Some years ago, a priest colleague of a slightly different tradition from mine, once angrily castigated me on the steps of the Cathedral for casually calling the Eucharist, “the Mass.” The word was natural to me, and I didn’t think too much of using it even in conversation with someone of an evangelical tradition. I was grateful when his wife intervened and sternly guided him away!
In The Catechism of The Church in Wales, the Holy Eucharist is called by many names: “The Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Liturgy, and the Mass” (Catechism, 50). Hidden away in the General Rubrics of the Holy Eucharist, we also have the beautiful name of ‘The Holy Mysteries.’
That word, ‘Mystery.’ We use it so much. We read or watch a good ‘Murder Mystery’, casually say of something we don’t understand, “It’s a Mystery to me!’ In the cartoon world, we see Scooby Doo traveling around in the ‘The Mystery Machine’ or perhaps we’ve taken part in a ‘Mystery Trip’ or read the feedback of a ‘Mystery Shopper’. In all of these, there’s an element of secrecy, of the unknown, of something hidden, just waiting to be disclosed.
‘I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love,” we read in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col 2:2) “so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself.’
Right next door to the city of Colossae was Hierapolis, the home of many Mystery Cults in which, it was believed, cosmic or religious secrets were disclosed to privileged insiders. St Paul’s school of thought was different. For him, as for us, the Mystery of God is a universal revelation – open to all. This Mystery is Christ.
The mystery of faith
In the Mystery of the Mass we encounter Jesus himself and yet who can understand this in all its fullness? We are simply called, as St Anselm of Canterbury said, to have ‘Faith seeking understanding” or to “Believe that you may understand,” as St Augustine wrote. We are drawn into something far greater than we can ever imagine or understand and this may leave us speechless.
And, yet, in trying to make meaning of the Mystery, speak we do. So human are we that we need to name things and express what we think we know.
At Mass, we are invited to “Proclaim the Mystery of Faith” and we joyfully respond that ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ The Mystery of our Faith is the death and resurrection of Christ.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again / in gloryMemorial Acclamation at Mass
In the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist, in some mysterious and beautiful way, we experience this in all its fullness – whatever we choose to call it.