At every Mass we assert that we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is not a better time to reflect in joyful waiting than the quiet season of Advent, which comes before the celebration of Christmas. And there is no greater model of joy for us than Our Blessed Mother, Mary.
Though it might be more common to hear Mary described as the Mother of Sorrows, Scripture makes it clear that her life was also filled with great joys to temper those sorrows. Over time, it became popular to recall the joys of Mary during times of celebration and to remember her sorrows during times of mourning. The tradition of the Seven Joys of Mary dates from the fifteenth century—as early as 1422.
A novice Franciscan named James had a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin that started when he was a child. Each day he would gather flowers from the field and weave them into a crown to place on a statue of Mary. When his superiors explained that his new duties as a friar would not allow him the leisure to continue this practice, young James was heartbroken. He thought he had found a home in the Order, but could not imagine having to sacrifice his daily devotion to Mary.
A solution presented itself in a vision. Mary instructed James to offer a garland of prayers instead of flowers, allowing him to continue his devotion even while doing his other work. Each group of Hail Marys was to be recited while meditating on one of the “joys” of Our Lady’s life. According to the legend, James’s novice master observed him at his devotions and saw an angel transforming the young man’s prayers into flowers—beautiful roses separated by gold lilies—and weaving these into a crown for James’s head. When the novice master asked James for an explanation, James related his own vision and how he had practiced the devotion.
From that time on this devotion, known as the Franciscan Crown rosary, has been popular throughout the Franciscan Order. The distinctive set of beads matching the prayer is often worn with a friar’s habit and cord. Though the joys of Mary sometimes vary from list to list, the Franciscan Crown rosary includes:
The Annunciation: the moment when Mary learned from the lips of an angel that she would bear the Savior. This mystery teaches us how to receive “good news” into our lives—even when it may turn our lives upside down.
The Visitation: Mary’s trip to support her cousin Elizabeth. This mystery inspires us to rise above our troubles by helping others with theirs.
The Nativity of Our Lord: the birth of Jesus in the most humble of circumstances. This mystery demonstrates the power in everyday occurrences.
The Adoration of the Magi: the mysterious visit from kings of the East. This mystery helps us appreciate that wisdom comes from unexpected places—even strangers, even other faith traditions.
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple: the joyful family reunion after three days of panicked separation. This story reminds us to cherish our families and to find joy in the company of our loved ones.
The Appearance of the Risen Christ to his Mother: confirmation of all that Mary had known to be true about her divine Son. This mystery demonstrates how faith and patience are rewarded.
The Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven: the fitting end to an extraordinary earthly life. Mary’s journey from the Annunciation to the Assumption is a celebration of the results of that first, fateful “yes.”
Other listings of the joys of Mary include the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. Within the Franciscan Order, this devotion has been promoted by Saint Bonaventure, Saint John Capistrano, and Saint Bernardine of Siena.
Since the rosary by its nature is a meditation on the central mysteries in the lives of Jesus and Mary, it makes a good introduction to our preparation for Advent and Christmas. The unique flavor of these meditations is a focus on the joy with which Mary embraced these important moments in her life.
We will see that she did not passively deign to hear the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation or even grudgingly murmur her assent, but that she listened with joy and anticipation for that voice, received it with joy, and responded with a joy so profound that her song of praise, the Magnificat, is remembered to this day. As we focus on our own waiting this Advent season, let us imitate that profound joy and see with new eyes the mysteries unfolding before us.