When one begins to study sacred scripture the idea of mystery becomes very apparent. The New Testament and Septuagint speak of the Greek word Mysterion. When St. Jerome was translating the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into what would be the Latin Vulgate, he used the word sacramentum, or sacrament in English. In fact, the sacraments are celebrations of the mysteries of God. The Old Testament has no shortages of these mysteries that give us clues of the nature of God and the sacred mysteries.
Mysteries And God
The word mystery is an anomaly of sorts. In some circles it is something that is not to be questions, but to be accepted. To others it is an invitation to explore, learn, and grow. At most basic level a mystery is something hidden, and the information needed to understand is not available. When it comes to God it is the opposite.
God is not some cosmic force that wants to remain hidden from us. He wants us to know Him, and he wants to be known by us. We come to know these mysteries of God through our senses, reason, and faith.
It is through our physical senses that we get to know the world around us. We learn what things smell like, we can see, hear, and see that this amazing world came from something. Science tells us that everything has an origin and cannot come from nothing. It is in this way that our senses testify to the existence of a creator.
Secondly, we come to know these mysteries through the uses of our reason. We come to knowledge of the meaning and purpose of creation, even the creation of our own human lives, through our ability to reason. Through reason we enter into relationship with God. Lastly, the third way we understand the mysteries is through faith. The utilization of faith informs reason and is necessary for a personal relationship with God.
Mysteries And Identity
In the Old Testament there are many examples of how these mysteries reveal God’s identity, his relationship with humanity, and the nature and destiny of humanity. God’s identity is perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of all because he is transcendent and outside of time.
We get a clue in the book of Exodus when God and Moses are interacting. The passage in question is Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks for God’s name, and God relies “This is what you shall tell the Israelites I AM sent me to you” (NAB). He also has power over creation as he can calm the storms and cause beasts to retreat.
This reveals a God who is creator of all and nothing is above him. This has huge implications when it comes to God’s relationship with humanity. God is not inaccessible and not wanting to be discovered, but quite the contrary. Humanity was made in the image of him who is existence itself.
We read this in Genesis 1:27 which states, “God created man in his image; I the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (NAB). This shows that we were made to be in relationship with God. When we are in proper relationship we are that image of the divine creator, but when we sin and reject him we die. We have turned our back on God as is seen in Genesis 3:19.
The nature and destiny of humanity is to live. God created man in his image, and he uses our physical senses to make himself known. He uses all means of creation, including the human body, to make himself known.
Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.-St. Augustine
Now, the end of each thing is that which is intended by the its first author or mover. But the first author and mover of the universe is an intellect, as will be later shown. The ultimate end of the universe must, therefore, be the good of an intellect. This good is truth. Truth must consequently be the ultimate end of the whole universe, and the consideration of the wise man aims principally at truth.-St. Thomas Aquinas
Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven?…What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven.-St. John Chrysostom
When you approach the tabernacle remember that he has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.
– St. Josemaria Escriva
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2 ed. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Print.
Holy Bible, New American Bible