When parishes look for RCIA catechists, they tend to look for people who are good at giving presentations. While this tendency is understandable, it’s not exactly what the church expects of a catechist. The Directory for Catechesis describes the catechist as someone who has a vocation.
The catechist is a Christian who receives a particular calling from God that, when accepted in faith, empowers him for the service of the transmission of the faith and for the task of initiating others into the Christian life. (112)
The Directory goes on to describe the catechist as someone who is:
- A witness of faith and keeper of the memory of God
- A teacher and a mystagogue
- An accompanier and educator (see 113)
In this article, I want to explore the second identity of the catechist: teacher and mystagogue. We know what a teacher is, but what is a mystagogue? And how do you find people in your parish with the vocation of mystagogue?
Who could be your RCIA mystagogue?
The word mystagogue comes from two Greek words: mystēs, meaning one who has been initiated into the mystery and agōgos, meaning leader. So a mystagogue is someone who leads someone else into the mystery.
What mystery? The paschal mystery.
The whole initiation must bear a markedly paschal character, since the initiation of Christians is the first sacramental sharing in Christ’s dying and rising…. (RCIA 8)
Think for a moment about the difference between someone who can give a presentation on the paschal mystery and someone who can lead you more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. Some people can do both, of course, but what we are looking for primarily in an RCIA catechist is someone who can do the latter.
The Directory goes on to describe more fully what a mystagogue does.
As an icon of Jesus the teacher, the catechist has the two-fold task of
transmitting the content of the faith
and leading others into the mystery of the faith itself. (114 b)
This is an echo of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which says we have to lead the catechumens “to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation” (75).
This two-fold action is not a two part action, as though one can be done without the other. The Directory says that the catechist communicates the knowledge of Christ while at the same time “unveiling the mysteries of salvation contained in the deposit of faith and renewal in the Church’s liturgy” (114 b).
How to share Christ
There are few things to unpack here. The task of the catechist is first of all to communicate knowledge of Christ. It is possible to present “dogmas and precepts” without having communicated knowledge of Christ.
In order to transmit the content of the faith, we have to always teach in a way the leads others “into the mystery of faith itself.”
And the mystery of faith itself is always most “unveiled” in the liturgy. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the liturgy is “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God” (1074).
So, when we are looking for RCIA catechists, we are looking for someone who:
- has a calling from God
- has a gift for initiating others into faith
- is capable of teaching as Jesus taught
- who lives in the mystery of Christ
- who can lead others deeper into the mystery
- who recognizes that the liturgy is the privileged place for catechesis
In other words, we are looking for mystagogues.
Mystagogues exist in all of our parishes, but they do not usually recognize that title. Nor do they usually think of themselves as catechists. They probably don’t know how to use PowerPoint and may not be very good at giving presentations. And they are absolutely the people we have to seek out to help us initiate seekers into the mystery of salvation.
See also these related articles:
- The first step in catechumenate formation is to recover our “capacity for symbol”
- Why your RCIA team needs a mystagogue
- Why the RCIA period of mystagogy is crucial for your neophytes
- Illuminating Christ: How to be a mystagogue
- What does baptism do? A mystagogy on the sacramental act of washing