Monday, November 29, 2010

From Rote to Reflection

We've all done it...some of us quite frequently. We rattle off an Our Father or a Hail Mary or a Glory Be with our minds wandering far afield and then wonder what in the world we just said. We slog through our daily prayers only half awake, mumbling them from memory or letting the words of our prayer books slide by without stopping to think about what they actually say.

Catholics are especially susceptible to these kinds of problems. The prayers we memorized as children glide off our lips and can escape without a second thought. We have at our fingertips collections of beautiful prayers written by devout men and women and designed to deepen and enrich our spiritual lives, but it is very easy to read them quickly and then forget about them.

In order to break this all-too-familiar pattern, we must move from rote to reflection, setting aside time each week or even each day to meditate deeply on familiar memorized or written prayers, draw out the depths of their meaning, and apply them to our lives.

Let's look at an example. Today's closing prayer from the Liturgy of Hours reads as follows:

Lord our God,
help us to prepare
for the coming of Christ Your Son.
May He find us waiting,
eager in joyful prayer.

This seems like a simple little prayer, and on the surface it is...just five short lines appropriate to the themes of the Advent season. But when we stop for a few minutes to reflect on these words, we recognize the extent of their wisdom.

Lord our God...”
Isn't it a miracle that we can even talk to God? Think about Him for a moment. He is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-holy, yet He still allows us to address Him. He is so far above us, present everywhere and seeing everything, yet He stoops to hear the smallest of our prayers. He is our Lord and our God, but He wants a personal, intimate relationship with each and every one of us. Now that's amazing! us to prepare for the coming of Christ Your Son.”
These eleven words pack a huge punch of meaning. First, we learn that we are not alone in our Advent preparations. God helps us. He gives us the graces we need to prepare our hearts for the coming of His Son. It's good to remember this during the busyness of the Christmas season when we feel overwhelmed with a thousand things to do and very little time in which to do them. We can ask God to help us prepare, and He long as we respond with openness and cooperation.

These two lines also tell us what Advent is all about, preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus came among us as a tiny Baby on that first Christmas, but He also comes to us every day, every moment, in our prayers, in our daily activities, and through the people around us. Are we prepared to recognize and accept Him? He comes to us in Holy Communion, too, in a most intimate and profound way. Are we properly disposed to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? How about at the moment of our death when we meet Christ the Judge? Are we ready to stand before Him?

It wouldn't hurt us either to take a few moments to reflect on Jesus Christ as the Son of God, equal to the Father, God from all eternity, and the Father's living Word.

May He find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer.”
Our final two lines instruct us in the attitude we are to assume during the Advent season (and throughout our lives): waiting, eager, and in joyful prayer. Waiting suggestions recollection of God and a consciousness that something important is about to happen. It also speaks of patience and perseverance, of openness to the future, and of trust in the God Who comes to us. This waiting is not to be mournful or boring, however. It is to be eager. We're preparing for the wonderful event of Christ's coming, so why wouldn't we be like excited little children, ready to greet Him at the moment of His arrival? And while we're waiting, we're to spend our time in joyful prayer...not dull, weak, inattentive recitation but loving, trusting, intimate communication that strengthens our relationship with the Blessed Trinity.

This little meditation has merely scratched the surface of our model prayer, but the more we spend time spend reflecting on our “everyday” prayers, both memorized and written, the more we will recognize their depths, appreciate their beauty and complexity, and, through them, grow ever closer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mini Meditation

Prayer is not about getting something we want; it's about developing a relationship with Someone we need.  Seek the Giver rather than the gifts.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Weekly Bookworm: General Catholic Church History

Dedicated bookworms like me not only love to read books, we also enjoy recommending and discussing our favorites. Every week, I'll suggest a few good books about a particular topic (i.e., between three and five), offer short review of each, and provide a link either to Amazon or an online source. Please feel free to begin discussions about these books or recommend others of the same topic. Bookworms like to receive recommendations as much as they like to give them!

Books on General Catholic Church History

Dr. Schreck, a professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, offers a easy-to-read overview of Church history in this little book. He covers all the major periods of the Church's past and highlights key figures and events without getting bogged down in details. I would recommend this book as a good introduction to Church history that will prepare readers for more complex and comprehensive studies.

