The Sacrament is the μυστήριον


“In all wisdom and insight, he made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor.” This comes from the second reading for our Fifteen Sunday of Ordinary Time. Sacrament is derived from the Latin, meaning “a consecrated thing, “something holy”; a Church Latin translation of the Greek μυστήριον, “mystery.”

What you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report. Your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body; the cup is Christ’s blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly… “Unless you believe, you will not understand,” “אִם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ, כִּי לֹא תֵאָמֵנוּ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, The source of his flesh took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. He was nailed to the wood; on the wood, he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day he rose… So how can his body be bread? What about the cup? How can it be his blood?” My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped.

Listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table!

Our Beloved St. Augustine, who stands at the right side of the mural of our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, wrote these words.

The holy day of the Passover is touching us. You, beloved in Christ, are to be enlightened by the baptismal font of regeneration. You will again be taught what is required, if God so will; with how great devotion and order you must enter in, for what purpose each of the holy mysteries of Baptism is performed, and with what reverence and order you must go from Baptism to the Holy Altar of God, and enjoy its spiritual and heavenly μυστήριον.

These are the words from Catechetical Lecture 18 from our Blessed Cyril of Jerusalem. As we can see, St. Cyril of Jerusalem uses “μυστήριον,” the same way we use the term, “Sacrament.” Protestants argue that the Catholic Church came up with the idea of “Sacrament” in the fourth century. Our Blessed St. Cyril of Jerusalem and our Most Blessed St. Augustine wrote at this time. When we read the writings of these blessed saints, we find their writings presuppose their doctrine had been around for a long time. The problem is in the translation.

What changed in the fourth century is semantics of the word. Using sign theory, which St. Augustine invented, what changed was the sign. Μυστήριον, became sacrament. The mystery remains. In our academic language, we call this historical criticism. We need to understand the doctrine of St. Paul and what he meant when he said “μυστήριον,” He meant the sacraments. Our doctrine of the seven sacraments was at least that long ago.

As Catholics, we must also understand what St. Paul meant when he discussed “μυστήριον,” “These realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped.”

Something happens at that altar, other than Father Francisco or Father Joseph saying an epiclesis and reciting a narrative. Jesus dies on that cross, again, for the first time, each time, and we die with him. We become new people, who know what it means to suffers. We then become Jesus for the world, showing the world what our resurrection means and how the world can join us, if it but wills. We must remember, first, what is going on at that altar. A man is dying, and we are dying with him, nothing more and profoundly, nothing less. Something happens on that altar and if we see it, there will be a  faith response. If we see it, we will be transformed. If we see it, we will put on the new self, created in God’s way in charity, dedication, and truth. At mass, do we see it?

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