Mystogogia

Let’s face it. We’re tired. By the time you read this, we will have completed the most exhausting, exhilarating, demanding and fulfilling part of the year for those of us in parish ministry. Long before Ash Wednesday, we have been praying, thinking and planning for Lent, Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum and Easter. In the pastoral reality that many of us face these days, sometimes all of that gets multiplied two or three times if we are caring for two or more parishes or, as in the case with most deacons, caring for responsibilities at home and at work. By Easter Monday, most of us are toast. 

But, of course, as we all know, we have also entered into that mysterious Easter season marked by the catechetical journey of Mystagogia. One of the earliest decisions the bishops of the Second Vatican Council made was to call for the restoration of “the catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 64). Most of us have witnessed and experienced the great gift that this restoration has been for us. Still, often there is a considerable struggle to find the best way to celebrate the “step” of the restored process which follows the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. This column is not the place for a “how-to” on the Mystagogia, or even a list of “best practices.” Rather, how can we deacons and priests, especially when we are exhausted and spent, experience Mystagogia in our own lives, and how might that affect how we minister Mystagogia to others? 

Mystagogia is literally an immersion into Mystery. Our neophytes have taken a huge leap into faith at the Easter Vigil as they plunged into that Mystery. As they did that, many of us were there to experience first-hand the excitement, anticipation and uncertainty as they came forward. Now that the emotion of that moment is beginning to recede a bit, they are probably asking themselves, “Now what?” 

The question is the same for us: Now what? Where are we in our own immersion story? How can we ourselves go deeper into the Mystery which surrounds us, the Mystery we are called to celebrate and proclaim? Perhaps in the relative calm (I did say relative!) of that day after Easter, we might begin our own period of Mystagogy.  

A good friend of mine, a wise diocesan priest, once asked me if I knew the date of my baptism? I was already a deacon, and I was teaching a class to parishioners on the importance of baptism; after the class, he asked me that question. I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know the date of my own baptism! So, what has our own immersion into Trinitarian life meant — in real, practical terms — in our own life experience since? 

We Catholics are blessed with a tradition that has always seen the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as “the privileged place of catechesis” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1074). Within that “privileged place,” priests as presiders and celebrants, deacons as proclaimers of Gospel and servants of Sacrament, we may find our own Mystagogia. Perhaps this is an opportune time, to allow ourselves the time and humility to let the liturgy catechize us, for us to try as much as possible not to “do” the liturgy as much as to permit the liturgy to speak to us. This would be a good time to really attend to the readings at Mass, to enter into the music. For the deacon, even some of our quiet prayers should affect us: realizing, for example, that the words of the Gospel we have just proclaimed may wipe away sin (“Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away”) or the beautiful prayer as we add the water to the wine in the chalice, that “through the Mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” 

By the way, I looked it up. My baptism: 25 March. But then I heard God laugh. My ordination? 25 March. Happy Easter! TP 

Deacon Ditewig, Ph.D., former executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the USCCB, now teaches and ministers in the Diocese of Monterey, Calif. He writes and consults extensively on the subject of the diaconate and contemporary ministry.