Easter. Time for mystagogy

Living Easter in fullness supposes, for every Christian, rediscovering the reality of the Mystery of God into which we are introduced by the liturgy of this time of grace and sacramental experience.

Sister Carolina Blázquez OSA-March 31, 2024-Reading time: 9 minutes

The time of Easter begins, which in the ancient Church was called the time of mystagogy. It was the goal of the whole journey of the catechumenate that marked the rhythm of the Christian communities that prepared themselves every Lent, in a special way, for the welcoming of new members.

Easter, therefore, in the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries, was both the summit on the path of preparation for candidates to enter the community of the saved and the source of constant renewal of the communities themselves.

They were truly perceived as a maternal womb. In them the mystery of Mary was constantly revived: generating, gestating and giving birth to the life of the new children of God, the neophytes, who, at the same time, at the same time, vivified and renewed the life of those who were already believers.

This fulfilled Jesus' words to Nicodemus, whom he invited to be born again, even though he was old (cf. Jn 3:3-7). 

Historical evolution

After the Edict of Milan and, finally, with the recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, conversions to the Christian faith increased considerably.

Although it was already taking shape, this caused the process of incorporation into Christianity to be institutionalized with some very definitive steps. In the awareness that "Christians are not born, they are made" (Tertullian, Apology against the Gentiles18,4), the catechumenate process was long and could last several years in some cases. 

However, since entry into the economy of grace is the greatest good, these processes of preparation were shortened so that prolonged waiting would not provoke an elitist sense of faith, confusing good preparation with a certain personal dignity in order to receive the sacraments.

One could thus forget the authentic meaning of the word that the Church invites us to say just before receiving Eucharistic communion: "O Lord, I am not worthy that you should come into my house, but one word from you will be enough to heal me" (cf. Mt 8:8).

On the other hand, because those already baptized wished to make their children partakers of grace, infant baptism was imposed until the baptism of adults became practically extinct. 

Hence the neglect of this entire catechetical and mystagogical itinerary of incorporation into the Church which, since the Second Vatican Council, we are trying to recover in a creative and updated way as a proposal for the revitalization of the faith of believers and for the evangelization and incorporation into the Church of new members of the faithful.

In fact, some ecclesial realities, daughters of the conciliar renewal, have assumed steps or the itinerary, more or less complete, of this whole catechumenal process in which the personal experience of encounter with Christ -the awakening in faith-, the ecclesial insertion through the liturgical-sacramental way and the existential process of conversion are integrated in a balanced way. 

There is something key here for this moment of the Church in which we live. We are offered a framework or guide for all our educational or catechetical projects in the faith that always run the risk of moving in the somewhat fruitless efforts of an intense external education since, in many cases, the faith has not been awakened because the personal encounter with Christ has not taken place or, instead, in the promotion of proposals of awakening in the faith that, without a careful subsequent catechetical and formative itinerary at all levels and, especially, liturgical-sacramentally, tend to be eminently subjective experiences that run the risk of being soon extinguished, to the rhythm of the emotions. 

Pope Francis reminded us of these two dangers in Desiderio Desideravi connecting with his previous magisterium in which he has repeatedly asked us to be attentive and careful to avoid neo-Pelagian or, on the contrary, neo-Gnostic tendencies in the Church (cf. DD 17).  

To achieve this liturgical vitality, the key is in the formative proposal through liturgical or mystagogical catechesis, taking up the practice of the ancient Church and readapting it to the needs of the present in the creative fidelity that always characterizes the steps of renewal in the Church. Already in Sacrosanctum Concilium We were invited to work in this direction (cf. SC 36), we were also invited to work in this direction (cf. SC 36). Evangelii Gaudium The New Directory for Catechesis for the Year 2020 takes up the theme of mystagogical catechesis (cf. EG 163-168) and the New Directory for Catechesis for the Year 2020 takes up this question again (nn. 61-65; 73-78).

Continuously delivered

The process is explained in detail in the RCIA, the Ritual for the Catechumenate of Adults, written in 1972. In 2022 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of its publication and, despite the fact that so many years have passed and that it is one of the significant fruits of the conciliar liturgical reform, it is still a little known and little appreciated document, although it can be a magnificent instrument for developing catechetical and liturgical formation processes that help to deepen the Christian life of those who are already believers. 

