On 16 October 2002, John Paul II began the 25th anniversary of his pontificate by publishing his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (RVM) with which he promulgated the Year of the Rosary (from October 2002 to October 2002) and presented the Church with another five new Mysteries of Light on the public life of Jesus in addition to the already existing fifteen mysteries.
The promulgation of this Apostolic Letter, and particularly the introduction of the five new mysteries, created various reactions among the faithful. In fact, the mass media focussed more on the introduction of the new mysteries than on the general teaching of the RVM. Many reporters emphasised the fact “that the idea of the Holy Father concerning these five new mysteries may have been taken from a Maltese priest whom the Pope beatified in 2001, Fr. George Preca” [cfr. The Guardian of 16 October 2002; The Wanderer (USA), The Tablet, Catholic Herald, Catholic Times (Great Britain), The Catholic Weekly (Australia) and the electronic newspaper Daily Spirit (USA)].
We do not know whence the Holy Father got the idea of introducing these new mysteries. And yet, apart from a few small differences, the five new mysteries put forward by the Holy Father are almost identical with those proposed by Fr. George in 1957! It is also curious that the Holy Father calls the new mysteries on the public life of Jesus the “Mysteries of Light”, the same name proposed by the Saint!
If we accept that these Mysteries of Light take their origin from Saint George Preca, then we must ask another question: “How did these mysteries come to the attention of the Holy Father so as to introduce them into his Apostolic Letter on the rosary?” The Postulator for the Cause of Canonisation of Saint George Preca has tried to investigate the matter without much result. Many possibilities were put forward, among other the most plausible that the information was available on internet. In fact, some Catholic English language websites, even before the publication of the Apostolic Letter RVM, make reference to the Mysteries of Light, probably placed there by a Maltese familiar with the spirituality of the Saint. In spite of the lack of proof, the mysteries on the public life of Jesus have found a privileged place in the teaching of the Church and will be adopted and meditated upon by Catholics throughout the world.
The Mysteries of Light of Saint George Preca
In 1957, the society founded by Fr. George celebrated its 50th anniversary. Fr. George did not wish to have external celebrations but rather that the year be for all the members one of greater intimacy with God. To this end he published the book entitled Kollokwji ma’ Alla (Conversations with God), 60 discourses that show his great love of the Creator. Besides these conversations, in the same year, Fr. George suggested the idea of adding another five mysteries to the rosary on the public life of Jesus. Then, these mysteries were for the private use of the members of his society, as was the case also with the Conversations. Some of his disciples, who knew him personally, say that Fr. George presented the Mysteries of Light for the first time during one of their Wednesday meetings. He did not say where mysteries came from, whether he took them from a book or whether they were his own inspiration. Usually, whenever he suggested something new to his disciples, he would say: “Here’s what I found for you…”. But on that occasion he did not say so, and it seems that the idea of the Mysteries of Light may have come from him. The same witnesses say that on the same evening, after explaining the importance of meditating on the whole of Jesus’ life, and that the rosary somehow was lacking in this aspect, he said how pleasant it was and how happy he was when meditating these “new” mysteries on the public life of the One who said: “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).
The Mysteries of Light suggested by Fr. George appeared publicly for the first time in an article entitled Id-Devozzjoni ta’ Dun Gorg lejn ir-Ruzarju (Fr. George’s devotion to the rosary), published in the review Dun Gorg, no.5, July-December 1973. The spread of the mysteries continued in 1987 when Vincent Caruana (1912-1998), a member of the society, published a booklet entitled Gesù Kristu – Alla – Bniedem – Feddej (Jesus Christ – God – Man – Redeemer), with the sub-title Episodji mill-Evangelju f’ghamla ta’ Ruzarju fuq idea originali ta’ Dun Gorg, (Gospel episodes in the form of the rosary based on an original idea of Fr. George) Ed., P.E.G. Ltd., Marsa, Malta. In the introduction, Caruana presents the Mysteries of Light saying that “they had been published and divulged for the first time by the Servant of God, Fr. George Preca.”
Through these two publications, the Mysteries of Light went beyond the limits of private use for the members of the society to many of the faithful in Malta and in other parts of the world. Others, inspired by Fr. George’s teaching, have even introduced these mysteries into their websites dedicated to the rosary.
The Mysteries of Light according to Fr. George and John Paul II
According to Fr. George
1. After Jesus was baptised in the Jordan, he was taken to the desert.
2. Jesus reveals himself as true God by word and miracles.
3. Jesus teaches the Beatitudes on the mountain.
4. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain.
5. Jesus takes his last supper with the Apostles.
According to John Paul II
1. Jesus is baptised by John in the Jordan.
2. Jesus reveals himself through the first sign at the wedding feast of Cana.
3. Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God and conversion.
4. Jesus is transfigured on mount Tabor.
5. Jesus institutes the Eucharist.
If we compare the two versions, we find great similarity between the Mysteries of Light proposed by Fr. George in 1957 and those proposed by the Holy Father. It is true that there are some slight differences, but these are not as significant as might appear at first.
* In the first mystery, apart from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, Fr. George adds Jesus’ going to the desert, where he prepares himself during forty days to begin his mission. Whoever knows the Saint can understand why he added this episode of Jesus’ life. To begin with, he wrote these mysteries for his disciples, that is, he wished to show them the need for a good preparation for their mission of proclaiming the Word.
* In the second mystery, Fr. George suggests a meditation on the way Jesus reveals himself as God by word and miracles. The Holy Father suggests one miracle, the one at the wedding feast of Cana, which, in John the Evangelist’s words (2:11) was precisely for this purpose.
* In the third mystery, Fr. George presents Jesus teaching the Beatitudes, also called the “Constitutions” of the Church, yet to be founded by Jesus. We cannot deny that in preaching the Beatitudes, Jesus also announced the Kingdom of God and invited all to conversion of life.
* In the fourth and fifth mysteries we have the same episodes of Jesus’ life proposed by Fr. George and the Holy Father.
As to when to meditate these mysteries, both Fr. George and the Holy Father suggest that we insert them between the Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries. The difference between the two suggestions concerns the day. The Saint suggested Monday (instead of the Joyful Mysteries which then are to be meditated on Sunday), whereas the Holy Father suggests Thursday, really a better day because it is associated with the institution of the Eucharist. It is also right that the Joyful Mysteries, which touch on the main events of Mary’s life, should be meditated on Saturday, a day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Apart from the Mysteries of Light, there are other concepts in RVM similar to those preached by Fr. George.
* For instance, the Holy Father refers to the importance of a brief silent pause for contemplation and meditation after the announcement of each mystery. Fr. George not only practised this but he also recommended the practice to his listeners.
* Saint George loved to call the rosary “a teaching school”, especially because of the meditations of the mysteries. It is interesting that the Holy Father, in his Apostolic Letter RVM, refers to the rosary as “Mary’s school” (cfr. 1, 3, 15, 34).
* The Apostolic Letter RVM (cfr. 35) suggests the introduction of a prayer after the Glory be to the Father as a conclusion to the mystery. With this in mind, Fr. George wrote several prayers to the Virgin Mary and her virtues in keeping with the mysteries to be said before the Our Father.
During his life, Saint Preca committed himself greatly to spreading the holy rosary. A true devotee of the Virgin Mary, he fervently practised this Marian prayer with a christological heart, willingly recommended it to his listeners and wrote several times concerning its importance and efficacy. The similarities between the teaching of the Holy Father in the Apostolic Letter RVM and that of Fr. George show the depth of the spirituality of this Carmelite Saint, a spirituality that went beyond the geographical limitations of his native land and reached the universal Church.