Saturday, September 5, 2020

Mystery of Faith

The phrase Mystery of Faith undoubted comes down to us from the first Epistle to St. Timothy where St. Paul uses the expression “holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience” (1 Tm 3:9).  At some point, though no one seems to have a clue when, those words were appropriated into the Words of Institution within the Roman Canon.  Though no Evangelist narrates that Christ spoke all these words, by all accounts they have been in the words of Christ setting apart the Cup for a very long time, indeed.  Yet not without some uneasiness.  St. Thomas Aquinas objected to their placement within the voice of Christ's own word.  Yet they survived over the centuries.  Some have justified their place because of their content and meaning and others suggesting that these words were some of the many Jesus said that were not included in Scripture but told to the apostles.  It would seem to me that both arguments are rather specious and it would be best to omit them from where they are, yet keep the words themselves.

Before the wholesale renovation of the Mass after Vatican II, the words were included in the words of Christ:  “For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal Covenant: the Mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.”  After the conciliar changes to the liturgy, these words became part of the so-called Memorial Acclamation.  The priest strangely said either Let us proclaim the mystery of faith: to which the most popular response of the people was:  Christ has died, Christ is risen.  Christ will come again. This later became simply:  The Mystery of Faith.  And the people ended up with several choices for response (none of which is as popular as what was).  The celebrant proclaims, as a kind of detached phrase, “The mystery of faith.” And the people may answer with one of three acclamations:

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.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the liturgical innovations certainly borrowed from the East in pursuit of what they thought were earlier and purer forms of the rite.  Whatever.  I am not sure there is a neat paper trail to where and how and when this phrase became part of the Western rite.  In any case, however, wherever it is placed, it is still a nice phrase.  From a November 29, 1202, letter of Pope Innocent III we read:
‘Mystery of faith’ is used, because here what is believed differs from what is seen, and what is seen differs from what is believed. For what is seen is the appearance of bread and wine, and what is believed is the reality of the flesh and blood of Christ and the power of unity and love.
It is actually a very concise and clear statement of the hidden mystery that is not apparent to the eye but known and held by faith. While this is certainly true of the Real Presence, seen by the eye as bread and wine (as well as the nose and mouth), faith affirms that it is the Body and Blood of Christ.  It could also refer to baptismal water which is not just water but water with God's Word, doing what that Word says.  But who is to say that the mystery of faith is not also the most central mystery -- the Holy Trinity!  In any case, I like the phrase and wish that we used it more and tried to explain things away less.  By the way, I am also rather fond of the acclamation itself (though others have complained about whether it ever fit where it had been):  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  It need not be in the Eucharistic Prayer but it could be placed somewhere as more fitting words that seem destined to come out of ICEL and liturgical reform committees today.  Lastly, there is something to be said about the Benedictus (as it was in the EF) as a profound acclamation.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Amen.

So now you know the kind of random thoughts that flow through my crooked thought passages on a Friday (my day off)....


Daniel G. said...

Not crooked thoughts in my estimation. It IS a mystery of faith and that is why when certain of the disciples stopped walking with him after the bread of life discourse, he said what he said about the flesh, not his, but looking with the eyes of flesh and not the eyes of faith. Their thoughts were carnal and they were right because Christ did not mince words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but their carnal eyes could not perceive that Christ was/is able to give us his flesh and blood to drink unto the consummation of the world in the form of bread and wine. That is a mystery of faith that defies all human (fleshy) understanding but it is the Truth.

Anonymous said...

The typical Lutheran snarky response to this article is, of course, “And Philipp Melanchthon continues to roll in his grave.” Yet this misses the point. Pastor Peters can speak of a Western liturgical tradition that he would like the LCMS to adopt more and more of. Why exactly? The carefully chosen words are in a denominational sense unique to Roman Catholicism. There is no Western liturgical tradition of these words of the canon of the Mass in Protestantism of any stripe. So implicit in this viewpoint is that the visible traditions of Rome are a sort of more authentic benchmark for true Christian liturgical practice. This is a type of restorationism. Restorationism is a hallmark of phases of the 19th and 20th centuries when doubt in the church itself is prevalent. The 19th century was responding to rationalism and attacks on the authority of God’s Word itself. The 20th century saw much angst among Protestants about being sectarian, which led to a strong ecumenical and liturgical push for uniformity and fellowship. Our own age continues to anguish over inclusion and acceptance of all.

Luther’s liturgical excisions, particularly in the canon of the Mass, can be cheerfully reversed one by one, under two propositions. One is adiaphora. The other is the charge that it sets the Lutheran Church up as an exclusive visible church, which is highly offensive today. Luther believed that neither the Catholics nor sacramentarians had the true Mass in their churches. The Roman view in particular is described as “the greatest abomination” in the Smalcald Articles. Our liturgical enthusiasts dismiss such confessional divisiveness, choosing instead to focus on the restorationist continuity with the Western liturgical tradition. What is the goal? Essentially a revision of worship in Lutheranism from the assembly gathered to hear God’s Word and responding in prayer and praise (Luther, Torgau sermon), to the assembly gathered to celebrate the ageless liturgy in unity of the catholic faith from Christ’s ascension to his coming again. While this sounds spiritual, it is in fact substituting “traditions of men” for the Word of God itself.

Lutherans should not be made to feel ashamed for holding to Lutheran liturgical traditions. Or be told that we need to conform our worship to the Roman Mass. After all, in the Augsburg Confession, we state:

“Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.”

Anonymous said...

Or do you not prefer the conclusion to the Augsburg Confession:

Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.

Daniel G. said...


Are you saying that it is not a mystery of faith? I do not see how that is contradictory to the plain sense of Scripture when it comes to the real presence.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2

You might find this paper interesting regarding how Lutherans implemented “nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic.” This included an exhortation. This did not include eucharistic prayers, the inaudible words of consecration, or the canon of the Mass.