Mystérium Fídei

Hic est enim Calix Sánguinis mei, novi et ætérni Testaménti, mystérium fídei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundétur in remissiónem peccatórum. Hæc quotiescúmque fecéritis, in mei memóriam faciétis.

For this is the Chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal Testament, the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.

Porque éste es el Cáliz de mi Sangre, nuevo y eterno Testamento, misterio de la fe: que será derramada por vosotros y por muchos para la remisión de los pecados. Cada vez que esto hiciereis, lo haréis en memoria mía.

St. Ambrose of Milan (+397), that great Father of the early Church, bishop, theologian, good pastor of the Lord’s flock (and who baptized Augustine of Tagaste) wrote an important two-part treatise on the sacraments: De Mysteriis and De Sacramentis.

The Catholic Encyclopædia presents its first part, On the Mysteries, thus:

The writer explains in the commencement of this treatise that his object was to set forth, for the benefit of those about to be baptized, the rites and meaning of that Sacrament, as well as of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. For all these matters were treated with the greatest reserve in the Early Church, for fear of profanation by the heathen, and it was the custom, as in the case of the well-known Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, to explain them to the catechumens during the latter part of Lent.

Treatises of this kind possess therefore a special interest, as in them we find clearly stated the full teaching of the Church at the time when those addresses which have come down to our times were drawn up.

St. Ambrose goes through and explains the greater part, first of the rites usual at the time of solemn Baptism, pointing out the deep truths and mysteries underlying these outward things. He then treats Confirmation, referring to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; and lastly, speaks of the Holy Eucharist, especially setting forth the doctrine of the Real Presence.

We would do well to harken to the voice of the early Church Fathers, whose doctrine is so abundant, so unambiguously clear, and so pious!

The Latin word, sacraméntum / sacrament, is of Greek origin, mystérion / mystery. They are actually synonymous in meaning, and are therefore theologically interchangeable. Though the use of the word mystérion is much more common in Eastern Christianity whereas in Western Christianity the word sacraméntum has been more prevalent.

But the fact of the matter is that both terms essentially consider the same reality: that of God’s merciful interventions in history in order to redeem a fallen mankind. This is precisely what in theological terms we call salvation history.

And yet, not all liturgical actions celebrate sacraments, but they always celebrate the divine mysteries. For this very reason, therefore, we can likewise affirm that indeed, not all liturgical actions celebrate one of the seven sacraments per se, yet they are always sacramental in nature, precisely because the divine mysteries are always celebrated.

The various liturgical traditions of celebrating the Divine Office—organization of and chanting of antiphons and the 150 psalms, hymns, readings from Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, etc., is the primary example of this. Other sacred actions, such as the various blessings of persons, items, places, etc., are other examples of sacramentals, without actually celebrating the sacraments.

Another way to say it would be to affirm that not all sacramentals are sacraments, but all sacraments are sacramental, and both celebrate the divine mysteries.

So, the mysteries or the sacraments indeed are of divine-apostolic origin, liturgical sacred signs that communicate—each mystery or sacrament in a particular way—the grace of redemption. But said grace of redemption is not dispensed in a spatial vacuum, but rather in history.

It’s precisely through the celebration of Christ’s mysteries or sacraments in the sacred liturgy, that salvation takes place in history, hence the term salvation history.

This same reason is also what makes the liturgy so vitally and decisively important: we are objectively redeemed and saved through the divine mysteries or sacraments dispensed in the liturgy.

In other words, we are saved liturgically, in a manner of saying. To underestimate the absolutely crucial importance of the Church’s sacred liturgy, whereby the grace of Christ’s redemption is dispensed to us, poor sinners, is nothing less than diabolical.

That being said… best to watch out for and be wary of “liturgical reforms” that objectively suppose a rupture with the Church’s authentic liturgical traditions, Eastern or Western…

In Eastern Christianity, the divine mysteries are celebrated in beautiful, elaborate, and quite solemn Divine Liturgy rites—such as the Byzantine liturgy or the liturgy of Ss. Basil and John Chrysostomos—which stress the dynamic nature of the sacraments, that is, they are celebrated not in some static conception but rather with pious commemoration of the redemptive interventions of God in history.

And so for example, during the consecration in Eastern rite liturgies, the celebrant will chant or recite three times: Lord, send us the Holy Spirit at this Third Hour of Apostolic glory. So merciful Thou art, do not withdraw Him from us, but restore us, I implore Thee.

In this way, at the consecration of the Eucharistic species in which the Real Presence of Christ is upon the altar of Sacrifice, Eastern Divine Liturgy dynamically commemorates the liturgical Hour of Tertiam (Terce), when according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost.

