The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments)

Our Lord Jesus Christ told his Apostles, "Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you" (Matthew 13:11).


What are the Holy Mysteries?

The seven Holy Mysteries are: 

Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), and the Eucharist which are the three Mysteries of Initiation; 

Reconciliation (Confession) and Anointing of the Sick which are the Mysteries of Healing; 

and Matrimony (Marriage) and Holy Orders which are the Mysteries of Vocation.


The Maronite Church along with other Eastern Churches use the term mysteries to describe the sacred rites by which the Church perpetuates the saving action of Christ on earth. The Western Church uses the term sacrament. Both terms have history and are filled with meaning. In the Eastern Churches, mystery generally refers to the realm of the holy and to God's plan of salvation. In the Syriac world, we believe that that which is observed by the senses is only the surface of the real. With the eyes of faith we are able to appreciate the real presence of God in creation. In the Syriac worldview, creation, revelation, incarnation and salvation were all part of one process. The Book of Genesis teaches us that God created the universe in his image and likeness. Therefore, all of creation is holy since God is somehow immanent in creation itself. The presence of God is there in creation to be experienced by those who seek him, and God is to be seen in contemplating any of his creatures. The Book of Genesis declares that the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, and so the Spirit of God breathes through all of reality.


Syriac writers also taught that the incarnate Christ was intended from the beginning of creation; that indeed the universe was created in the image of Christ; and that the world and human history had to mature over a period of many eras before Christ could be manifested in the “fullness of time.” Saint Ephrem and the other Syriac writers observe that nature itself and the events and personages of the Old Testament pre-figure and foreshadow Christ. The implication of this teaching is that all of reality is sacred because all of reality has a part in the coming to birth of Christ. One well-known example of this prefigurement is the prophet Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land through the Jordan River as a foreshadowing of Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctifying for us the waters of baptism through his own baptism in the Jordan River that through our baptism, we might be purified and saved from sin and enter into the Promised Land of heaven from our exile here on earth. 


The historical events of the birth of Christ and his epiphany (baptism) in the Jordan River represent the visible manifestation and the climax of the “Word made Flesh” among us. His life on earth was spent in preaching the fullness of revelation and in the “works” and “signs” of divine power. As apostolic Christians, we believe Christ's presence in creation did not end with his death. His resurrection confirms his continued presence among us. Christ is present in his disciples and all those who form his Mystical Body. By being united to Christ, the image of God which each one of us reflects reaches fulfillment.


The process of being united to Christ is achieved through the mysteries. Christ not only performed acts of divine power during his public life, but he continues his divinizing power in the mysteries that he instituted. Just as Christ used earthly things and gestures as instruments of divine power, so he provided that through the invoking of the Holy Spirit by the Church on water, oil, bread and wine, and the laying on of hands, we would have the means of sanctification and be able to participate in our own sanctification. Therefore baptism, chrismation, the Eucharist and the other sacred rites are called mysteries because they introduce us to the world of the holy which is incarnated in our visible world. They enable us with the eyes of faith to realize that God is truly with us and that his Spirit is available to us. For those that do not see the world with the eyes of faith, they remain trapped in physical reality and these sacred rites remain as mysteries to them, but not to us who know that through our baptism and our faith, "knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you" (Matthew 13:11).


The Maronite liturgy is a celebration of the divine mysteries and it teaches us that during the service of the Eucharist, our earthly celebration mirrors the angelic liturgy in heaven. In other words, during the course of the anaphora (the final section of the liturgy including the Eucharistic prayers) we are brought into sacred time and sacred space, the realm of mysteries. In the same way, when we celebrate baptism, chrismation and the other mysteries, we also enter the world of sacred time and space and partake of holy things, in turn becoming holy ourselves and set apart from the physical.

 


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