Why Mystery is not “Mysterious”-Part 1 of 2

There is much confusion about Christian appeal to mystery. It is alleged at times to be a means of obscuring answers to hard questions, or the lack thereof. It is derided as a catch all “god of the gaps” who is pointed to when there are no answers.

Nevertheless, we as Christians of the Apostolic Faith do point to mystery.

In the Roman Mass, the Priest Proclaims:

“The Mystery of Faith.”
And the Faithful respond:
“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, /we proclaim your Death, O Lord, /until you come again.”

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, part of the preparatory prayer before Communion states,
“For I will not reveal Your Mystery to your Enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas…”

In the Latin Rite response, we see that the response is not something covert. Instead, it is a revelatory comment that what the Eucharist does is proclaim Christ’s saving death.

In the Byzantine Prayer, we hear that the Mystery will not be revealed to the enemies of God. This emphasizes that it can be revealed, to those of the right frame of mind.

One approach that can be helpful is to point to the Scriptural application of the term mystery. In this case, we understand that the mystery of salvation has been revealed through Christ and the Church, through the salvation of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. As one example of this, we have chapter 1 of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians.

But another way to understand mystery is to put it into an appropriate historical context. Along these lines, I am happy to say that I have been a part of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary’s Online Program, which you can find more info about at this website.
My first online course is entitled, “The Theology of the Divine Liturgy”, and it is being taught by Fr. David Petras.

In part of the course notes, which I will quote just a bit so as to entice you to consider your own possible interaction with the course, we see that mystery is not obscure to those involved, in its historical context.

In the Greek culture a mystery rite was a ritual that re-enacted a certain myth. A classic example was the Eleusian mysteries, where the drinking of the kykeon symbolized a return of fertility to the crops, it represented the corn goddess Demeter sadly searching for her daughter. Greek mysteries were hidden from outsiders, but were a revelation to those who celebrated them. If you think about it, the essence of the modern “mystery” story is the revelation of the solution to the puzzle. The essential part of mystery is the revelation, and this was true of St. Paul speaking about the mystery of Christ.

Mystery is all about a revelation that is revealed, albeit only to some. But the point is that without this revelation, mystery is not a mystery. We tend to think that the key to a mystery is that it is and ever shall be confusing, but this is not how the Eleusian mysteries were celebrated. They were only rightly celebrated when people understood the reference to the myth that was being illuminated by the mystery itself (and not in spite of that mystery), and its relevance to the fertility that was being commemorated.

In my next post, I will relate this Greek reflection with a more modern context, in order to help us see that a mystery is not “mysterious”, in the obscurantist sense of the word.

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