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THE MYSTAGOGY MYSTERY
After a liturgy workshop one of the participants approached me and asked who the “Mr Gogee” was that I had referred to several times.
Liturgy-speak can be strange, but the word “mystagogy” has to be one of the strangest! Like some of the more unusual liturgical terms, it derives from Greek, the language used by most early Christians.
The Period of Mystagogy is the last of several stages involved in the process of the Christian initiation of adults. The term “mystagogy” refers to the on-going catechesis (instruction) of the newly baptised (“neophytes” – more Greek!) which happens during the Easter season.
This post-Easter time of instruction was a practice in the early church. Some of the most interesting theological writings we have are the catechetical lectures given to the newly initiated by bishops such as Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chryostom in the fourth century.
According to Egeria’s account of Holy Week in Jerusalem around 384, the bishop says to those preparing for baptism: “You have heard about the faith and the resurrection of the body. But the teaching about baptism itself is a deeper mystery and you will hear it all during the days of Easter after you have been baptised”.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults describes the period of mystagogy as “a time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation on the gospel, sharing in the eucharist and doing works of charity”. (RCIA 234)
The period after the celebration of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil is the time when the newly initiated reflect on their experience of the rituals, explore the meaning of initiation and come to a fuller understanding of the mysteries of the faith. With the help of their godparents, they should experience a joyful welcome into the community. Support for these new Catholics is vital as they settle into the pattern of living their newly professed faith and learn to recognise the mystery of Christ which is so alive within them.
Liturgies during the Easter season should acknowledge the presence and needs of these new members of the community. This can be done in several ways: seating them with their godparents and catechists in a special place in the church, referring to them in the homily, praying for them during the general intercessions, having them bring forward the bread and wine in the procession of gifts.
The Church into which the newly initiated are incorporated is broader than the parish community. This is made clear in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults: “To show his pastoral concern for these new members of the Church, the bishop should arrange to meet the recently baptised and to preside at a celebration of the eucharist with them.” (RCIA 241)
In Brisbane, the Easter Mass for the newly initiated and their families, sponsors and pastors will be celebrated with Archbishop John Bathersby in St Stephen’s Cathedral next Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension.
In a sense, Christians spend their entire lives in mystagogy as they reflect on what it means to live in Christ. Let us pray for the neophytes, and for ourselves, that we may come to see Christ more clearly, to follow him more nearly and love him more dearly day by day during this season of Easter.