The Roman Missal: Mysterium Fidei

“It’s a mystery.”  This is a phrase we Catholics are famous for.  Sometimes it can signify the one of the biggest copouts in history!  Don’t know the answer?  Just put a solemn look on your face, close your eyes, and say, “It’s a mystery.”  What’s the Church’s teaching on evolution?  “It’s a mystery.”  How is transubstantiation possible?  “It’s a mystery.”  Why did Albert Pujols go to Los Angeles?  ”It’s a mystery.”

Really, a mystery is more than something we’ll never know or something we don’t know right now.  It’s something that is inexhaustible.  We can keep learning more and more, discovering new things through science and reason, but no matter what, there’s always something else to learn.  The fullness of what the mystery is escapes our human understanding.  That’s why I have to laugh when a scientist says they’ve disproved God.  Maybe they’ve discovered something new, but does that cover everything that God is?  Of course not.  “It’s a mystery.”

So what do we mean when we say at Mass, “The mystery of faith.”  Is it something that we can’t know or can’t connect with at all?  No, it’s referring to what we’ve just witnessed in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist really is the mystery of our faith, the mystery that is at the heart of everything we do as Catholics.  We can continue to learn more about it, even explaining certain aspects in complex philosophical language, but as Blessed John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, even just reflecting on what just happened, and how that is a gift to us, should fill us with “profound amazement and gratitude.” (5)

So when we expand at Mass on that statement “The mystery of faith,” we are expressing that amazement and gratitude.  There are three options:

  • “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”
  • “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”
  • “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

All three of these are rooted in Scripture.  The first two are references to 1 Corinthians 11:26, and the last is from the Gospel of John 4:42, in which our statement mimics what was told to the woman who met Jesus at the well.

You might be wondering what happened to “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  Well, there’s a reason for its absence, of course.  It’s not found in the original Latin text, but more importantly, look what’s missing in it.  All three of the new responses (and their equivalents in the previous translation) are statements about the mystery of Jesus really present in the Holy Eucharist.  They’re also statements of our wonder and awe at the fact that those things are done for you and me!  Both of these are missing from the previous response written above.

As you head to Mass next week (assuming you’re not reading this during my homily this week…are you?), try to think as you’re giving this response about the real mystery of the Eucharist.  Why does Jesus give us this gift?  Why does he love us, even as we continue to turn away from him by our weakness?  “It’s a mystery.”  But it’s a mystery we’re grateful for!