2. Church History by Fr. John Laux

This book was the primary text for my Historical Foundations class at Franciscan. It is thorough, detailed, and long, but it is also a fascinating read that incorporates not only stories of historical events but also biographies of the saints and excerpts from primary source documents. Helpful appendices include a chronological table of events in the history of the Church in United States and lists of popes, ecumenical councils, and doctors of the Church. The book's primary drawback is that it cuts off at the mid-1940s (when it was written), leaving readers to turn to other sources for more recent Church history.

3. Studies in Church History by Reuben Parsons

This six-volume series is not for Church history novices! It is an intense and exhaustive look at the Catholic Church from the time of the apostles through the late nineteenth century. This is an excellent reference series, but it would be difficult and time-consuming to read all the way through. I have provided a link to Volume I, but the entire series is available online at

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wisdom of Dolly

Over the past few weeks, I've been rehearsing and performing as a member of the orchestra for the East Central School and Community production of Hello, Dolly! The musical is filled with catchy songs, fast and furious dance routines, and hilarious dialogue, but it also has moments of real wisdom that encourage the audience to think deeply about life, love, and wealth.

1. Our loved ones are close to us even in death. Dolly speaks frequently to her late husband Ephraim Levi, acknowledging the depth of their relationship, telling him about her plans, and asking him for a sign of his approval. In the end, she receives her sign and teaches the audience an important lesson about the love that transcends death.

2. Money is supposed to be used for good rather than hoarded. At the beginning of the play, Dolly says to Ephraim, “I'm going to marry Horace Vandergelder for his money and send it circulating among the people like rainwater, the way you taught me.” At the end, after she has indeed received a marriage proposal from Horace, she explains to the audience, “Money, money, money, money, money, Mr. Vandergelder's money. It's like the sun we walk under. It can kill...or cure....The difference between a little money and no money at all is enormous, and that can shatter the world. And the difference between a little money and an enormous amount of money is very slight, and that can shatter the world, too. It's all in how you use it.”

3. Love can be found in the most unlikely situations and with the most unlikely people. Irene Molloy never expected to find love again. Her first husband, Peter Molloy, was her share of true love, she tells her assistant, Minnie. Irene is planning to marry Horace only to get away from the millinery business, and she is only looking for “a bit of adventure” when Cornelius and Barnaby show up in her hat shop. Little does she know that by the end of the day, she would fall in love with the nervous, goofy Cornelius, who professes, along with Irene, that it “only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long.”

4. Even the most cranky and difficult people can and do change when their hearts are touched by another. Horace Vandergelder is an old curmudgeon. He spends much of the play blustering about how people are foolish, looking for “someone steady to cleaning the house” (as Dolly says), and yelling at just about everyone. In the end, though, Dolly has touched his heart and softened it, and he has learned what love means.

5. We learn about ourselves if we take time to reflect on our experiences. Dolly is a very self-confident person who pokes her nose into just about everyone's business, with good intentions, of course. But she also takes time to think about her life. In one of her “conversations” with Ephraim, she talks about how an oak leaf fell out of her Bible, a leaf that she had placed there when he asked her to marry him. She realizes that she is like that old oak leaf, without color and life, as she follows her daily routine without emotion, waiting for something, anything, to happen that will bring her true joy. She vows to “rejoin the human race” and asks Ephraim to give her away. Almost in spite of herself, she ends up finding joy in her relationships with Horace, Cornelius, Irene, Barnaby, and Minnie as she plans for them all to be together and dance at Horace's niece Ermengarde's wedding. Dolly has discovered what life is really all!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

St. Gertrude's Prayer

Today (November 16) is the feast day of St. Gertrude, who was a thirteenth-century Benedictine nun and mystic.  Our Lord gave her the following prayer for souls in Purgatory:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.  Amen.  

Please pray this powerful little prayer frequently!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marthe Robin

Today I was "introduced" to an incredible person.  It was totally by accident.  I was looking up something else on the Internet when I came across the story of her life.  Perhaps I shouldn't say "accident"; "God-incidence" is more accurate (there are no coincidences, after all).  In any case, God placed Marthe Robin directly before my eyes.

