Why are Catholics so fond of the word “Mystery”?

Mystery (notes from an RCIA course)

A Reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians Ch 3:2 – 3:5-6

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery.

This mystery has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ Jesus, through the gospel.


Mystery – something beyond human understanding.

Mystery – something which is hidden until God chooses to reveal it.

Mystery – As used in Catholic theology, a mystery is a divinely revealed truth whose existence cannot be known without revelation by God and whose inner existence cannot be understood by the human mind even after revelation; for example, the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the Eucharist.   A mystery, in this sense, is said to be above reason but not contrary to reason; even though it cannot be fully understood, it can be understood to some degree, and for that reason the Church encourages all to reflect upon and study the mysteries God has revealed.  (The Essential Catholic Handbook)

A very Catholic word

Mystery is a very popular word with Catholics.  During mass we profess the Mystery of Faith.

  1. We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.
  2. When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death O Lord, until you come again.
  3. Save, us Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.

When I was looking up the use of the word mystery in the bible, my Young’s Concordance gave me the following references and they are all New Testament.mystery

As can be seen the use of the word mystery is particularly popular with St. Paul, from whom most of our theology comes, and is also used by Jesus and by St John in the Book of Revelation.


Who do you say that I am? (A mystery revealed)

Matthew 16:15-17 –  Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

When we come across things in the Old Testament which relate to Jesus, we find something hidden (secret) now revealed. E.G. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

Have a look at page 4-5 from the book How to Survive being married to a Catholic for more about mystery (MrE).


A Mystery is something to be entered into

The Church does not say “It’s a Mystery so don’t worry your little head about it”, though it can give this impression, for this would make God out to be a great patroniser.  The Church, rather, says “It’s a Mystery come and enter into it” even if we only get glimpses of these deeper and greater realities.  Mass becomes a window into the heavenlies.

“Further up and further in”, as C.S.Lewis says in his book The Last Battle.

By way of some light relief here’s Toyal singing “It’s a Mystery”.


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