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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

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Celebrating the Mystery

by Joan McKamey

A book I loved as a child was the Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock. I read it over and over—helping Nancy put together the clues and solve the mystery. My daughter is also a mystery fan. Our recent trip to Chicago included visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the site of a mystery novel she’d just read.

As a Church, we celebrate mysteries of faith. These mysteries are quite different from mysteries in novels. They are not to be solved; we must accept them on faith. The reality we’re celebrating in these mysteries is incredible, beyond the scope of human understanding and imagining: God’s unfathomable love and the ways God is revealed to us.

A mystery is a reality that is both visible and hidden. My wedding ring symbolizes the mystery of love that my husband and I share. This simple band is a visible sign of our commitment, symbolizing a bond of love, union of lives and creation of family that artists, poets, songwriters and writers of love letters have tried to capture since time immemorial. Our love is a personal experience of mystery—transcending human ability to fully understand or explain. I believe this is because God is its source, and God is mystery.

Life follows death

We celebrate and participate in a key mystery of faith every time we pray as a community: the paschal mystery. This refers to Jesus’ suffering (passion), death and resurrection. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that life follows death and good conquers evil.

I began to understand this as an element of both faith and life while working at a retreat center. The “paschal mystery talk” involved sharing about some kind of death experience—an actual death or a loss of relationship, rejection, etc.— through which new life came.

Over the months of preparing and presenting that talk I came to a deeper understanding of Christ’s paschal mystery and its meaning for us. I also began to identify in my own life the recurring pattern of life following death.

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Light follows darkness

A few years ago I was blindsided by a period of depression that happened to begin during Lent. My sadness was consuming. My past paschal mystery experiences helped me believe that I would not only make it through this painful time but also be better for it. I had confidence that God was with me and that this “death” of depression was going to lead me to new life.

Our pastor noted my tears on Holy Thursday and commented that the Good Friday service can be quite meaningful to those experiencing difficulties. So I prayed for understanding of “the power of the Cross.” A priest had once used this phrase, and I had jotted it down to reflect on its meaning later. This seemed like a good time both in the Church’s liturgical year and in my personal life.

The Easter homily took me one giant step further in understanding the power of the Cross and in accepting my cross of depression. The message: Light follows darkness. It was as if the priest had written the homily for me. I knew that God was answering my Good Friday prayer: Help me understand the power of the Cross in my life. I still had a way to go in my struggle with depression, but I had the sure hope and faith that light would follow this darkness. That experience is a reflection of the paschal mystery in my life.

Liturgy and the mystery

The Holy Week liturgies (liturgy is our official community prayer, including but not limited to Mass) contain explicit references to death and resurrection, but we celebrate the paschal mystery in all liturgies. As we know, “a mystery is a reality that is both visible and hidden.” The mystery of Jesus’ “death and Resurrection are hidden now in the eternity of God” but visible in the community gathered “for worship and remembrance of what God has done” (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 167).

We celebrate Easter every Sunday. The memorial acclamation “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is just one place in our Mass that we acclaim our faith in the Resurrection, in the truth of the paschal mystery that life follows death and light follows darkness.

Sacraments and the mystery

Our seven sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders—are celebrations of the mystery of God’s activity in our lives that in themselves have visible and invisible realities. The visible is the outward expression, the symbols, the form, the way they are administered and received. The invisible is God’s grace, “the free and loving gift by which he offers people a share in his life” (USCCA, p. 168).

A powerful experience of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) is celebrated at the Easter Vigil Mass. Being a team member of our parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) gives me the opportunity to share the faith journeys of adults who seek membership in the Catholic Church. Watching as they are baptized and confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time is an incredible experience of God’s grace for me and for the gathered assembly.

Holy ‘work’

That’s right, the initiation of members into our community affects and is a celebration of the entire community. All of our liturgies are communal experiences. Gone are the days when it is acceptable to come to Mass (or another liturgy) and be a spectator of what the priest is doing or simply engage in private prayer.

The word liturgy comes from the Greek for “public work or work done on behalf of the people.” All worshipers are expected to participate actively in this holy “work.” “The faithful are called to come to the liturgy consciously prepared to make their thoughts agree with what they say and hear, and to cooperate with divine grace” (USCCA, p. 171). Many of our parishes have a way to go to shift from the model of nonparticipation to the “fully conscious and active participation” called for in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #14) from Vatican II.

Shared priesthood

The responsibility for liturgy is shared by all of us, the entire Body of Christ—the baptized assembly and ordained ministers (bishops, priests and deacons). All the baptized—men and women—share in Christ’s priesthood, with the ordained sharing this in a special way through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The clergy (ordained) exist to build up “the common priesthood of the faithful” (USCCA, p. 264). One significant role of the clergy is to lead our liturgies.

The Liturgy of the Word (readings from the Bible) is part of all sacramental celebrations and most other liturgies. The Scripture readings and homily tell us of God’s love and faithfulness, the actions and teachings of Jesus and how we are to live out the Good News in our lives.

Extending the liturgy

The Church plays an important role in shaping responsible citizens who will work to make a difference in our society and world. Every Mass ends with the commissioning of the assembly to go out into the world to be what they just celebrated—the Body of Christ.

Sacramentals and popular devotions extend the liturgy of the Church into the daily life of individuals. Sacramentals include blessings, actions such as processions, prayers like the rosary, and objects such as holy water, palms, ashes, candles and medals. Devotions can help us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17), infusing our everyday lives with prayer.

Our liturgies, sacraments, sacramentals and devotions help us to celebrate the mystery—the wonder of God’s boundless love as powerfully revealed through Christ’s paschal mystery. The promise of new and eternal life following physical death gives us hope not only for the afterlife but also for the deaths we encounter throughout life. New life follows death. Light follows darkness. Christ is risen, Alleluia!

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 14, 20 and 22 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Joan McKamey worked professionally as a catechist and DRE before joining the staff at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She holds a master’s in Religious Studies/Pastoral Family Studies from the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati.

Next: Initiation: Into the Body of Christ

    

Questions

• In the main article, Joan McKamey used her wedding ring as one example
of a mystery—a reality that is both visible and hidden. What is a similar kind of mystery in your own life?

• Reflect on a personal experience of paschal mystery—light following
darkness, life following death. How does this experience confirm your
belief and better your understanding of Christ’s paschal mystery?

• What can you do to improve your own “fully conscious and active participation” (SC, #14) in Sunday Mass and other liturgies? How do/can you
“extend the liturgy” into your everyday life?

 

 

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