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‘Mysteries of the Faith’: A Netflix series review

Mysteries of the Faith - Netflix series

Netflix | Fair Use via YouTube

David Ives - published on 02/18/24

What makes the series of particular interest during Lent is that most of the objects discussed are among the Passion relics.

Uh oh. There’s a documentary series about Catholic relics appearing on Netflix, one of the less religious-friendly streaming networks out there?

Well, that sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?

Don’t be too quick to pass by Mysteries of the Faith, though, as it’s not the typical hitjob on the Church that’s sadly come to be the norm for documentaries shown on most secular channels. That’s not to say it isn’t a little iffy now and then, particularly in some of its narration (Catholics don’t “worship” relics, they venerate them), but overall, Mysteries of the Faith comes across as an earnest exploration into the subject matter, or at least certain aspects of it.

What aspects would that be?

Based on the title of the series, one might expect Mysteries of the Faith to mimic a History Channel style examination into the origins and veracity of relics, but that’s not really what the show is going for. To be sure, there’s a little bit of background given for each object discussed, and the occasional talking head ponders their possible authenticity or lack thereof, but these moments are relatively few. What the filmmakers are really interested in is the effect veneration of relics has on those who practice it.

Individuals’ stories

Each of the series’ four episodes centers around one or two individuals who have been profoundly impacted by their interaction with a relic. There’s a firefighter discussing how his attempts to help rescue the Crown of Thorns from the flames consuming Notre Dame Cathedral brought him to a deeper spirituality. A priest explains how contemplating a splinter of the Holy Cross at the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro led to his vocation. And so it goes. For each relic discussed, the show stresses that it’s not just about the object itself, but the deeper reality it points towards which is of importance.

Passion relics

What makes the series of particular interest during Lent is that most of the objects discussed are among the Passion relics, those related in some way to the week of Jesus’ death on the cross. Along with those relics mentioned above, the show also features the Valencia Chalice, one of the contenders for the title of Holy Grail, the Holy Face of Jesus in Manoppello, believed by many to be one of the burial shrouds of Jesus, and, of course, the famed Shroud of Turin itself, which needs no explanation. 

The one relic that doesn’t appear to fit the Passion theme, at least at first, is the shirt of Blessed Rosario Livatino, still stained with blood from the day he was murdered in 1990. It’s a decidedly modern relic, this piece of men’s wear kept sealed in a glass case. And yet, perhaps it’s fitting that it is included in the series, as such relics are a reminder that to follow Jesus sometimes requires more sacrifice than just giving up some sweets for 40 days.

Such flashes of insight are what make Mysteries of the Faith worth viewing. In its worst moments, the series is just a pretty travelogue for the various locations where relics are kept, one that sometimes fumbles the specific language surrounding its subject matter. In its good moments, though, Mysteries of the Faith is an invitation to contemplation on the, well, just what the title says.

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