Marthe Robin (1902-1981) lived her entire life in a small French village.  By the time she was twenty-eight years old, she was almost completely paralyzed and bedridden due to a neurological illness.  She could not eat or even drink water.  She lived in darkness due to severe eye problems and eventually lost her eyesight.  She couldn't even sleep.  Most people would have given up in despair...but not Marthe.  She offered her sufferings to Jesus and became a victim soul, intent on making reparation for the sins of the world.

Marthe's story does not end there.  With the help of her spiritual director, she founded a school in her village and, not long afterward, a retreat community called "Foyer de Charite" (or "Home of Love"), which took on the mission of proclaiming the Gospel with a special focus on love of God the Father and the need for all humanity to live as the family of God.  Today there are seventy Foyers de Charite in forty countries, all of which offer numerous retreats each year to men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

Along with being a victim soul and a community foundress, Marthe was also a stigmatist and mystic.  She received the marks of the Passion and Crucifixion for the first time in 1930 and continued to physically experience the sufferings of Christ every Friday until her death in 1981.  Further, Marthe received numerous visits from Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese, who guided and and strengthened her throughout her life.  Because Marthe was not able to eat or drink due to her paralysis, her only source of nourishment for fifty-three years was the Holy Eucharist, which she received once a week.  Jesus provided Marthe with everything she needed to fulfill her divinely-given mission.  Can we not trust Him to do the same for us?

For more information on Marthe Robin and her amazing story, please visit the following websites:
"Marthe Robin: Another Victim Soul" by Jim Gallagher
"The Servant of God Marthe Robin"
"Marthe Robin: Charity and Love" by David Fanning
"Marthe Robin: Modern Stigmatist, Mystic, and Foundress" by Jeff Mirus
"Foyer of Charity"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reading Recommendation: First Clement

Christians seeking to learn about the early Church while deepening their spiritual lives will benefit from a thorough reading of the ancient First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians.  Written sometime between 81 and 110 AD, First Clement was sent from the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church in response to divisions and conflicts that were plaguing the latter.  Scholars, as always, debate endlessly about the letter’s authorship, but tradition holds that Clement, the bishop of Rome (i.e., pope) in the years 88-97, penned the document, which was often regarded as Scripture by other Church Fathers. 

Clement addresses the potentially-explosive situation at Corinth (apparently some younger, power-hungry Christians had risen up again a group of holy presbyters (priests) and ousted them from their office) by reminding all Corinthian Christians of the life they are called to live in Jesus Christ.  He focuses on such still-highly-relevant topics as jealousy and its consequences, repentance, obedience, faith, piety, hospitality, humility, peace, virtue, holiness, and the necessity of divinely-sanctioned order.  The entire discussion is permeated by quotations from the Sacred Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, which Clement uses to support and explain his arguments and to illustrate how faithful Christians are to conduct their lives.  Clement ends his letter by exhorting the Corinthians to reestablish unity among themselves through repentance and love.

Despite its early date, First Clement exhibits a sophisticated Christology, depicting Christ as the Suffering Servant Who died and rose again for the salvation of humanity.  Clement also presents Christ as the divine Son of God, as a divine emissary from the Father, as a model and teacher for all people, as both priest and sacrifice, as a sign of the divinely-sanctioned order in the Church, and as the scepter of God (i.e., power and authority of God in a supremely-dignified Person). 

Modern Christians will find abundant inspiration and “food for thought” in First Clement’s theology, presentation of salvation history, and practical moral guidance for authentic Christian living.  The letter is also saturated with gems for meditation.  For example, in chapter 19, Clement encourages his audience to “gaze intently on the Father and Creator of the entire world and cling to His magnificent and superior gifts of peace and acts of kindness.”  Who wouldn’t benefit from following Clement’s instructions and reflecting on God in this way? 

