Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Mystical Words for a Mystical Body

Our Lord Jesus came to save us. But the salvation he won for us is not just to save our soul, but the whole person, including language. Jesus, the Word of God – Himself speech, has restored the dialogue of love that was broken through Original Sin. We also understand that John Paul II taught us that the body has a language all its own. So, too, does the Mystical Body of Christ. The language of the Mystical Body is the language of the liturgy.

In just a few months, English-speaking Catholics will be using the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal. The Second Vatican Council decided that though Latin is our mother-tongue, broadening the use of the vernacular should be allowed (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36). For nearly fifty-years, the Church has reflected on the experience of two previous editions to produce a Roman Missal that

contains a liturgical vernacular worthy of the mystery of God and accessible to those who use it.[1]

Many Catholics believe that participation is merely saying the words that are “assigned” to them during the liturgy. Without being unfair or passing judgment on our fellow brethren, I think we all could agree that many are just going through the motions (I know I have at one time or another). Any relationship, whether with our wives, children, friends, or even…the Living God…demands more respect than going through the motions, and, they always know the difference.

Christopher Carsten and Fr. Douglas Martis, in their liturgical primer entitled, Mystical Body & Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass, help us to prepare our minds and our hearts for the Revised Roman Missal. They tell us that in order to fully participate we first must understand five basic liturgical principles that form the backdrop for the why we need to know what we say and why we say it. These principles include: Sacramentality, Ecclesiology, Inculturation, Eschatology, and Mystagogy.


Whether we realize it or not, the words (and every other fixture, vessel, gesture and action) of the Mass are “essentially sacramental realities.” We naturally think of the Eucharistic as the sacrament – and it is – but so are the priest (in persona Christi capitas) and the congregation (Mystical Body of Christ).


The words of the Mass are ecclesial in nature: it is the Church and Her Christ that speak them. We are the Mystical Body of Christ and, as we speak, so too are our words mingled with His as they rise up like incense to the Throne of Grace. Notice also how it connects back to the sacamentality of the Mass. In the Eastern Churches, they do not speak of the sacraments, but of the mysteries. Here the word for mystery and sacrament are interchangeable – they reveal the same reality.


Jesus lived at a particular time and culture in history. We, too, live in a particular moment within salvation history. Thus, the language must be appropriate to communicate the gospel message clearly to the culture in which we live. The words that are used to communicate the Mass and the Sacraments have been chosen to elevate speech that personifies noble simplicity.


St. Augustine wrote of the great City of God. We mentioned earlier that Jesus came to save the whole person. Since all of creation was tainted due to the one who was given dominion over it, salvation, likewise, is for all of creation.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;  for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21).

We are called to transform the city of man into the City of God. The primary method is through the liturgy. It is during the liturgy that heaven and earth kiss, time and eternity embrace, and we are swept up in to heaven to offer with all the angels and saints our “spiritual sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2) with the sacrifice of the Lamb. The best words (not necessarily the most perfect) chosen for the Roman Missal are not only the words of an earthly liturgy, but that of the heavenly liturgy. The eschaton (end things) is already in the “now” of the liturgy.


Participating in the Mass brings directly puts us in contact with the Word of God, His Mystical Body and the Heavenly Jerusalem. Being able to perceive these realities is a different story. Mystagogy is the liturgical act of remembering. In the Mass, though, this “remembering” is brought into reality through the sacramental action of the priest. Christ is not re-crucified, we are brought to the foot of the cross when He is crucified. Jesus’ sacrificial act is a perpetual one. He continues to offer His sacrifice to the Father in heaven. We get to sacramentally participate in His sacrifice on that Very Good Friday.

Jewish tradition suggests that the worship in Jerusalem’s temple was developed to mirror the worship of the angels in heaven. In the new covenant, that is no so. Instead, we worship together with the angels (Revelation 19:10). The Jewish high priest was only allowed in the Holy of Holies once a year. Revelation 5:10 indicates that we are a nation of priests that literally dwell always in the Holy of Holies – the presence of the Living God.

In heaven, as here on earth, our words enter into the eternal liturgy of the Lamb.

From Backdrop to Participants

Our very acclamations and responses, in union with the rest of the congregation, become the voice of the Bride to her Bridegroom. Over the next few months our parishes will begin to teach us the responses and reasoning behind the changes. Take advantage of them because Dads, you need to be able to answer these questions for your family. Keep in mind the context, that in brief, has been provided. Knowing why you say something is just as important as what you say. The only way to give full assent and let our voice shout out, even in the tiniest whispers of the liturgy, is to say them with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

[1] Martis, Christopher Carstens & Douglas. Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass. Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 2011., vii

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