In his letter “Desiderio Desideravi,” Pope Francis addresses the complaint that a “sense of mystery” was lost with the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy. “When I speak of astonishment at the Paschal Mystery,” the pope writes, “I do not at all intend to refer to what at times seems to me to be meant by the vague expression ‘sense of mystery.’ Sometimes this is among the presumed chief accusations against the liturgical reform. It is said that the sense of mystery has been removed from the celebration. The astonishment or wonder of which I speak is not some sort of being overcome in the face of an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, marveling at the fact that the salvific plan of God has been revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3-14), and the power of this paschal deed continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries,’ of the sacraments. ... If the reform has eliminated that vague ‘sense of mystery,’ then more than a cause for accusations, it is to its credit.”
The point that the Holy Father is making is that for us to understand the mystery involved in the Eucharist, we need to speak about it as it relates to and transforms our life here and now. The mystery we experience at Mass is not the result of having it presented in an arcane ritual or unusual language, but the fact that this divine encounter with Jesus, the risen Lord has a decisive impact on us in the particular circumstances and limited relationships of our lives as we continue moving together as the pilgrim People of God. It redeems and heals what is imperfect, errant and incomplete about our human existence.
More concretely, consider these examples of present historical, cultural and social moments in which our encounter with the risen Lord has the power to transform and heal.
• We live in a world of pervasive violence and war: In the Eucharist, Christ gives us a peace the world cannot give, and he empowers us to share it with one another;
• Our world is torn by divisions, leaving us polarized and alienated from one another, especially by race and culture: The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, the one bread formed from the many grains, broken and shared to make us one body;
• We live in a consumer-oriented society that values possessing: In the Eucharist, we enter a society of mutual giving rather than acquiring;
• We live in a sexually confused culture that seems not at home with bodily existence and mortality: In the Eucharist, we partake in the gift of eternal life as Christ gives us his body and blood and we learn to do the same;
• We live in an era in which people suffer from anomie, isolation, loneliness and instability, with many feeling aimless and experiencing a lack of purpose: The Eucharist opens for us the horizon of a purposeful future, sharing in the saving and eternal work of Christ here and now;
• We live in an era when the dominant culture is obsessed by freedom as choice: The Eucharist empowers us to be genuinely free in offering self-sacrificial love;
• In an era when society is largely discouraged and lacks confidence about the future: The Eucharist is filled with promise and hope as we are gifted with the Spirit of Christ.
These points only represent a sample of how we might better understand the mystery that we are called to experience in the Eucharist. The mystery we celebrate is that the risen Christ whom we encounter in the Eucharist transforms and sustains all that we experience in this time and place as human beings, the dilemmas and challenges of our historical-cultural-societal moments. That, Pope Francis tells us, should be the cause of our wonder and astonishment.