Mystagogy

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What is Mystagogy?

BY

Walter Bradely

When considering the topic of Mystagogy and the Church’s understanding of the subject it is important to recognize the complete picture, the scope of what is covered. Looking quite literally at Mystagogy, and perhaps a common view held by most, it is very simply the final of four stages in the RCIA process of bringing believers into the Church. However, the context of this paper will focus at a more in depth look at the nature of Mystagogy and its essential relationship to the liturgical life of the Church. In doing this I will also show the relationship between Mystagogy and exegesis, the sacraments as mysteries and the vital place of narrationes in Mystagogy. Before an attempt to delve into Mystagogy can begin, we must consider the context and ask ourselves “why” Mystagogy is important at all, what is the goal of Mystagogy, why is it necessary. To understand this goal or the telos, in Greek, I will turn to the very beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” It is man at the center of the created world, it is God that begins everything with an act of creation in which He pours Himself out as blessing, and the ending hangs in the balance. Unlike the rest of creation, man, in a serious of moments and choices must decide to return to His creator. These moments, this history from the beginning of time, is referred to as the economy of salvation. At the very center of this economy is Christ Jesus, who fully reveals the Father’s plan of salvation, who is the plan of salvation. He enters into history, so that we may come to share in the Father’s blessing and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that continues to foster the plan of the Father throughout history, still today working in and through the Church. Mystagogy can only make sense in the context of salvation history. It allows us to see with the lens of God’s plan of salvation; it is that process of what it means to be saved.

Now that the context of “why” Mystagogy is so crucial has been discussed, I will begin to look more closely at the question of what Mystagogy is and how it relates to the liturgical life of the Church. When Mystagogy is defined in most cases it is usually has a simple definition, the final of a four stage process of RCIA, regarding post-baptismal instruction and falling in the timeframe beginning at Easter and ending on Pentecost. What does this post-baptismal instruction include, why is it after Easter, after the sacraments of initiation are received? These questions are all crucial to better understand the Church’s teaching on Mystagogy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a wonderful insight into these questions, “Mystagogy leads us from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the sacraments to the mysteries.” This instruction, this catechesis must be more than a mere memorization of facts or a simple communication of the catechism but rather a total reversal of worldview, a new understanding of our lives in relation to the life of the Church, her sacraments and the mysteries contained within them. Once one can understand their life in the context of the sacramental life of the Church one can begin to understand the process of salvation. Mystagogy is this process which initiates the baptized believer into the very mysteries of the sacraments. In his article, What Ancient Catechesis Tells Us About Theology, Dr. Innerst explains why it is so crucial that Mystagogy is ordered as the final stage of the RCIA process after the Sacraments of Initiation are received, “In the ancient Church a great effort was made to surround the liturgies of the Easter Vigil with mystery. This was done not simply to heighten suspense or the sense of mystery but because of the conviction that without the graces the...
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