By Joyce Racine
Mystagogy — it’s Greek root is the same as the root of mystery. Many of us are entertained and intrigued by the challenge of a mystery that invites us to solve a crime or puzzle. This accounts for the popularity of mystery novels, movies and TV shows; mystery dinner parties and theater.
Our contemporary understanding of a mystery is something to solve.
In the biblical and Church traditions, a mystery is not something we solve — it is something we enter into with God in a sense of wonder, respect and awe. We accept the mysteries of our faith even though we may not fully understand them.
Even more than belonging to the Catholic Church, we are the Catholic Church. Christ is the head of His Church. We are His arms, legs, ears and heart alive in the world today. The Holy Spirit works in and through us.
Transformed, strengthened and sent forth by the sacraments of initiation, our newly-received Catholics enter into mystagogy, which is a lifelong journey of growing closer to God and deepening understanding and practice of the faith. During the seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost it is an intensive experience for our new Catholics of being Church.
To understand mystagogy, we need to summarize the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). It is a process of growing into the faith by praying, learning and practicing with believers. A person is usually drawn to the Catholic Church by invitation or the example of someone they know. This could be you.
There is no pressure or expectation that because someone wants to learn about the Catholic faith they will join at their earliest opportunity. Joining the Catholic Church is a lifetime commitment, entered into by adults who have learned what it means to be Catholic and who freely choose to live their lives as Catholics.
In the first RCIA step, inquirers meet in the homes of parishioners. This is a time to ask questions, tell stories and see how these Catholics pray and live their faith.
Those who wish to continue their journey celebrate rites at Sunday Mass where the community welcomes them and promises to pray with and for them. Thus begins the catechumenate, which is the period of formal instruction in the four pillars of the Catholic Faith: what we believe (the Creed); what we celebrate (the sacraments); how we live (following Jesus); and how we pray.
Lent begins with rites celebrated in the parish and with our bishop at the cathedral. This final 40 days of preparation is called “Purification and Enlightenment.”
It moves from learning about the Church to being the Church. It sets aside texts and practices prayer, fasting and almsgiving with the rest of our parish community through the Sunday Scriptures and our parish Lenten program.
At St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne, we carry a heavy wooden cross through the neighborhood approximately the distance Jesus carried His cross to Calvary and stop at 14 homes to pray the stations. We travel off campus for an overnight retreat. Candidates who are already baptized receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The elect, who are not yet baptized, will have their sins washed away in Baptism. The RCIA hosts our parish seder meal. We make ready for Holy Week, the Chrism Mass, Triduum and their sacraments of initiation.
Following initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil, Mystagogy begins with a seven-week immersion into what it is to believe, celebrate, live and pray as Catholics within the larger community of the parish and the Universal Church.
The Sunday Scriptures and homilies teach how to live their new faith. Their sponsors, the RCIA team and entire parish community encourage and support them. We begin with an evening of reflection on the Easter Vigil, the initiation sacraments and the graces and responsibilities of being called and sent. They enter into full participation in the Mass now that they are no longer dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, formerly called the Mass of the Catechumens.
Throughout the catechumenate representatives of the myriad of parish ministries served refreshments and presented commercials of the varied opportunities for spiritual growth and ways to become active in service to the parish and in our parish outreach.
An Evening of Discipleship reintroduces these ministries and invites them to discern their role in the parish community. In a review of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, the newly-baptized receive for the first time the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In a session on apologetics, Father Tom Shoemaker encourages them to think about and articulate their answers to questions frequently asked of Catholics. We have an Evening of Prayer and, in preparation for Pentecost, a reflection on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The seventh week we celebrate an outdoor Mass and potluck. They are then sent forth to love and serve just as you and I are.
Mystagogy is a lifelong process: You and I are still living, learning, growing in and called to share our faith.
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