The deepening of the catechumenate process helps to live in the memory that the Christian is always a forgiven sinner, thus experiencing that the joy of salvation springs, not from our achievements or our personal perfection, but from the constant acceptance of God's mercy.

This position of truth and humility before God frees us from the temptation to think of ourselves as the elder son as opposed to the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:29-32) or the Pharisee as opposed to the tax collector (cf. Lk 18:9-14). We live in a process of uninterrupted conversion, being continually brought forth in faith until Christ is formed in us (cf. Gal 4:19).

After the kerygmatic period, in which the heart of the Gospel is proclaimed, which would correspond to today's methods of evangelization or first proclamation, for those who after conversion to the faith expressed the desire to begin a process of incorporation into the Church, entry into the catechumenate was offered.

This was conceived as a long time accompanied by some Christians, the catechists, who were to introduce, little by little, in the knowledge of the faith and in the experience of prayer with the consequent conversion of customs, which this brought with it.

Fundamental to the itinerary was prayer and familiarization with the Word of God, the educational task in the doctrine and faith of the Church, as well as the conversion of customs, which for many could mean a significant change in life habits, mentality and criteria, even profession....

St. Augustine, for example, abandoned his profession as an orator after his conversion. He was ashamed of living by selling lies dressed as truth just because they were well told, seeking, moreover, to be esteemed and to enjoy prestige. Before the truth of Christ, the masks in which he had hidden from himself for years fell off (Cf. Confessions IX, II, 2).

This process of the catechumenate was intensified in the last Lent before the moment of baptism, which was always received in the context of Easter, concretely at the Easter Vigil. This last Lent was called the time of purification or illumination and was an absolutely unique and special time.

Each week, marked by Sunday, was linked to an extremely beautiful and expressive step or gesture: the choice or inscription of the name, the scrutinies or strong times of discernment on the truth of one's life before the light of the Word, the exorcisms, the delivery of the profession of faith, of the Our Father, the anointings, the rite of the Effetá... At this moment all the ecclesial gestures and rituals express the gestation, the preparation for the new birth that will find in the night of Easter, the great baptismal night, its definitive expression. 

At Easter, the Lenten memory of God's mercy is transformed into a grateful memory of salvation in the face of the last and definitive of the mirabilia DeiThe Resurrection of Christ from the dead. This grace of the resurrection during Easter is not only proclaimed, it is realized in us through the sacraments that incorporate us into the glorious Body of Christ, His life enters into ours. 

It is a journey of transformation in Christ, so that the path of a whole Christian life, of years of following and progressive conformation to Christ, is given to us on the night of Easter, especially during the Easter fiftieth and, as a prolongation of this, in each daily Eucharist, which is a pledge of what we already are and what we are called to be. 

In your Light we see the light

As we are limited, as we need time to take in, to welcome, to understand this clarity offered by the Mystery of God in Christ, the mother Church deploys mystagogy.

The time just after the celebration of the Paschal Triduum, the Easter fiftieth, has this pedagogical sense of rumination to better assimilate and of deepening to become aware of the gift already received. 

The Christian life of each one of us can be understood as a prolonged time of mystagogy until full entrance into the Mystery in the life of Heaven.

Many of us, baptized in infancy, need this time to understand what we celebrate, what we believe and, ultimately, what we are. We are assimilating what we have received as our identity through faith and the sacraments.

It is necessary, therefore, to develop mystagogical processes as the Fathers of the fourth century did with the neophytes who attended the sacramental celebrations for the first time. Since they had received the sacraments of initiation in a single night, during the Vigil, they needed to go deeper into what they had experienced so that, by knowing it better, they could be configured according to this new condition received in the image of Christ. 

There is a new way of perceiving reality as the bearer of the Mystery of God into which we are being introduced by the liturgical action and Easter is the propitious time for this. In it, the mystagogical dimension is accentuated and enhanced because it is the time of fullness, of fulfillment where everything returns to its first and ultimate reality, to its created referentiality and to its truth in God revealed in the Risen Christ. 

