WEEK TWO: Sacraments (Celebrating the Christian Mystery)
DAY 2: Learning the Language Spoken in the Kingdom of God (Mystery and Sacramentality)
Recently, I did some research into my ancestry, uncovering stories of forefathers and foremothers who came to the shores of the United States from Poland in the late 19th century. In particular, I was impressed with the story of my great, great grandmother (on my mother’s side), Julia, who, as it turns out, spoke 7 languages fluently, making her transition to the New World, and the Chicago area in particular, so much easier.
Any time we visit or relocate to a foreign country where another language is spoken, it behooves us to learn that language. When we do so, we are much more capable of encountering others and developing relationships whether they be professional or purely social. When you stop to think about it, proclaiming the Gospel amounts to inviting someone to enter into a new place – a “foreign land”, so to speak. The foreign place is called the Kingdom of God. It is a strange new place for many of us. In the Kingdom of God, people act differently, think differently, and live differently. In order for us to adapt to this new “place” called the Kingdom of God, we need to learn the language that is spoken there. Not only is it a language of love, but it is also a language of mystery – a language that often transcends words.
In fact, in the Kingdom of God, words are not the primary form of expression. The inhabitants of the Kingdom of God seem to be more at home with a language that relies less on an alphabet and more on expressions that speak to and prod the imagination. So, just what are the elements of this language of mystery? Let’s take a quick look.
- Sign and symbol
- Movement & gesture
The language of mystery that is spoken in the Kingdom of God predisposes us to the possibility of an alternate reality. The Kingdom of God is, in fact, an alternate reality to which we are called and to which we are inviting others to relocate. If things were simply as they appeared, we would have no need for the Gospel. However, life’s ultimate meaning is veiled and mysterious. As such, we need to incorporate these various elements of the language of mystery into our souls’ daily diet.
So, where and when in the life of a Catholic is this language most spoken? In the liturgy, of course. When we celebrate the Mass, or any of the sacraments, for that matter, we express ourselves (and are spoken to) using a language of mystery.
- We speak with signs and symbols: water, oil, fire, bread, wine, incense, etc.
- We speak with rituals: sprinkling rites, anointings, blessings, etc.
- We speak with movements and gestures: the Sign of the Cross, processions, the Sign of Peace, etc.
- We speak with silence: after the Scripture readings, after the homily, after Communion, etc.
- We speak with song: hymns of the Mass, sung Mass parts, etc.
- We speak with story and myth: the Liturgy of the Word.
This unique language of mystery not only informs, but more importantly transforms! That’s what the Year of Faith is all about: transforming our hearts and minds to be more like Christ. In the Sacramental life of the Church, we learn to do this by learning to speak God’s language.
Reflection Questions: Choose one of the following questions and share your thoughts with your fellow retreatants by adding your comments in the comments box below this post.
- In what ways is the Kingdom of God a “foreign place” to so many of us? How do we think, act, and live differently in the Kingdom of God?
- What power do signs and symbols have that words alone do not?
- Of the various elements of the language of mystery – Sign and symbol, Ritual, Movement & gesture, Silence, Song, Story/myth – which is your favorite and why?
- How does a language of mystery predispose us to the possibility of an “alternate reality?”
- Describe a time when a ritual action of the Church (in a sacramental rite) spoke powerfully to you.
- What sacramental action(s) do you incorporate into your daily living?
Lord, God, you have revealed your saving presence through signs and wonders. This is your language. Help me to open my eyes to the signs and wonders that you continue to reveal yourself through. Help me to enter more deeply into the signs, symbols, and rituals of the Church, so that I may hear your voice and recognize your presence in the celebration of the Sacraments.
- Finding Infinity Within
- Finding God in All Things
- The Meaning of a Kiss
- What Does Love Look Like?
- Picturing God: Faces & Traces of the Divine
CCC References: 1135 – 1209
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I hope you’re enjoying our online summer retreat, Preparing for a Year of Faith! Take a few minutes each day at your convenience to “gather” here on my blog as we seek to add some flavor to our faith lives by deepening our understanding of the truths of our faith as given to us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.