First Clement is featured in the Loeb Classical Library’s The Apostolic Fathers Volume I, translated by Bart D. Ehrman, quoted in this post, and available at Amazon.  The letter may be found online in several full-text translations as well as in the original Greek at  For more information about Clement and the other Apostolic Fathers, refer to Clayton N. Jefford’s Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction, from which much of the information in this post is drawn.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 7

Ideas for the Future: Regaining the Mystery, Restoring Mystagogy 
          Easter Vigil had been a very special celebration for the young man.  He reflected on his experiences as he drove to his parish Church the following Wednesday night for Mass and his first mystagogy session.  He had never been baptized.  His parents were not religious, so they had never thought of baptizing their children.  As he reached young adulthood, however, he realized something was missing in his life.  When his Catholic friends invited him to Mass one Sunday, he knew what that something was…God.  After talking to the parish priest and praying, the young man knew he was called to become Catholic.  He enrolled in the RCIA class at his friends’ Church and spent the next several months studying the Catholic faith, especially the Bible and the Catechism.  Then finally on Easter Vigil, the young man was baptized and confirmed, and he received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion.  He knew he would never be able to put into words the intimacy with his Lord and Savior that he felt that night.  Now this evening, he would begin the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program.  He was not quite sure what to expect, but he knew what the priest told him, and he was excited.  The priest had explained to the catechumens that on the first Wednesday after Easter, he would help them delve been more deeply into the mysteries of their faith.  He had told them that he was going to show them the intricate and beautiful connections between the Scriptures they had been studying and the liturgy in which they participated fully for the first time at Easter Vigil.  He had asked them to read Luke 24:13-35, the story of the disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus, before the class.  The young man had done so, and he could not quite see how everything fit together, but he was eager to learn.  He was eager to travel ever-deeper into the riches of the faith he had found.  He was eager to meet God there.  He was eager to be just like those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
          The final section of this study will offer a few ideas to help pastors, catechists, and other parish leaders restore mystagogy in their parishes and thereby help new Christians, and indeed all Catholics, grasp the crucial integration between liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  We shall see how the modern Church provides rich teachings on these key elements of the Catholic faith.  Then, we shall introduce some specific resources that will guide teachers of mystagogy in their efforts to restore this important teaching in their parishes, and finally, we shall emphasize that, to be authentic, all study of liturgy and Scripture, all reflection on mystery, and all teaching of mystagogy must be focused on the Blessed Trinity.
          The first step in restoring mystagogy to our modern Church involves education and awareness.  Catholics who are in charge of teaching others the mysteries of the faith, especially liturgy and Scripture, must thoroughly understand the Church’s official teaching on these topics. Indeed, at the Second Vatican Council, the bishops, guided by the Holy Spirit, produced remarkable documents that both summarize and develop the Church’s teachings on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  Before even beginning to devise a plan of mystagogical teaching, pastors and catechists must meticulously study and totally comprehend at least three of the Council’s documents: Dei Verbum, Sancrosanctum Concilium, and Lumen Gentium.  The first of these, Dei Verbum, wonderfully presents the Church’s teaching on Divine Revelation, including Sacred Scripture. It discusses the complex transmission of Revelation, asserts the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, advocates a renewal of typology, and calls for the study of both the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture in the context of the unity of the canon, the Sacred Tradition, and the analogy of the faith. (91)  This document is indispensable for gaining a proper understanding of God’s Word, written and lived. In conjunction, those to propose to teach mystagogy must have a good grasp of the Church’s teaching on liturgy.  This can be found in the Council’s document, Sancrosanctum Concilium, which presents the liturgy as the summit and fount of the Church’s life and as the work of and the privileged meeting place with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit.  The document lays out a plan for reforming liturgy that is designed to help the faithful actively participate in the great mysteries they celebrate.  It also emphasizes the depths of mystery present in the sacramental liturgy, especially in the Eucharist. (92)  Finally, those seeking to teach mystagogy ought to look closely at the Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium.  This rich document expounds the mysteries of the Church as the Bride and Mystical Body of Christ, as the Kingdom of God, as a visible institution and invisible reality, and as a hierarchical structure and the People of God. (93)  All three of these documents present the Church’s official position on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery, individually and in unity, so they are all necessary sources for teaching mystagogy.  Finally, those seeking to better understand the riches of the Catholic faith must turn to the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, drawing from the documents we have just mentioned as well as numerous others from the Second Vatican Council, past councils, saints, and theologians, offers in-depth examinations of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery; calls specifically for a renewal of mystagogy (see paragraph 1075); and even proposes models for mystagogy in its discussion of the sacraments (see, for instance, paragraphs 1217-1228, which use typology to list and explain Old and New Testament prefigurations of Baptism). (94)  For a true restoration and renewal of mystagogy in our parishes, then, those in charge of mystagogical instruction must themselves be educated; they must encounter the Church’s official teaching about liturgy, Scripture, and mystery at its source in the documents the Church provides for our edification.
