Now that we have celebrated the Easter mysteries, we have entered into the period of mystagogia. In order to take a fresh look at this important aspect of our ministries as priests and deacons, we turn again to Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.
In a section entitled “Kerygmatic and Mystagogical Catechesis,” the pope speaks of the “fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. . . . ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you’” (No. 164). The pope teaches that this is known as a “first” evangelization, not in the sense that there will be subsequent, more important teachings, but rather because it is the most fundamental of all catechesis, the evangelization upon which everything else builds.
Upon this solid foundation, he continues: “All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma. . . . It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental” (No. 165).
This entering more deeply into the mysteries is the very heart of the mystagogia. It is “a progressive experience of formation involving the entire community and a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation” (No. 166). The pope notes that too many resources and programs have not recognized the need for “a mystagogical renewal, one which would assume very different forms based on each educational community’s discernment” (No. 166). While catechesis itself is always a proclamation of the word, “yet it also demands a suitable environment and an attractive presentation, the use of eloquent symbols, insertion into a broader growth process and the integration of every dimension of the person within a communal journey of hearing and response” (No. 166).
As the pope concludes his mystogogical reflection, he speaks of the need in contemporary evangelization for a “way of beauty”: the via pulchritudinis. Proclaiming Christ to the world is not only something that is right and true, it is also “something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus” (No. 167).
“So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new ‘language of parables.’ We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others.”
How can these observations help us in our own parish ministries during the mystagogia period after Easter? How might they help our neophytes “go deeper” into the mysteries in which they were immersed at the Easter Vigil? How can we be evangelizers with the attitudes the pope calls for above: “approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental”? What new symbols, signs, and elements of a via pulchritudinis can be incorporated into our ministries that can best reach our people where they are?
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.