Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the October AD 2006
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question: Would you please comment on the removal of the phrase “mysterium fidei-the mystery of faith” from the words of consecration in the Novus Ordo? Perhaps more than its removal, its new placement after the consecration seems to make it ignore the great mystery of faith that Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ has come again,” but isn’t the Real Presence the mystery most closely associated with the consecration?

    Answer: The questioner points out yet another example of the “reformers” zeal for altering the Mass by inserting the practices of the early Church or the customs of the Eastern Churches into the twentieth century Roman Rite. The hope is that the early rites of the Church, being less doctrinally developed, will be more acceptable to Protestants and that the use of Eastern practices will be attractive to the Orthodox, thereby promoting “ecumenism.” In making such changes the “reformer” can honestly say that the changes cannot be heretical for they are nothing more than a return to a practice approved for centuries by the Church-either in years gone by or in a rite still in use after centuries. The Catholic faithful are prevailed upon to accept the modification as a return to “noble simplicity”; the less faithful accept it as a means for getting “the burden of attending Mass” over with more quickly (like the very popular Eucharistic Prayer #2).

    The phrase “mysterium fidei” appears in the earliest written sacramentaries of the Roman Rite, which means only that it was in use no later then the seventh century. It appears in those rites which were heavily influenced by Rome (French Gallican, modern Ambrosian, Maronite) in later years, but nowhere else-not among the Copts, Byzantines, and Armenians, who make up the vast majority of the Eastern Churches both Orthodox and Catholic. It does not appear in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper.

    The origin of “mysterium fidei” has been the object of a great deal of debate.[1] It is found in the Council of Florence’s Bull Cantate Dómino, relating the practices of Rome to the Eastern Churches, and in Saint Thomas’ Summa Theologica in his explanation of the form of consecration in use by the Roman Church.[2]  Pope Innocent III, a man with whom few would argue contributed the following explanation:

Letter Cum Marthae circa to John, Archbishop of Lyons (29 November 1202)

(On the sacramental form of the Eucharist)

You have asked who has added to the words of the formula used by Christ himself when he transubstantiated the bread and wine into his body and blood, the words which are found in the Canon of the Mass generally used by the Church, but which none of the evangelists has recorded.... Namely, in the Canon of the Mass, we find the words “Mystery of faith” inserted into the words of Christ.... Surely there are many words and deeds of the Lord which have been omitted in the gospels; of these we read that the apostles have supplemented them by their words and expressed them in their actions.... But, in the words which are the object of our inquiry, Brother, namely the words “Mystery of faith”, some have thought to find support for their error; they say that in the sacrament of the altar it is not the reality of the body and blood of Christ which is [there] but only an image, an appearance, a symbol, since Scripture sometimes mentions that what is received at the altar is sacrament, mystery, figure. These people fall into such error because they neither understand correctly the testimony of the Scriptures nor receive respectfully the divine sacraments, ignorant of both the Scriptures and the power of God [cf. Mt 22:29].... Yet, the expression "Mystery of faith" is used, because here what is believed differs from what is seen, and what is seen differs from what is believed. For what is seen is the appearance of bread and wine and what is believed is the reality of the flesh and blood of Christ and the power of unity and love....

(On the elements of the Eucharist)

We must, however, distinguish accurately between three [elements] which in this sacrament are distinct; namely: the visible form, the reality of the body, and the spiritual power. The form is of bread and wine; the reality is the flesh and blood; the power is for unity and charity. The first is ‘sacrament and not reality’; the second is ‘sacrament and reality’; the third is ‘reality and not sacrament’. But, the first is the sacrament of a twofold reality; the second is the sacrament of one [element] and the reality of the other; the third is the reality of a twofold sacrament. Therefore, ... we believe that the apostles have received from Christ the words of the formula found in the Canon, and their successors have received them from the apostles....[3]

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the insertion in a slightly different manner:

Consequently it must be said that all the aforesaid words [used by the Roman Rite] belong to the substance of the form; but that by the first words, "This is the chalice of My blood," the change of the wine into blood is denoted, as explained above (2) in the form for the consecration of the bread; ... but by the words which come after is shown the power of the blood shed in the Passion, which power works in this sacrament, and is ordained for three purposes. First.... and principally for securing our eternal heritage, according to Heb. 10:19: "Having confidence in the entering into the holies by the blood of Christ"; and in order to denote this, we say, "of the New and Eternal Testament." Secondly, for justifying by grace, which is by faith according to Rm. 3:25,26: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood . . . that He Himself may be just, and the justifier of him who is of the faith of Jesus Christ": and on this account we add, "The Mystery of Faith." Thirdly...., for removing sins which are the impediments to both of these things, according to Heb. 9:14: "The blood of Christ . . . shall cleanse our conscience from dead works," that is, from sins; and on this account, we say, "which shall be shed for you and for many unto the forgiveness of sins."

The Evangelists did not intend to hand down the forms of the sacraments, which in the primitive Church had to be kept concealed, as Dionysius observes at the close of his book on the ecclesiastical hierarchy; their object was to write the story of Christ. Nevertheless nearly all these words can be culled from various passages of the Scriptures. Because the words, "This is the chalice," are found in Lk. 22:20, and 1 Cor. 11:25, while Matthew says in chapter 26:28: "This is My blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins." The words added, namely, "eternal" and "mystery of faith," were handed down to the Church by the apostles, who received them from our Lord, according to 1 Cor. 11:23: "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you."[4]

    Notice that while Pope Innocent III held the “mystery of faith” to be faith in the Real Presence, Saint Thomas suggests that the “Mystery” is that we receive the gift of faith through the power of the Precious Blood working through the Sacrament.

    While no rite, other than the Novus Ordo, has the words “mysterium fidei” after the consecration accompanied by the acclamation of Christ’s death, resurrection and second coming, some rites have acclamations of belief in the Real Presence following the Consecration. The Roman Rite, the (Syrian) Rite of Saint James, and the Apostolic Constitutions have the priest follow the Consecration with a prayer recalling Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (and, in the Syrian, the second coming)-but these are not proclaimed to be the “mystery of faith.”

    Perhaps there is no heresy in this particular part of the new rite, but it is certainly artificial, inept, and, quite possibly, misleading for the faithful.


1.  See Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite (NY: Benzinger, 1955) vol. II, pp. 199-201.

2.  Florence, Cantate Domino, 4 February 1442 Denzinger 715; Summa Theol. III Q.79 a.3

3.  Emphasis supplied. Denzinger 414, 415

4.  Summa Theologica III Q.78 a.3.


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