By means of the first luminous mystery of the rosary, let us contemplate, together with the Virgin Mary, God who embraces our condition in order to lift us up all the more.
The Luminous Mysteries
At the convent of St. Marco in Florence (cell 24), Fra Angelico offers us an astonishing depiction of Christ’s baptism: he associates it with the Virgin Mary and St. Dominic. The symbolic dimension of such a fresco leads us to contemplate this mystery with the eyes of the Virgin Mary and to inscribe it into the prayer of the rosary. The painter’s intuition rejoins that of St. John Paul II who, in his apostolic letter ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’ (2002), invites us to contemplate the public life of Christ through the eyes of the Virgin Mary.
St. John Paul II explains to us that “the contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary” (RVM 10).
Wishing to replace the action and message of Jesus at the heart of the rosary [with what?], John Paul II crafted a new series of mysteries, called “the luminous mysteries”. These mysteries refer to the public life of Christ from His baptism to the threshold of His Passion, namely: the Baptism of the Lord; the Wedding in Cana; the Proclamation of the Kingdom; the Transfiguration and the Institution of the Eucharist.
The Baptism of Christ, a « Solar » Mystery
Christ is called the “light of the world” (Jn 8, 12), the true Sun and the Sun of Justice, thereby underlining His luminous dimension. John Paul II explains that “this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom…. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake (cf. 2Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out” (RVM 21).
The true Sun plunges into the water of the Jordan, that is to say Life descends into the waters of death and sanctifies them.
A Lowering to the Rank of Sinners
Jesus presents himself to be baptized at the age of 30. He descends with humility into the waters of the Jordan where the Jews had the custom to purify themselves. The Lamb of God who is without stain takes on Himself the sins of the world, our sins, in order to save us. The Lamb of God, the Sun of Justice manifests through this act of deep humility what St. Berhard calls the “height of justice”:
“The height of justice is to place oneself under one’s inferiors. Just as it is the sign of a supreme and intolerable pride to prefer oneself to one’s superiors, similarly it is the height and plenitude of justice to place oneself below those inferior to oneself. When St. John the Baptist says to Our Lord: ’I need to be baptized by you’ (Mt 3,14), he acts according to the first kind of justice since he places himself below his superior. But what Jesus Christ does is the height of justice, since he lowers himself to the hands of his servant.”
This plunge into the waters of the Jordan is already a prefiguration of the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as one sees the sun go up, go down and reappear, so Christ, the Sun of Justice, who is Life itself, accepts to be plunged into the waters symbolizing death, thereby purifying and sanctifying them. By plunging into the waters of the Jordan, Christ transmits to these this sanctifying power that water possesses since then in the sacrament of baptism. The rite of blessing the water during the ceremony of baptism is therefore very important and commemorates this event. Finally, the plunging into the waters of baptism prefigures the resurrection.
The Revelation of the Trinitarian God
At that moment, the heavens open and a voice is heard saying, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3,17), which is the first revelation of the Trinity.
The baptism of Christ is an epiphany, a revelation of God. The mystery of the epiphany contains three parts, since it shows three manifestations of God’s majesty: the first happens vis-à-vis the whole world (the adoration of the Magi), the second regarding the elements of creation (the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan) and the third concerning human love (the wedding of Cana).
« Mary’s Way »: The Fruit of the Mystery
With the meditation of the mysteries of the rosary, we are invited, as John Paul II reminds us, to follow Mary’s path: we are supposed to contemplate the baptism of Jesus with the eyes of her who knew Him better than anyone and who keeps a loving watch on us.
Hence, we are able to receive the fruit of the mystery which is Christ’s baptism.
Virgin Marie, help us to keep the faith we received at baptism. Mary, Undoer of knots, untie those knots that are linked to this mystery and grant us its fruit so as yo remain faithful to the promises of our baptism.
To learn more:
– the apostolic letter “Rosarium Virginis Mariae”