Maggie Scheck Geene
Catholicism is a system of belief entrenched in mystery. There are many aspects of the Catholic faith that are unknowable in part or at all through the action of our reason and intellect alone. It is these tenets of the faith that are said to be part of the Divine Mystery.
Now if you take mystery as … some event or situation that can be searched for clues and/or uncovered by good “detective work”, you are using the wrong definition of Mystery in the Catholic sense of the word. There is a much older, deeper meaning being used here. One has to go back to the root and the translation of the term to find the real meaning of Mystery in a Catholic sense.
In the Catholic sense, mystery means something that is known by divine revelation, which makes it beyond human understanding and thus must be accepted with faith because reason fails to define it alone. The word is from the Latin Mysterium which means the same thing as Sacrament, which is Greek in origin.
To a Catholic a sacrament is a time when God touches one’s life in a fundamental and personal way. We as Catholics live a sacramental life in that we believe that God is a personal God who touches our lives often. The Church has defined seven particular times in a person’s life when God’s touch is so intimate that those times are elevated to a “capital S” sacrament. These times are so important that they are celebrated within the Faith Community and leave a mark on the person that cannot be taken away….
The other time one hears the term mystery in the Catholic tradition is when someone is speaking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. While historically we can know that these events actually happened, there is a point where our reason and intellect fail in understanding the import of the events. At this point we must rely on our faith to accept the truth of these events. This is living in the Divine Mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
As these two examples are times when humans try to understand the action of God which cannot be done with reason alone, then for a Catholic the term “mystery” is meant to explain those actions and interventions of God into our world that we must accept on faith coupled with our reason, which is also a gift from God.