The mystery of faith (mysterium fidei)

The faithful participating in Mass only have a few moments during the Eucharistic Prayer when they respond ritually about what is happening: during the Preface and Sanctus, at the moment when the priest or bishop invites them to consider the mystery of faith, and the great Amen at the end of the Prayer. The priest or bishop who has just recalled the institution of the Eucharist invites us to consider the mystery of faith before us: Our Lord is now sacramentally present, Nativity and Calvary are presented to us again as those events of his earthly life extend to us in the sacramental celebration of them, and we have an opportunity to respond to such a profound mystery.

“We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”

Each of the three possible responses is addressed to Christ. It is a memorial acclamation, a sign that we too are remembering the mystery of faith, just as he commanded us to remember him. The acclamation states a historical fact and makes a profession of faith; just like the Apostles after Pentecost (see Acts 5) we don’t shy from reminding the world that the Lord died; rather, we proclaim it.

However, if it ended with that it would not be much more than a funeral remembrance or a denunciation of the injustice he’d suffered. We “profess”—express our faith—in the Lord’s Resurrection. His death takes on new meaning in his resurrection. The Risen Christ is something we experience in faith, just as the first disciples did in an incredulous world; it takes more than historical fact-checking for this reality to sink in. Both are important. The fact that Our Lord physically died gives a meaning to what we profess every Sunday in Mass: the Resurrection of the body.

In Jesus’ time it was imagined that a divine being could have descended and just adopted a human appearance, just as all the gods were depicted as humans, although they weren’t. If a divine being had come down and pretended to be human, to have suffered, to have died, and then “resurrected” that would mean nothing for ordinary human beings; it would have been a trick or just another myth. Christ assumed human nature, lived and died as humans do, and was raised from the dead as humans will be. We don’t say that’s a myth, but a reality. His death and his resurrection are possible because he is truly God and truly man, and that has salvific consequences for us.

“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”

Every response to the mystery of faith ends on an eschatological note. We’re waiting for something and for someone. Our Lord’s story isn’t over until history ends for each and every one of us. Christ rose from the dead, but no one else has risen yet like him. That will occur at the end of history, when he returns.

Each one of us at the moment of death will meet the Lord, which is why Holy Communion administered to the dying is called viaticum, a provision for a journey after a life time of eating this Bread and drinking this Cup in preparation for the Lord’s return.

Nevertheless, he won’t just come to each of us individually at the moment of our death. At the end of history he will come again and raise everyone from the dead in the Last Judgment: he will stand before us and we, together, will stand before him. In the meanwhile, we, together in the celebration of the Eucharist, commemorate his death, express our faith in his resurrection, and wait for his return.

“Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”

While awaiting his return in glory we already have him with us sacramentally and receive the first fruits of eternal life through receiving him in Holy Communion. We recall Our Lord’s death and express our faith in his resurrection because both events involve our salvation. We’re not indifferent to what Our Lord has done for us and what he will do for us. Salvation is a life-long project, just as life is a long journey with moments of cross and moments of joy. Our Lord gives himself to us, his Body and Blood, to strengthen us not just for the moment of our death, but for our entire life, and in doing so he saves us.

The Eucharistic Prayer, like the journey of life, continues, but now something is different. Christ is sacramentally present, accompanying us. We have acknowledged his arrival in adoration, faith, and acclamation. In a few minutes he will strengthen us once again for the journey and the wait for his return in glory.

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