Does your RCIA team struggle with the period of mystagogy? If so, you are not alone. Most teams report that this is the most difficult period of the catechumentate process for them. If that’s true for you, I have good news. The period of mystagogy is probably a lot easier than you think.
The reason it doesn’t seem so for many teams is we are starting from the wrong question. Most teams approach this final period by asking “how.” How do we do mystagogy? Some teams start with “what.” What should we do during mystagogy?
But effective RCIA teams know that right question is “why.” Why do we do mystagogy? If you have the right “why,” everything else about the period of mystagogy will fall into place.
Why does your RCIA team do mystagogy?
So…if someone (like a neophyte) asked you why we have this final period, what would you say? I know you’re waiting for me to tell you, and I will. But I really don’t know why you and your RCIA team engage in this final period. That’s something you have to answer for yourself. The challenge for each of us is this. Does my “why” align with the church’s “why”? From my observations and from the questions we get at TeamRCIA about this period, I would have to say many of us need to work on our alignment.
If our focus during this time is introducing the neophytes to all the different ministries of the parish in the hopes of having them sign up for a couple of them, our “why” is misaligned. If we have scheduled a number of additional catechetical sessions during this period, our “why” probably needs some work. If we are using this period as a time for getting the neophytes to celebrate their first confession, we are definitively not in line with the church’s “why.”
To discover the church’s “why,” turn to paragraph 244 in your RCIA. You’ll read there:
This is 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….
Does that surprise you a little? The “why” of this period is not first of all focused on the neophytes but on the community. This is a time for the community to grow in understanding the paschal mystery. The neophytes, now full members of the community, also grow in their understanding. But we don’t separate them out and make this period all about them. It’s a community focus.
So then, “why” we do this is so that the community (including the neophytes) will more deeply understand the paschal mystery and make it part of their lives. Right about now, you may be wondering how this is going to a lot easier than what you’re currently doing. Read the rest of that sentence in paragraph 244. It lists three ways in which this deepening knowledge and living out of the paschal mystery is going to happen:
…through meditation on the Gospel,
sharing in the eucharist,
and doing the works of charity.
Now you have the “why” and the “what.” What we are supposed to be doing during this period (all of us, not just the neophytes) is gospel, eucharist, and charity. In other words — Sunday Mass. What we’re supposed to be doing for the period of mystagogy is Sunday Mass.
So then, why is there a specific period called “mystagogy”? What makes this time different than any other time in the church calendar?
Three Reasons for Mystagogy
Three things. First, the neophytes have never done this before. They have done the gospel part before and the works of charity part. But they’ve never done the eucharist. And that changes their understanding of the paschal mystery.
Second, the rest of us have never had these particular neophytes with us for eucharist before. The new faith of the neophytes renews our own faith and deepens our own grasp of the paschal mystery.
Just as their new participation in the sacraments enlightens the neophytes’ understanding of the Scriptures, so too it increases their contact with the rest of the faithful and has an impact on the experience of the community. As a result, interaction between the neophytes and the faithful is made easier and more beneficial. The period of postbaptismal catechesis is of great significance for both the neophytes and the rest of the faithful. Through it the neophytes, with the help of their godparents, should experience a full and joyful welcome into the community and enter into closer ties with the other faithful. The faithful, in turn, should derive from it a renewal of inspiration and of outlook. (RCIA 246; emphasis added)
Third, the readings during the eight Sundays of Easter are the exact right choices to help all of us deepen our grasp of the paschal mystery and live out that mystery in this powerful time of renewal in the church. This is especially true of the Year A readings.
Besides being occasions for the newly baptized to gather with the community and share in the mysteries, these celebrations include particularly suitable readings from the Lectionary, especially the readings for Year A. Even when Christian initiation has been celebrated outside the usual times, the texts for these Sunday Masses of the Easter season may be used. (RCIA 247)
Now that we know the “why” and the “what,” the “how” is becoming clearer. But just in case we still need a little help, the RCIA tells us exactly how to do mystagogy. In a sense, what the RCIA asks us to do is very easy. But if we truly meditate on the gospels of the Easter season, and share in the Body and Blood of Christ with a the deepened grasp of the paschal mystery that our renewed faith and led us to, and put that faith into action through serving the poor in our daily lives, “easy” might not be the right word. Nevertheless, here’s how to do mystagogy in a way that is probably a lot less difficult than how many RCIA teams are doing it:
All the neophytes and their godparents should make an effort to take part in the Masses for the neophytes [that is, the Masses of the Easter season] and the entire local community should be invited to participate with them. Special places in the congregation are to be reserved for the neophytes and their godparents. The homily and, as circumstances suggest, the general intercessions should take into account the present and needs of the neophytes. (RCIA 248)
That’s really all there is to it. Easy. And challenging.
How are you talking about Mystagogy with the neophytes in your congregation? What have you found to be the most effective during this period for engaging your whole community in coming to know your neophytes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski | Unsplash