Five Ways to Preach Mystagogically

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAThese approaches to preaching mystagogically are defined by Jan Michael Joncas in Forum Essay, Number 4: Preaching the Rites of Christian Initiation (Chicago, Illinois: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994) 95-117.

The five approaches outlined by Joncas are:

  1. hallowing cosmic symbols;
  2. exploring anthropological patterns;
  3. celebrating biblical history;
  4. analyzing beliefs and behaviors; and
  5. revealing the future present.

According to Joncas, these are general techniques used by the majority of mystagogical preachers from the 2nd to the 5th centuries of the church. These preachers looked to the phenomenology of the heavens and nature to find correlations with the symbols of the rites. They were keen observers of human ways of life, social structures, and secular activities. They wove images and references to various scriptural passages that evoked the same symbols, whether or not the context of the passage related to the context of the rite. Their catecheses and homilies were often pointed critiques of beliefs and behaviors that went against their understanding of the Christian lifestyle. Finally, they employed a realized eschatology in the use of their images, placing the event of the rite within the vision of the eschaton so as to lead the hearers to praise of God and conversion of heart.

Joncas cautions that the use of these approaches to craft initiatory homilies for today must take into consideration that the world of the 4th century is much different from ours. Advances in our understanding of society, cosmology, scripture, medicine, and even demonology would make a direct translation of these approaches inappropriate for contemporary hearers. Nonetheless, if interpreted and translated into a contemporary style, these approaches can give preachers today some guidelines for crafting mystagogical texts in the patristic tradition.

photo credit: diocal via photopin cc

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