Pope Francis says the first thing we have to teach is that Jesus Christ saves us: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you” (“A Big Heart Open to God,” America, September 30, 2013; emphasis added).
If that’s true, then our next question might be, what do we teach about Jesus? And about salvation?
To answer those questions, we might think the first place to turn to would be Scripture. Or perhaps the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Or maybe a video or a book by a popular speaker we heard at a workshop.
As important and helpful as these resources are, however, they are not the primary ways in which we encounter the Risen Christ. Let’s focus just on Scripture to see why that is not the first or only place we learn about Jesus. What we say about Scripture will mostly apply to the Catechism of the Catholic Church or other resources.
Knowing Scripture is not enough
If you recall the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they knew the Scriptures by heart. They knew what the rabbis had written and taught about the Messiah. And yet, it was only an encounter with the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread where they discovered Jesus. They learned about Jesus in the liturgy.
Neither the Scriptures nor the teaching of the church, by themselves, are sufficient to reveal the fullness of Christ to seekers. That is because the Risen Christ is a mystery. Christ is not a mystery in the sense of a difficult puzzle. Christ is a mystery like the mystery of love. The deeper you enter the mystery, the more the mystery reveals itself.
In the Emmaus story, and in our own faith experience, Christ is the one who opens our hearts and minds to know him. And that happens primarily and most fully in the Eucharist.
Into the mystery
This process of revealing the mystery is called mystagogy (literally, “to lead one into the mystery”). The one who leads is the mystagogue. The Risen Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is always the chief mystagogue. The liturgy itself is the primary place of mystery—the place where the mystery is most fully revealed.
Therefore, our own reading of Scripture or our intellectual study of doctrine is never sufficient to understand the mystery hidden in the liturgy. Revelation is always an act of God because only God can reveal God’s self. Doctrine, and even Scripture, is always in service to the fullness of revelation that takes place in the liturgy.
Scripture is essential
We have to add, however, that Scripture is an essential element of the liturgy. In the liturgy, the Word of God finds fulfillment. The Word becomes flesh. The Word, as proclaimed in the liturgical assembly, becomes a mystagogical element that reveals God. A third-century catechist named Origen wrote about the first Eucharist:
It was not the visible bread that he held in his hands which God the Word called his body, but it was the Word in whose sacrament the bread was to be broken. Nor was it the visible drink that he identified as his blood, but it was the Word in whose sacrament the libation was to be poured out. (Commentary on Matthew, in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14–28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 248)
In other words, as Catholics, we read Scripture liturgically. The liturgy always interprets Scripture and Scripture interprets liturgy in a unified dynamic. Any reading of Scripture outside of the liturgy always recalls and leads to the mystery of the Risen Christ in the liturgy itself.
Liturgy is where we learn and how we teach
Our takeaway is that in order to effectively teach the core story of Jesus and the salvation Jesus offers us, RCIA leaders have to be imbued with the liturgy. We are constantly learning and relearning the story ourselves as we become one with Christ in the mystery of the liturgy. There is no substitute for this primary way of knowing Jesus.
Likewise, our primary teaching method must be to immerse the seekers in the liturgy. Anything we do after the liturgy is supplemental to the revelation that takes place in worship.
Tell us your experience
How has the liturgy taught you about Jesus? How are you using the liturgy to form your catechumens and candidates?
See also these related articles:
- To teach the core of our faith, RCIA teams have to learn this first
- Is your RCIA team just filling vessels?
- Four reasons Mass matters for your catechumens
- How to teach catechumens the meaning of liturgy
- Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?
Photo source: Pixbay