ROME, 22 DEC. 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What mysteries of the rosary should be said on Sundays of
Advent, Christmastime/Epiphany, and Lent? The glorious are
scheduled for it, but in the past (before the luminous), we
changed the Sunday mysteries to sorrowful in Lent and Advent and
joyful in Christmastime. And, of course, when one of the feasts
should occur on any day, we changed to that set of mysteries.
But now the glorious are said on one day only of the week if
Sunday is changed. In the past, it was three days a week and two
if Sunday was changed.
M.C., Cork, Ireland
A: There are two principal official sources regarding this
question: the 2001 Directory for Popular Piety issued by the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and John
Paul II's beautiful apostolic letter on the rosary published a
The following text from the Directory illustrates the rosary's
nature and the faithful's freedom with respect to the
distribution of the mysteries:
"197. The Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one
of the most excellent prayers to the Mother of God. Thus, 'the
Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly exhorted the faithful to the
frequent recitation of this biblically inspired prayer which is
centered on contemplation of the salvific events of Christ's
life, and their close association with the his Virgin Mother.
The value and efficacy of this prayer have often been attested
by saintly Bishops and those advanced in holiness of life.'
"The Rosary is essentially a contemplative prayer, which
requires 'tranquility of rhythm or even a mental lingering which
encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the
Lord's life.' Its use is expressly recommended in the
formation and spiritual life of clerics and religious.
"199. With due regard for the nature of the rosary, some
suggestions can now be made which could make it more proficuous.
"On certain occasions, the recitation of the Rosary could be
made more solemn in tone 'by introducing those Scriptural
passages corresponding with the various mysteries, some parts
could be sung, roles could be distributed, and by solemnly
opening and closing of prayer.'
"200. Those who recite a third of the Rosary sometimes assign
the various mysteries to particular days. [Following John Paul
II, these are now: joyful (Monday and Saturday), sorrowful
(Tuesday and Friday), glorious (Wednesday and Sunday), luminous
"Where this system is rigidly adhered to, conflict can arise
between the content of the mysteries and that of the Liturgy of
the day: the recitation of the sorrowful mysteries on Christmas
day, should it fall on a Friday. In cases such as this it can be
reckoned that 'the liturgical character of a given day takes
precedence over the usual assignment of a mystery of the Rosary
to a given day; the Rosary is such that, on particular days, it
can appropriately substitute meditation on a mystery so as to
harmonize this pious practice with the liturgical season.'
Hence, the faithful act correctly when, for example, they
contemplate the arrival of the three Kings on the Solemnity of
the Epiphany, rather than the finding of Jesus in the Temple.
Clearly, such substitutions can only take place after much
careful thought, adherence to Sacred Scripture and liturgical
"201. The custom of making an insertion in the recitation of the
Hail Mary, which is an ancient one that has not completely
disappeared, has often been recommended by the Pastors of the
Church since it encourages meditation and the concurrence of
mind and lips.
"Insertions of this nature would appear particularly suitable
for the repetitive and meditative character of the Rosary. It
takes the form of a relative clause following the name of Jesus
and refers to the mystery being contemplated. The meditation of
the Rosary can be helped by the choice of a short clause of a
Scriptural and Liturgical nature, fixed for every decade.
"'In recommending the value and beauty of the Rosary to the
faithful, care should be taken to avoid discrediting other forms
of prayer or of overlooking the existence of a diversity of
other Marian chaplets which have also been approved by the
Church.' It is also important to avoid inculcating a sense of
guilt in those who do not habitually recite the Rosary: 'The
Rosary is an excellent prayer, in regard to which, however, the
faithful should feel free to recite it, in virtue of its
In his apostolic letter John Paul II also acknowledged the
faithful's freedom in adapting the mysteries to the seasons.
With respect to Directory No. 201 above, he suggested that the
insertion to the Hail Mary is best made after the name 'Jesus' (Rosarium
No. 33). This brief insertion should be
inspired by the mysteries of Christ's life and is especially
suitable for community recitation.
Given that the Church gives grants wide leeway to the faithful,
our reader has many options if she desires to pray the glorious
mysteries twice in one week. A simple solution would be to
switch Tuesday and Sunday and pray the sorrowful mysteries on
Sunday and the glorious on Tuesday.
I have misgivings, however, regarding the appropriateness of
celebrating the sorrowful mysteries on a Sunday. The Lord's Day
always celebrates the Resurrection, even during Lent and Advent.
I believe that Sunday's essentially paschal character should be
reflected through the glorious mysteries albeit allowing for
possible exceptions such as Palm Sunday.
* * *
Follow-up: Adapting the Mysteries of the Rosary
Related to our reply regarding the mysteries of the rosary (Dec.
22), a reader from Harare, Zimbabwe, asked: "The months of May
and October are generally and popularly known as set aside for
devotions to Mary. The question is: Can we call all these two
months 'rosary months' or it is that May is simply a month of
devotion to Mary and October is the actual rosary month?"
Regarding Marian months, the Directory for Popular Piety states
"190. With regard to the observance of 'Marian months,' which is
widespread in the Latin and Oriental Churches, a number of
essential points can be mentioned.
"In the West, the practice of observing months dedicated to the
Blessed Virgin emerged from a context in which the Liturgy was
not always regarded as the normative form of Christian worship.
This caused, and continues to cause, some difficulties at a
liturgico-pastoral level that should be carefully examined.
"191. In relation to the western custom of observing a 'Marian
month' during the month of May (or in November in some parts of
the Southern hemisphere), it would seem opportune to take into
account the demands of the Liturgy, the expectations of the
faithful, their maturity in the faith, in an eventual study of
the problems deriving from the 'Marian months' in the overall
pastoral activity of the local Church, as might happen, for
example, with any suggestion of abolishing the Marian
observances during the month of May.
"In many cases, the solution for such problems would seem to lie
in harmonizing the content of the 'Marian months' with the
concomitant season of the Liturgical Year. For example, since
the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of
Easter, the pious exercises practised at this time could
emphasize Our Lady's participation in the Paschal mystery (cf.
John 19, 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 1, 14) with
which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church
having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fifty days are also a time for
the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation and of
the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of
May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the
glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of
the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.
"The directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the need to
orient the 'minds of the faithful ... firstly to the feasts of
the Lord, in which, the mysteries of salvation are celebrated
during the year,' and with which the Blessed Virgin Mary is
certainly associated, should be closely followed.
"Opportune catechesis should remind the faithful that the weekly
Sunday memorial of the Paschal Mystery is 'the primordial feast
day.' Bearing in mind that the four weeks of Advent are an
example of a Marian time that has been incorporated harmoniously
into the Liturgical Year, the faithful should be assisted in
coming to a full appreciation of the numerous references to the
Mother of our Saviour during this particular period."
Notice that at this point the document makes no mention of
October as a Marian month. But shortly after, in No. 198, and
referring to the blessing of rosary beads, it suggests: "As
indicated in the Benedictionale [Book of Blessings],
Rosary beads can be blessed publicly, on occasions such as a
pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, a feast of Our Lady, especially
that of the Holy Rosary, and at the end of the month of
Every celebration of the Christian mystery's Marian dimension is
typically characterized by an emphasis on praying the rosary. It
would appear, however, that the month of October is especially
apt for promoting this pious exercise and hence the title of
"rosary month" is probably best reserved to it.