It is most fitting since, as in Western rites, it’s the power of the Holy Ghost which performs the miracle of transubstantiation of the Bread and Wine into the Real Presence of Christ’s sacrificed Body and Blood.

In Western Christianity, in the various traditional Western rites, the divine mysteries or sacraments are likewise celebrated in beautiful, elaborate and indeed solemn liturgies. The venerable traditional Roman rite (up to the 1962 books, since after 1969 Paul VI introduced a new rite), the Ambrosian rite, the Benedictine rite, the also ancient Visigothic-Mozarabic rite proper to Spain, the Dominican rite, etc., each in their own rich diversity, celebrate the same Catholic faith.

It is perhaps in the Prefaces for Mass where the dynamic nature of the divine mysteries or salvation history is more perceivably present in the Western rites.

For example, the beautiful Preface for the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the traditional Roman rite:

Specifically, where it says Who with the Oil of gladness didst anoint Thine only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as Priest forever and King of all: that by offering Himself on the altar of the Cross a stainless Victim to appease Thee, He might accomplish the mysteries of man’s redemption…

Thus we come to salvation history’s summit. A particularly beautiful and dynamic description of the mysteries of man’s redemption is, precisely, presenting the Holy Mass as a sacramental Sacrifice:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed eternal High Priest by the Father, with the Oil of gladness, a representation of the Unction of the Holy Ghost as prefigured in psalm 44, who offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb or Victim, taking away the sins of the world on the altar of the Cross.

Let the dear readers ponder very carefully—and very gratefully—this perfect and sublime expression: the altar of the Cross. This is precisely what the Mass essentially is.

This is precisely the reason that the Catholic notion of Mass cannot be equivalent to the Lord’s Supper, as the General Instruction of the (Novus Ordo) Roman Missal clearly states in no. 27: In the Mass or the Lord’s Supper…

Sorry, but no. And to think that this expression, in different numbered paragraphs throughout the years, has been consistently present—without correction—since 1969!

What is more, the sacramental Sacrifice of the Cross, or the Sacrifice of the Mass, is always celebrated theologically towards God (versus Deum) and never towards the people (versus populum), even if the altar (or Novus Ordo table-altar) is physically facing the congregation.

And yet, for all the sublime realty that is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven, it’s vitally important to stress—though it may take us by surprise—that what redeems us, poor sinners, is not properly the Mass in and of itself, but rather the divine mystery of Christ’s priestly, self-giving Love as a most Holy Sacrifice on the Cross, of which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is its most august sacrament.

In other words, the divine mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross is what objectively redeems us: God, the eternal Word and Son, Made Man in history, his sacred Human nature painfully sacrificed for us and for our salvation on the Roman Cross, though suffering Personally as God.

But the Mass, strictly speaking, is not absolutely necessary if Our Lord had not willed it, any more than creation was not necessary, indeed, that nothing is necessary in God.

If God wills something, it’s because He is Charity or Love, and because it is good. God is absolutely free and has no need nor is obligated to anything.

If Our Lord, on the evening of Holy Thursday, willed to institute the most Holy Eucharist as a sacrament of the Real Presence of the divine mystery of his priestly and most Holy Sacrifice on the Cross—his Body to be given up, his Blood to be shed for many—He did so, not because He had to, but because he freely, full-willingly, and lovingly wanted to, for our sake.

Thus, the mystery of faith celebrated on the altar is not only what Our Lord did for us on the Cross, but also why he did so: the indescribable depths of his merciful Love for us.

Mystérium Fídei!

And so we come, again, to the ever crucially important lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi / the law of prayer is the law of belief, and the law of living that belief. In the traditional Roman rite, during the consecration of the wine to Blood, the words mystérium fídei are inserted within the very words of consecration:

Hic est enim Calix Sánguinis mei, novi et ætérni Testaménti, mystérium fídei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundétur in remissiónem peccatórum. Hæc quotiescúmque fecéritis, in mei memóriam faciétis.

For this is the Chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal Testament, the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.

The phrase mystérium fídei was added to the Lord’s words of consecration of the wine in the Chalice at some time before the VI century, perhaps by Pope St. Leo I, the Great (440-461) and possibly in reaction to the denial by dualistic gnostic Manichaeism of the goodness of material things, as an expression of the Catholic Church’s most firm belief that salvation comes through Christ’s material Body and Blood, and thus through participation in the sacrament which makes use of a material element.

But to insert it immediately after the Chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal Testament, manifests that indeed, the mystérium fídei of Christ being the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, of all things.

Through Him, with Him, and in Him, the divine revelation has reached its plenitude, that all other divine mysteries of faith—Old and New Testaments—are present in Him, precisely because He is really present on the altar of the Cross.

