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Mysterium Fidei by Fr. George W. Rutler




May 4, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

In all the accounts of the Resurrection, there is surprise. If it had been expected, future generations might have said it was an hallucination. There was also confusion about Christ’s risen body: its ability to materialize in a room with locked doors and maintain its completely natural appearance while obscuring its identity. These were traits without precedent in human experience.

On the road to Emmaus, those two men took for granted the figure that started to walk along with them, and even expressed a certain irritation at what seemed to be the Man’s ignorance of what had happened on Friday. Looking back, we can see this as a form of prayer. The two disciples were in conversation with the Lord, confiding in him their concerns and wondering at the same time if he was “on their wavelength.” If prayer is real, it will not be a stilted conversation like something read by rote from the back of a prayer card, however helpful such words may be as promptings. God is much more patient with us than we are with him.

On the Emmaus road, the Lord calmly explains why things had to be the way they were, and in this he shows the teaching office of the Church. Still unaware of the Man’s identity, the disciples are nonetheless moved by his words and presence, rather like thoughtful agnostics. So they beg him to stay with them. In the wayside inn, he mysteriously becomes recognizable “in the breaking of the bread.” This is the Eucharistic revelation sung in the Mysterium Fidei of the Liturgy: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The Eucharist is a sacred meal, for it is Bread from Heaven, but the wounds that Christ retains on his risen body signal that this is also the sacrifice of Christ to the Father, a singular and perfect sacrifice that cannot be repeated, but that we share in by its timelessness.

In 2004, St. John Paul II wrote: “Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God” (Apostolic Letter: Mane Nobiscum Domine, par. 2). When that Wayfarer vanishes, the two men rush out to tell others what has happened. This is the “Go forth” moment of the Mass, when the priest tells the people “Ite missa est”—you are sent.

If there is no urgency to tell others about Christ, his Body the Church is misunderstood as an institution kept alive by bureaucrats who act as embalmers, cynically sustaining a corporate identity with mendacity and mummery. That is a formula for spiritual burnout. Such burnout is the malady of people who never were on fire to begin with. But those who encounter Christ say daily: “Did not our hearts burn within us…?”


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