We have said many times before that mystagogy takes place throughout the entire catechumenate. If that’s so, why is there a particular period of the catechumenate specifically named “mystagogy”?
To understand that, we have to understand how liturgy relates to catechesis. The church teaches that the liturgy is “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1074).
The Directory for Catechesis says:
Catechesis, in fact, is set in motion by a first effective encounter between the one being catechized and the community that celebrates the mystery, which is to say that catechesis reaches its true fulfillment when the one being catechized takes part in the liturgical life of the community. (96)
Up until the Easter Vigil, the catechumens have only partially participated in the liturgical life of the community. They are routinely dismissed from Mass after the Liturgy of the Word and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. (If your parish is not regularly dismissing catechumens from the Mass, read why RCIA dismissal is important.)
What is a “suitable catechesis” in the RCIA?
If catechesis is set in motion by celebrating the liturgy, and if the liturgy is only partially celebrated by the catechumens, then the catechesis of the catechumens can only be partial.
This seems like an odd idea. Shouldn’t we fully catechize the catechumens before we initiate them? In fact, we cannot. The RCIA requires a “suitable catechesis” that provides “an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate” (75.1).
Before their full initiation, catechumens can only desire to participate in the mystery that the baptized community celebrates in the liturgy. Through pre-baptismal catechesis, we can help them develop a profound sense of that mystery, but they will not be full participants in the celebration of that mystery until their baptism and first eucharist.
Once the catechumens/neophytes are initiated, their encounter with the People of God celebrating the eucharist is an encounter with the Mystery of Jesus Christ who “works in fullness for the transformation of human beings” (Directory for Catechesis, 96).
Prepare your neophytes for an encounter and a journey
The mystery that the neophytes encounter in the post-baptismal eucharist is not, however, a completely new reality. The Directory for Catechesis says:
The mystagogic dimension of catechesis cannot however be reduced to the mere exploration of Christian initiation after the reception of the sacraments, but also includes incorporation into the Sunday liturgy…with which the Church already nourishes catechumens…well before they can receive the Eucharist or begin organic and structured catechesis. (98)
The difference between pre- and post-baptismal mystagogical catechesis is that in the celebration of the post-baptismal eucharist, the neophytes are “introduced into a fuller and more effective understanding the mysteries…” (RCIA 245).
Until the neophytes encounter a “fuller” Mystery of Christ through their participation in the eucharist, they cannot fully know Christ. As catechists, we help them prepare for that encounter while they are still catechumens through a mystagogcial catechesis based on the partial experience the catechumens have of the mystery. But we cannot begin to catechize them on the full Mystery of Christ until, “through their experience of the sacraments…they derive a new perception of the faith, of the Church, and of the world” (RCIA 245).
In a sense, the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy is when the work of catechesis really begins in its fullness.
How have you held mystagogy with your neophytes in the past? How are you planning to walk with them this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.