          Along with learning the substance of mystagogical teaching through Church documents, instructors of mystagogy ought to take advantage of the numerous resources available to them as they seek, from the pulpit or the classroom, to help Catholics new and old discover the mysteries of their faith. Let us look briefly at a few of these.  In an article in Pro Ecclesia, Benedictine Jeremy Driscoll outlines a plan for mystagogical preaching designed to help pastors lead their congregations into a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Scriptures and the liturgy and of the mysteries of the Eucharist.  He advocates the use of biblical typology, after the model of the Fathers, to help Catholics discover the connections, indeed the integration, between the Scriptures they hear, the Eucharist in which they participate, and the mysteries they experience.  Driscoll lays out two detailed approaches to mystagogy that he encourages pastors to employ freely in their preaching at each and every Mass.  The first encourages preachers to discover and expose the connections between Scripture and the Eucharist present in each Gospel passage read at Mass, and the second promotes in-depth theological descriptions of the liturgical rites that ground them firmly in Scripture while elaborating on their mystery. (95)  Teachers of mystagogy will also benefit from books like Understanding the Mystery of the Mass by Father Matthew Buettner and The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean DaniĆ©lou.  The former features a collection of actual mystagogical instructions given by Father Buettner to his congregation over several months.  Father Buettner explains each part of the Mass in detail, offering both Scriptural and sacramental typology to help his parishioners sink deeply into the mysteries of their faith. (96)  The Bible and the Liturgy provides a more exhaustive study of the Biblical typology of the liturgy that will help teachers of mystagogy greatly increase their own knowledge of the unity of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in order to pass it on to their students more effectively. (97)  Students and teachers alike ought to carefully peruse Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina.  This book offers a series of fifty excerpts from the mystagogical teachings of the Church Fathers, and as the title suggests, they are designed to help Christians of all levels learn and live the mysteries of their faith.  Each meditation shows how Scripture, liturgy, and mystery unite to lead us into the depths of Christian living, and each is followed by a prayer and memorization suggestions as well as an “Apply it to Your Life” section that offers ideas on how to live out the meditation just presented. (98)  This book could easily be used as a “textbook” for the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program or as a guide for any parish study group eager to discover the mysteries of the Catholic faith. (99)  Each book mentioned here offers an extensive bibliography intended to draw readers into deeper study.  Teachers of mystagogy must also be aware of online resources that will help them prepare to introduce their students to the riches of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in the Catholic faith, particularly (which provides links to a multitude of helpful online resources), (which features a Catholic encyclopedia, works of the Church Fathers, a full-text edition of the Summa Theologica, and much more), (which offers numerous documents, reflections, audio resources, and more), and (which, as the official Vatican website, presents a full range of Church documents).
          As teachers of mystagogy prepare their lessons, as they introduce their students to the method of typology, as they show them the intricate relationships between Scripture and liturgy, as they assist them in entering into the mysteries of their faith, as they practice mystagogy as it was practiced on the road to Emmaus and in the early Church, they must always remember that their primary focus must be on God.  The ultimate goal of mystagogy is deeper intimacy between the Christian and the Blessed Trinity. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must be at the center of all mystagogical teaching. God is at the center of the Scripture (for the Scriptures are inspired and authored by Him and reveal Him to us).  God is at the center of the liturgy (for here we welcome Him into our very bodies in the Eucharist).  God is at the center of the mysteries of our faith; in fact, He is the mystery!  Therefore, God must be at the center of all mystagogy.  He is, after all, the Creator of mystagogy.  He is the One Who walked along that dusty road to Emmaus two centuries ago, opening the Scriptures to His disciplines, making their hearts burn within them, and revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, the mystery of His real presence among us then and now.
          We have come a long way in our study of mystagogy.  We have seen how, if properly taught, it helps Catholics, new and old alike, see the integration between Scripture and liturgy.  We have seen how it leads us more deeply into the mysteries of our faith.  We have traced its rise and fall in history, from the days of the early Church when mystagogy was at its zenith through the centuries as mystagogy declined and fell into disuse to today when mystagogy seems to be at its nadir but is actually beginning to experience renewal right now.  We have provide a few ideas that teachers of mystagogy may pursue as they restore this important teaching on the parish level.  Overall, we have seen that to truly accompany Jesus on the road to Emmaus is to study mystagogy, to listen to Him as He opens the Scriptures for us, to meet Him in the breaking of the bread, to embrace Him in mystery, to love Him in truth.

91. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum.”
92. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Sancrosanctum Concilium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
93. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
94. Cf. Cathecism.
95. Jeremy Driscoll, “Preaching in the Context of the Eucharist: A Patristic Perspective,” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002), 24-40.
96. Matthew Buettner, Understanding the Mystery of the Mass (Goletta, Calif.: Queenship Publishing Company, 2006).
97. Cf. DaniƩlou.
98. Cf. Hahn and Aquilina.
99. We have not spoken much about the practicalities of a program of mystagogy, for each parish must determine the specifics based on its individual needs.  However, the period of mystagogy ought to extend at least from Easter until Pentecost with neophytes meeting at least weekly.  Mystagogy, as we are seeing, is not necessarily limited to new Christians.  All Christians need mystagogy throughout their lives to continue growing in their faith.  This mystagogy might take the form of preaching, as Father Driscoll suggests, study groups, retreats, or individual study.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 6

The Modern Church: The Same Old Routine?
          Another Sunday, another routine.  It was not much different from any other day of the week really except that the family went to Church.  The children whined about having to go to Mass. It was boring, they said.  They would rather go outside and play with the other neighborhood kids who were not bothered with going to church.  Secretly, their parents usually agreed.  They attended Mass simply out of routine.  Their parents and grandparents had always gone, so they did, too, but they did not feel any real devotion. They went.  They said a few prayers.  They listened to the Scripture readings.  They received Communion.  And they came home.  Often they wondered as they were listening to the lector and the priest read from the Bible whether or not what they were hearing was the truth.  They had heard so often, even from priests sometimes, that the Bible was just some kind of religious fiction, that was not historical.  As for Communion, well, they had a hard time believing that the bread and wine they received each week were really the Body and Blood of Christ.  It just did not make sense and actually smacked of superstition to them.  How could such a belief persist in the modern world, they wondered.  They knew a few people who were very devout Catholics and who truly believed what the Church taught, but they did not think too much of it usually.  To them the Church’s teachings, especially on morality, seemed out of date, a relic of the past.  They did not understand the reasoning, if any, behind them any more than they understood the Scriptures or the Eucharist.  Once they had heard someone exclaim excitedly about the great mysteries of the faith.  They had merely looked at each other and smirked.  What mysteries?  It was just the same old routine.
          This is not a pretty picture, and it is far removed from the experience of those disciplines whose hearts burned within them as they walked with the Lord on the road to Emmaus.  Unfortunately, however, it is an accurate portrayal of the faith lives of many (although of course not all) Catholics, especially those in the West.  The statistics are frightening.  Only about one quarter of American Catholics actually attend Mass on a regular basis. (79)  Only about one-third of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. (80)  A large number of Catholics have been taught that the only parts of the Bible that are true are those that talk about religion and morals, and sometimes even those are questionable.  How did today’s Catholics lose the foundations of their faith?  This question is far too complex to be answered fully here, but we will take a few moments to reflect briefly on this loss and some of the trends leading up to it before we move on to suggest a few solutions to this modern crisis of Catholic faith.
          As we have seen, many Catholics today have mistaken notions about the liturgy.  Some see it as a set of merely external rites that have little interior meaning. (81)  Others, claiming to follow the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (which they misinterpret or read in a one-sided fashion), view it as a community event that focuses almost exclusively on the unity and interests of the “faith community” and must, therefore, be totally intelligible to all present. (82)  In order to attain this intelligibility, pastors (who are responsible for guarding and upholding the faith) sometimes dabble in “liturgical creativity,” ignoring the liturgical norms instituted by the Church in an attempt to make the liturgy “relevant” to modern Catholics.  