In the Novus Ordo Missæ introduced by Paul VI in 1969, the phrase mystérium fídei was taken out of that precise context and placed afterwards.

Various and ever more numerous memorial acclamations of the faithful that follow the consecration and the recontectualized mystérium fídei—deemed to increase active participation—suggest that the mystery of faith refers, in its new postconciliar context, to the entire mystery of salvation through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, which is made present in the celebration of the Eucharist.

This conception of the Eucharist may be interpreted correctly, since it is a reflection of what in John 20:28 refers to Christ as risen and as still bearing the indelible marks of his Passion.

Fine. But why make needless distinctions in the liturgy between the mystérium fídei of Christ’s Real Presence with all the other mysteries of redemption?

Interestingly, an alternative memorial acclamation authorized in Ireland, My Lord and my God, was disapproved of by Paul VI for seemingly concentrating on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, rather than on Eucharistic sacrifice as a whole. Again, why make needless distinctions?

The ironic thing in all this tampering with the Church’s sacred liturgy, by taking out of traditional context the mystérium fídei, is that in and of itself, there is in principal nothing erroneous nor heretical in having done so. In fact, it’s keeping with the traditional Eastern rite dynamic conception of the divine mysteries of faith, as mentioned above. And not at all foreign to Western rites, as we have seen.

But paradoxically, this tampering with mystérium fídei has proven to be pastorally highly imprudent. Why?

Because it has displaced the traditional Roman rite context—that of the Real Presence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, in the august Eucharistic sacrament of Christ’s Body given up and Christ’s Blood shed for many, for the remission of sins—thereby providing a de facto open door to a different—and un-Catholic—understanding of transubstantiation of the Bread and Wine, indeed, of the liturgy itself.

Moreover, other anthropocentric liturgical novelties have contributed to a lessening of belief in the mystérium fídei of the Real Presence of a sacrificed Christ.

In the Novus Ordo Missæ, with the mystérium fídei placed after the consecration of the wine to Blood, with the faithful’s various acclamations—yes, though allusive to the most important mysteries of salvation, Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension—as far as I am aware, none of those popular acclamations include a reference to Christ’s Real Presence on the altar of the Cross.

And, lest we forget, the orientation of the altar in the Novus Ordo is no longer ad Oriéntem / towards the East, from whence Christ the King—at Christmas and on the Last Day of Universal Judgement—through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us (cf. Benedíctus at Lauds).

So, celebration is no longer versus Deum / towards God, it is no longer towards the Crucifix in the center, but rather versus pópulum / towards the people, alas, celebrating their wonderful selves.

It is therefore presented less an altar of sacrifice than it is a community meal on a table. Protestants will find this much more appealing, and unwary Catholics will no longer be able to discern what they are really being deprived of at… the Eucharist.

For starters, the Novus Ordo rubrics, in an quasi-obsession for elimating ritual gestures deemed too repetitive, bid the priest to first show the consecrated Host and consecrated Chalice to the people, before he himself genuflects only once for each Eucharistic specie. The people of God (alas, sometimes more “people” than “of God”) in first place, God in a respectable second place: anthropocentric liturgy.

In the traditional Roman rite, the rubrics bid the priest to first genuflect in adoration immediately upon consecration of each Eucharistic specie, then show each to the people, and then genuflect again. God in first place, the people of God in second place: theocentric liturgy.

Ever so subtle, yet nonetheless…

Of course, it certainly doesn’t contribute to belief in the traditional conception of the mystérium fídei, the Real Presence of Christ sacrificed in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine upon the altar of the Cross… if the faithful are bidden to proclaim, for example, that the mystery of faith they are celebrating is: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

The most commonly used acclamation in Spain is: Anunciamos tu muerte, proclamamos tu resurrección, ¡ven, Señor Jesús! / We announce your death, we proclaim your resurrection, ¡come, Lord Jesus!

All perfectly true, indeed! But…

What about the mystérium fídei of Christ’s sacrificial Real Presence already on the altar of the Cross? Is He not already here among us, on the altar, even if not manifested in all his kingly glory and majesty, as will be on the Last Day? To bid that He come (again) when He is already really present on the altar seems a bit awkward…

And, oh yes, by prohibiting—in practice—kneeling and receiving Communion on the tongue, we must not forget the abusive imposition as well of… Communion in the hand while standing! That ruthlessly imposed liturgical practice which alone has done the most harm to progressively erode belief in the Real Presence of Christ sacrificed in the Eucharist for our sins.

With the kind patience of readers that have gotten this far, it is nonetheless quite reasonable to ask: so? So what if there has been imprudent liturgical tampering? What of it?

