I’m preparing to give a day-long workshop on mystagogy for the Archdiocese of Newark in February. Just out of curiosity, I thought I’d Google mystagogy and see what comes up. After all, many people today use search engines when they want to get information. If someone new to the RCIA wants to find out what is mystagogy what would they discover on the internet?
What’s Out There
Well, surprisingly, the results weren’t bad at all. The first was a blog, so I skipped it. Then an article by Father Paul Turner—his work is always very fine. The Free Dictionary came up next. OK. This was followed by a website by a retired Methodist clergy couple who are very active in liturgy. Clear information and helpful. Seeds were planted in the ecumenical institute at Collegeville. Our ecumenical partners are at work!
Next was a Faith Update from St. Anthony Messenger Press, followed by a good essay on the FDLC website by Sister Sandy DiMasi, longtime friend of the catechumenate. Then we had an article by our own Miriam Malone, SNJM at RPInet, entitled Six Steps to Effective Mystagogy. Go, Miriam!
Catholic.com offered us an article entitled Life Beyond Confirmation, and finally—drum roll, please—TEAM RCIA! At that point, I felt I had an adequate sample.
Models for Mystagogy
Aside from Google, however, I’ve been watching as certain trends develop.
Today in our pastoral practice, I think we are seeing several different models for mystagogy taking shape. A fairly common model is the mystagogy of reflection on the experience of the Easter Vigil. Many parishes will do this in some form. I call this the reflection / insight model.
Another model was offered in Father Ron Oakham’s recent Forum webinar on mystagogy. He offered a model of catechizing on the sacraments throughout the fifty days of the Easter season, based on the lectionary. I call this the sacramental / catechetical model.
Yet another model has surfaced through the RCL resource, Foundations in Faith, produced in the 1990s. It focuses on the neophyte Masses and especially that part of the Mass that the newly initiated now take part in: the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion rite. (Full disclosure: I was on the writing team for that resource.) I call this the Eucharistic model.
(N.B. The Foundations in Faith mystagogy manual also includes resources for experiences of a shared meal and shared social justice activity, as well as lectionary-based session plans.)
Over the past few years I’ve been writing RCIA guidelines for the Archdiocese of New York. Their advisory council suggested to me that we think in terms of models. In this context I began working on my own model. I call it the discipleship model.
The Discipleship Model
This model is governed by the question: what skills, experiences, relationships and understandings do the neophytes need in their lives now that they are initiated, in order to live as disciples? Discipleship is the measure.
Please note that what I am calling models are not mutually exclusive, as you already may have guessed. And, true to this insight, the discipleship model draws from several others. The distinction is found in the organizing principle. It begins and ends with discipleship.
Reflection on the experience of the Easter Vigil fits into the discipleship model. The experience of the sacraments of initiation, after all, is key to living as a disciple. Exploring this experience with others is an essential element.
But that’s not all. It is also important, as disciples, to get the most we can out of the second half of Sunday Mass. Sharing the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the same enthusiasm and receptivity that we’ve brought to the Liturgy of the Word is a discipleship skill.
Strengthening community bonds as full participants is part of the discipleship model too, as is mission. The rite firmly supports this. The foundation for community and mission was laid well in the catechumenate. Time to affirm it and take it a step further.
Another part of the discipleship model is intimacy with our Lord. Closeness to him. The image of the Good Shepherd is an icon of this important aspect of discipleship. It belongs in mystagogy. Jesus says in John’s gospel that he knows his sheep and they know him. The mystagogy period is a precious time to discover and enjoy that intimacy that will sustain the neophytes for the rest of their lives.
Finally, there is a golden opportunity during the Easter season to see the life of the early Church as the inspiration for our community of faith today. We hear every week from the Acts of the Apostles. I think there is a great (and largely untapped) resource here for mystagogy.
In another post, I will share an actual schema for this model unfolded across the seven weeks of the Easter season. It’s pretty simple, actually. Anybody can do it. I would also like to discuss the methodology of this model with anyone who is interested, because I am excited about the possibilities and I know you will help to get at what is most important and practical.
In a third post, I will share some ideas about ongoing mystagogy. You may have noticed that I did NOT suggest the fifty days as a time to catechize on the Sacrament of Penance. Many people fear that Penance is left dangling, because the newly baptized have not yet celebrated this sacrament. My own view is that an experiential catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance belongs in the year-long mystagogy that follows initiation. It needs and deserves more focus than the fifty days allow. I’ve never felt it natural to try and blend it in with the Easter season. Others may see this differently.
What About You?
I welcome your comments and suggestions about mystagogy. Do you have a model? What has worked well in your own experience?
Asking you is better than asking Google!