Monday, October 18, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 1

The following essay, "Mystagogy: From the Road to Emmaus to the Modern Church" was originally written for Dr. Scott Hahn's Franciscan University of Steubenville class Theology and Ministry of the Word.  Mystagogy, briefly, is post-baptismal catechesis that integrates Scripture and liturgy to help Christians delve deeply into the mysteries of their faith.  Because of its length, I will post the essay in several parts over the next few days.  

Mystagogy: From the Road to Emmaus to the Modern Church
                The afternoon dragged on as the two men walked along, engrossed in a rather gloomy conversation.  They were headed for the little town of Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem.(1)  All they could think of was getting away…from their disappointment…from their fear…from their feeling of betrayal.  The One they had trusted, believed in, was gone.  Nailed to a cross.  Dead.  Lying in a tomb.  What could be left for them?  So they departed, leaving His other followers behind, starting over maybe.  They did not know.  He appeared suddenly, this Man walking beside them.  He asked them what they were talking about.  They stared at Him in disbelief.  How could He not know what had happened that horrible Friday?  But He seemed not to, so they told Him of the death of their Leader, their Master, the One they had hoped would redeem Israel.  They even told them how some of the women in their group had claimed that His Body was gone and that they had seen a vision of an angel, but they did not really believe it.  “Oh, how foolish you are!” the mysterious Stranger exclaimed.  “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”  Then He began to open the Scriptures for them, to explain the prophecies, to teach them the meaning of those words they had read for so many years.  They hung on His every word, barely noticing that the day was passing quickly.  As they approached the village, He made as if to go on, but they begged Him to stay with them.  They could not get enough of His words.  He agreed.  At supper, He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and faded from their sight, and then they knew.  He was not gone!  He had been right there beside them.  He was still beside them, only now in a mysterious way as they ate the Bread He had broken, blessed, and given to them.  They knew now that their hearts had been burning within them as He had spoken to them of the Scriptures.  They had experienced His presence, His teaching, His liturgy, His mystery, indeed the great mystagogy of their Lord Jesus Christ, in a very special way.(2)  
                Our ancestors in the early Church would have recognized and appreciated the integration present in this Gospel narrative.  They would have clearly seen the elements of Eucharistic liturgy, Scriptural interpretation, and mystery joined together in Jesus’ teaching, as He delivered His mystagogy to His two wayward disciples.  Over the years, however, as the Church grew and developed, this integration of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery, supported and confirmed through mystagogical teaching, deteriorated, so much so that many modern Catholics are only vaguely aware (at best) of the depth and richness of their faith.  Many in the Church today are unable to comprehend the power and vibrancy of the liturgy; they are unable to properly and fully understand the Scriptures; they are unable to grasp the profound mystery of their Lord; and they are unable to see the inherent unity of these three elements of their Catholic faith.  This must change.  Modern Catholics must recapture an understanding and appreciation of the treasures of their faith, but for this to happen, they must experience a renewed mystagogy, re-established by their pastors and catechists.  In this study, we shall first examine how mystagogy integrated liturgy, Scripture, and mystery in the early Church.  Then we shall briefly consider the reasons for the loss of this mystagogy as the Church progressed through history.  Finally, we shall make a few observations on the current state of mystagogy and integration (or lack thereof) in the modern Church before offering a few ideas on renewing mystagogical teaching and helping today’s Catholics rediscover the deep unity of the liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.

1. J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White, Jr., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 526.
                2. Luke 24: 13-35 NAB (New American Bible); Cf. Scott Hahn, Letter and Spirit (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 14-15.

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