Very well, here’s what of it. If we do not celebrate what the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church believes in the divine mysteries of faith, then we celebrate something else. A curious form of Gnosticism…

If we really believed the mystery of faith in the Real Presence, i.e., if the Real Presence is for real, then how can one possibly celebrate anything else?

What, Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice isn’t enough, that we have to abuse his liturgy in order to celebrate our thing?

I mean, if Christ himself isn’t really present on the altar—or even if He is objectively present due to a valid celebration of the Mass, but is not subjectively present in the minds and hearts of the faithful—then we have, in either case, a “reformed” understanding, you see, of the transubstantiation…

Bread and Wine transubstantiated, as it were, into ideologies: political, social, economic, gender, you name it.

Paraphrasing one of G.K. Chesterton’s brilliant expressions is very easily applicable here: when we no longer celebrate the divine mysteries of our redemption—because we no longer believe in the One and Triune God—then we celebrate just about anything.

Problem is, celebrating just about anything is not going to redeem us and save us from sin and death…

It’s similar also to what St. Augustine said: Outside the Catholic Church you can find anything, except salvation… That’s likewise applicable, of course, to the Catholic liturgy and the Catholic faith.

Hence Novus Ordo ethnic liturgies, with popular ethnic or secular music, complete with antics. Or liberation theology solidarity eucharists, complete with new litanies of saints, including mixing John XXIII along with Ché Guevara. John XXIII may have imprudently convoked the Second Vatican Council, but equating him with the South American revolutionary is a bit of a stretch…

Or the infamous portraying of Our Lord as a sort of 1960s hippy social revolutionary, in the form of a “Wanted” by the authorities poster.

Or revindicating liturgies of, say, a feminist agenda, i.e., female diaconate, priesthood, etc. Not to mention pro-gay agenda “welcoming liturgies.” And all sorts of ideological infestations, ad nauseam.

Given what has transpired since the postconciliar liturgical “reforms,” can anybody honestly deny that the Church’s sacred liturgy, at large, has been ideologically manipulated?

Recalling the Ad Limina Apostolorum visit of the Czech bishops to Rome in 2015, when a very open Francis told them of how puzzled he was at the rivival of the Traditional Latin Mass, of how young people surprisingly were attracted to these old forms, of how this was only a mere passing fad—the Roman Mass of All Ages, mind you!—and of his concern that the Old Rite was being ideologically manipulated… (!)

Oh, really?

And yet Francis, in the Novus Ordo Holy Thursday washing of the feet, dares to “make more clear” the Lord’s gesture of washing the feet of his Twelve Apostles, while conferring on them a sublime participation in his eternal Priesthood!

He not only changes—and therefore manipulates—the meaning of the Lord’s gesture, to a universal service to men, women, Catholic or otherwise, Muslim, etc., he even prescribes in new rubrics what had been a serious liturgical abuse since 1969.

Oh, the irony is beyond staggering…

And so, to sum it all up and put it another way: if we, in the liturgy, do not celebrate the specific mystérium fídei of the Lord’s Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist…

If we do not celebrate the mystérium fídei as a sacrament of his most Holy and Priestly Sacrifice on the Cross…

If we do not celebrate the mystérium fídei of the Eucharist, whereby all the other divine mysteries of our redemption are really and truly present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, precisely because He is really and truly present…

Then we no longer gratefully celebrate semper et ubíque / always and everywhere, with uplifted hearts, what God does for us, to redeem us… but rather what we do ourselves, for ourselves, perhaps occasionally letting God in on things.

Is not this tantamount to the liturgical equivalent of the Fall of Adam and Eve? Instead of celebrating  the mystérium fídei, are we not celebrating rather the mystérium iniquitátis / the mystery of iniquity, the perfect description of sin, as the Apostle St. Paul describes it?

Not even an encyclical called Mystérium Fídei by Paul VI (03-IX-1965) could remedy the theological errors brewing at that time, what liturgically was being dismantled in those very years, under his watch.

In conclusion, these clairvoyant words of +Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, steadfast defender of the Traditional Latin Mass and Catholic Priesthood, taken from his Spiritual Journey:

We must recognize that proper place is not always given, even in the teaching of the Church, in catechisms, to the Sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated on our altars. There is a tendency to give all recognition to the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to make but an accidental allusion to the Sacrifice. This is a great danger for the faith of the faithful, especially in face of the violent attacks of the Protestants against the Holy Sacrifice. The devil is not mistaken when he is out to make the Sacrifice disappear. He knows that he attacks the work of Our Lord at its vital center, and that any lack of esteem of this Sacrifice brings about the ruin of all Catholicism, in every domain.

aka Modernist war

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