This paschal liturgical mystagogy has, in particular, several dimensions or levels: 

Creative mystagogy

At Easter the liturgical signs connect us with creation: the Fire that purifies and illuminates from within, the light of the paschal candle and the pure wax made by the bees, the baptismal water, the oil of the holy chrism, the wind of the Spirit, the life that mysteriously awakens from winter lethargy in spring and that bursts into the Temple through the floral decorations, the white and gold of the fabrics.... 

These cosmic dimensions of the liturgy require careful explanation. They are not mere decorative elements. Through them, the Church expresses the creational dimension of the resurrection event, overcoming any subjectivism or emotivist reductionism of faith.

The risen Christ has filled reality with light from within. This means the torn veil of the temple, the floor torn by earthquakes and the tombstones moved, as the evangelists tell us when narrating the moment of the Death and Resurrection (cf. Mt 27:51-54.28:2).

The knot of vital relationships: with God, with ourselves, with others and with creation, has been untied. From this moment on, everything is transcended by God and is God-bearing, as if the mystery of Mary were fulfilled in every creature, everything is opened to the Spirit and the flesh-pneuma antagonism is reconciled, the life of grace is enlightened through the flesh of this world.

In the liturgy nothing is opaque, closed in on itself or separated from the rest. Everything is transfigured, radiating clarity and life. The bread and wine become totally docile to the Word of God and the action of the Spirit.

This, which takes place in the liturgy, goes beyond the walls of the church and, through the sacramental gaze of the believer transformed by the celebration in which he participates, touches his daily reality, making it a sacramental space and time.

Historical-salvific mystagogy

The Christian, throughout his whole life, as if the whole history of Israel were actualized in his own history, is invited to pass from slavery to freedom, from night to light, from the desert to the promised land, from sadness to feasting, from hunger to the wedding feast, from death to life, introduced with Christ, in the last red sea of life, death and burial to rise with Him to a new life, participating in his own resurrected life.

To live this experience, familiarity with Sacred History through the Word of God read, proclaimed and celebrated in the liturgy is fundamental. The Easter Vigil is the teacher of this mystagogical task.  

His journey through the Old Testament through the historical, prophetic and sapiential books expresses the fears, the longings, the limits, the thirst of man's heart, constantly saved by the powerful hand of God.

All this pedagogy of God with the people finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, with the Christ event and his Resurrection.

It is necessary to dwell on the readings of each celebration, to illuminate their meaning in Christ and existentially for the man of today, to trust in the performative power of the Word that finds in the sacramental framework its maximum expression. It does what it says. 

Sacramental Mystagogy

Easter is, par excellence, the time of the sacraments. The saving power that flowed from the Body of Christ has passed to his Church and, thanks to her action, the whole of man's existence has been blessed and saved.

The sacraments connect us with the risen Christ, they are the opportunity to encounter his glorious flesh. Thus, we are incorporated into him primarily through Eucharistic communion, which fulfills the communion inaugurated in baptism: Christ in us, we in him, in a spousal sense: united in one flesh, the Flesh offered by Christ for the life of the world.

This communion nourishes us, transforms us and moves us to live everything human from this dimension of resurrection. At Easter the sacraments of initiation are celebrated and, as a grace that flows from them, it is the propitious moment for the celebration also of the sacraments of vocation: marriage and Holy Orders, as well as the consecration of virgins.

It is the time in which the human with its mystery of growth, love, mission and limit can unfold without fear, in a fruitfulness whose fruit is the presence of the Kingdom, holiness.

Throughout this Easter that we are beginning, may we ministers, religious, catechists and pastoral leaders be able to deploy a creative mystagogical action in our celebrations, in our catechetical tasks, in our homilies, so that we may be truly transformed by what we receive and in what we receive.

This is a task of knowledge in the Jewish sense of the word: a knowledge that is communion and love, that embraces all the dimensions of the person to the point of touching the deepest part of the being, to the point of moving the heart, of introducing into intimacy, of illuminating existence according to Christ. 

This is the proper action of the Holy Spirit, the great Mystagogue, that is why Easter, the time of mystagogy, is the time of the Spirit, in fact, its goal is at Pentecost.

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