2 July 2020


There is some discussion on the Internet ... again! ... about the phrase 'Mystery of Faith', in the Institution Narrative of the Roman Rite.

I published the following in August last year. In my view, it explains exactly what the phrase is taken to mean, and why it was inserted into the Words of Consecration of the Chalice. So I've sharpened it up a bit and now I reoffer it to you.

A striking characteristic of the Roman Institution Narrative is its determination to gather in whatever can be found in Scripture ... and, by that, we mean the Hebrew Scriptures as well as what we call the New Testament. Too often even Catholics, who should know better, fail to comprehend the Scriptures holistically as a single narrative of Salvation History in which everything relates to everything.

(1) So we say that the Lord took hunc praeclarum calicem ["this excellent chalice"]. This phrase is gathered into the Last Supper Narrative from Psalm 22:5 [The Lord is my shepherd...]. A dreary 'Enlightenment' approach might tediously discuss the date and authorship of the psalm, and would implicitly ignore the Eucharistic reference, obvious to any Catholic or Orthodox, of calix meus quam praeclarus est. But we are Catholics.

(2) The words about the Lord lifting his eyes to heaven ... you will have noticed that these are gathered into the Institution Narrative from the Feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000 recorded in Scripture, which we recognise as Eucharistic anticipations.

(3) Our Covenant is not only the  Covenant [Testament] which lies at the heart of the 'Old Testament'; it is also 'New' (I Corinthians 11:25), and additionally 'Eternal' (Psalm 110:9; Ecclus.17:12; 45: 15: etc.).So "New" and "Eternal" are gathered into the story of the Last Supper.

(4) The most puzzlement is caused by the words Mysterium Fidei. Jungmann rightly dismisses as "poetry, not history" the theory that these were words originally spoken by the Deacon. Baseless myths, however, die hard and after Vatican II it became yet another silly (and illegal) fad to give these words to the Deacon.

I am quite sure that the phrase was gathered into the Consecration of the Chalice from I Timothy 3:9, which talks about the deacons "holding the Mystery of Faith". Since the Deacon was commonly regarded as having a special responsibility for the Chalice (at High Mass he still joins the Priest in offering the Chalice), "holding the Mystery of Faith" was taken to be equivalent to "holding the Chalice".

So "Mystery of Faith" in the Roman rite means the Chalice of the Lord's Blood.

So, just as "this excellent chalice" and "lifting up His eyes to heaven" and "New" Covenant and "Eternal' were gathered into the Institution Narrative from elsewhere in Holy Scripture, so also the Apostle's words about the Deacons "holding" [ekhontas] the "Mystery of Faith" were understood as referring to the Chalice and gathered into the account of the Last Supper.


John Vasc said...

That 'mysterium fidei' must refer to 1 Tim. 3:9 seems conclusive, as a Vulgate wordsearch that reveals that sole biblical source for the phrase. And 'mysteria' is a frequent coded reference (e.g. in the Postcommunion) to the sacramental Consecration. I wonder though if 'habentes' was really meant to allude to a Deacon holding the chalice. It could mean instead 'having' the mystery of faith in the spiritual sense (i.e. sacramental belief in the eucharist).
What makes me rather sceptical that the deacon is here said to literally hold the chalice, is that the previous verse is 'non multo vino deditos non turpe lucrum sectantes' - and surely the gear change from this dismissive negative for wine-drinking to the sacred nature of the *eucharistic* wine and the chalice would surely cry out in Pauline rhetoric for some descriptive word or phrase to clearly distinguish and describe the latter - if this were indeed the intended meaning? Even if St Paul wanted (as usual) to veil the specific nature of the 'mysterium'?

Cherub said...

This is brilliant. Thank you very much indeed for this. Am I right to conclude from this that the taking of these words ("mysterium fidei") out of the Words of Institution or consecration of the chalice, and followed by a trope, is really a result of impoverished scholarship on the part of the Bugnini reformers?

Fr SImon Heans said...

Perhaps this comment is off message since your post refers exclusively to Mysteriun Fidei in the EF. However, those of us who also celebrate Mass in the OF or OU (Ordinariate Use) are of course obliged to say Mysterium Fidei outside the consecration formula of the chalice as the introduction to words proclaiming a mystery of faith quite other than the eucharistic mystery of transubstantiation.
Fr Armand de Malleray argues (Ego Eimai pp 138-43) that the change in the position of Mysterium Fidei coupled with the introduction of 'Do this in memory of me' into the consecration formula for the chalice means that 'in the modern formula of Consecration, one is asked to remember something past; whereas in the traditional formula, one is meant to believe in someone present.' That this doctrinal shift was by no means Pope Paul VI's intention is shown, as Fr Armand points out, by the fact that he published an encyclical restating the traditional doctrine of the Real Presence in the most robust of terms in 1965 which, ironically, as we may say with hindsight, is entitled Mysterium Fidei. Moreover, the Holy Father doubled down on this teaching just a few months before the promulgation of the new Missale Romanum (3rd April 1969) in a letter to the Superior General of the Priests of the Blessed Sacrament (Saluberrinum Sacramentum Eucharistiae, 10th January 1969) But, as Fr Armand, concludes sadly, "very few read Mysterium Fidei, and who ever heard of Saluberrimum Sacramentum?'
Perhaps, as many of us, priests and people, will be at Mass together for the first time in months this coming weekend, we could make reading these two documents part of our preparation.

Scribe said...

Dear Father, I echo Cherub in thanking you for this absorbing exposition. I knew nothing at all about this, and the scriptural references that you elucidate here. I've always regretted the removal of those words from the Missa Normativa, finding the way they are re-used awkward and contrived.

Colin Spinks said...

The NO, as you well know, removes the phrase "Mysterium Fidei" from the words of institution, on the not unreasonable grounds that there is no Scriptural record of Our Lord actually saying them (albeit I agree with Father's argument in today's blog as to why this is not particularly relevant) The words are now placed after the consecration and are used to introduce a formula, spoken or sung by all. This takes one of 3 or 4 different forms, but all having in common statements pertaining to Christ's death, resurrection, and second coming. Modern Anglican rites also adhere to this practice, the most common formula being "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again". The problem is that there is now an almost universal belief that this formula, rather than the physical chalice, is identified as the "Mystery of Faith"; sometimes the Celebrant introduces it by saying "Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith". Other introductions, such as "Great is the Mystery of Faith" or simply "The Mystery of Faith", while more ambiguous, do little to correct this heretical misunderstanding. If I were allowed a little innovation, might I suggest that the celebrant's introduction be simultaneous with the elevation of the Chalice, and the words "Ecce Mysterium Fidei" (cf Ecce Agnus Dei) or "Behold the Mystery of Faith" used.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

The words about the Lord lifting his eyes to heaven

Not a few of His miracles are preceded by this and prayer