Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Celebrating the Mystery
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Next: Initiation: Into the Body of Christ
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?