mysteries for the Easter season and beyond.
You could always use the 5 Lenten Mysteries I’ve listed above, as the ones catechumens hear during their preparation for baptism. But you could also vary this from one Lent to the next, using the readings from Cycles B or C when those readings are done at mass. You could even add in a set of mysteries for the Old Testament readings. This way you can extend your meditation to take in more of what God is saying to us during Lent.
If you were conducting a group recitation of the Rosary, of course, you would probably want to stick to the traditional mysteries, unless you prepare the group for the new set of mysteries you’ve chosen to pray with. But when you are praying individually, remember that God wants to hear your prayer. God is not judging whether you are reciting the proper mysteries.
The main thing is that we cover the major events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. If you just simply made up all your own mysteries, you would take a chance of distorting the message by favoring some aspect of the Gospel story over another. But remember that we cover the official mysteries at least once and sometimes twice during the course of the week. To substitute another set of mysteries based on the Church’s prayer—the Lectionary used at mass—can only enrich our weekly prayer, it seems to me. In addition, it can be a challenge to choose mysteries that you find particularly representative of the Gospels for a particular season.
One might even want to compose a set of Eucharistic mysteries during this time of focus on the Eucharistic Mystery.
Not for everyone?
Some will not want to depart from a customary and much-loved pattern; but for those who want to try this, I recommend enriching your Rosary with an occasional set of new mysteries.