For instance, they allow such “innovations” as liturgical dance; they focus on “active participation” to the exclusion of indispensable silent prayer; they distort Catholic teaching on such key subjects as the Eucharist so that the people will better “understand” it; they even permit non-Catholics or Catholics in a state of serious sin to receive Holy Communion so that they will feel “welcome” in the community. (83)  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, points out in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that liturgy, which is divinely designed for proper worship of God, has become, under the circumstances discussed above, “a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation.”  He continues, “Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself; eating, drinking, and making merry...It is a kind of banal self-gratification…Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources.”  He concludes, “All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.” (84)
          The realm of Catholic Scripture studies is also suffering today.  Again, we can only touch upon the major issues here, but we must note some of the most difficult problems modern Catholics face when they read the Word of God.  Modern Scriptural interpretation is dominated by the philosophy of historical criticism and the so-called historical-critical methods.  Originally promoted by the rationalist philosophers and liberal Protestant scholars who were influenced by Enlightenment ideas, historical criticism and its methods examine the historical, human situation in which the text of Scripture was created, examining, for example, the forms used by the human authors, the editing of the text, and the circumstances of the early Christian community.  Unfortunately, historical criticism is usually accompanied by rationalistic presuppositions that are empiricist and human-centered and can go as far as repudiating the supernatural aspects of the text, thrusting aside inspiration and inerrancy, discrediting miracles, attributing events in the lives of Jesus and the apostles to the imagination of the Church, denying the historical accuracy of Jesus’ words, and rejecting traditional Catholic interpretations.  Indeed, many historical-critics operate out of a hermeneutic of suspicion; they relegate faith to the realm of the irrational and treat the Sacred Scripture as a merely human document to be studied like any other text. (85)  This view, which focuses solely on the literal sense of Scripture, also eliminates the typology of the Fathers and thereby fails to recognize the unity of the divine economy that unites the Old and New Testaments, the liturgy, Christian life, and the reality of Heaven. (86)  The faithful are thereby left with an impoverished view of the Scriptures, of the Word of God, the Word Inspired. Relegated to the past, it has no power to speak to us in the present. (87)
          We can easily see in these brief reflections on the so-called modern views of liturgy and Scripture that many of today’s Catholics have a very limited appreciation for mystery.  How can they be expected to discover the mysteries of God in a liturgy that is portrayed as a community event?  How can they experience the intimacy with Jesus Christ found in the Eucharist when they do not believe in the Real Presence?  How can they appreciate the mystery of the Church as the Bride and Mystical Body of Christ when they refuse to accept her authority and follow her liturgical norms?  How can they possibly enter into heaven at Mass when they do not recognize that it is present?  How can they realize the depths and richness of the Sacred Scripture when they are told that it is just another historical document, and not really very historical at that?  Indeed, where is the mystery in this modern world of rationalism, humanism, and empiricism?
          We may also ask ourselves if, in this rationalistic world in which we live, mystagogy will ever have the opportunity to thrive again.  Will liturgy, Scripture, and mystery ever be reintegrated through a new mystagogy?  Perhaps, even amidst the darkness of these days, the seeds have already been sewn that will lead to a new flourishing.  On February 19, 1987, the new Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) was promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  This document inaugurates a new catechumenate that reinstates and updates the catechumenate of the early Church.  The majority of the document falls beyond the scope of this study, but we will look specifically at the section that calls for a new mystagogy. We read that during the period of mystagogy, “…the community along with the neophytes grows in perceiving more deeply the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives by meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist, and doing works of charity.”  The document continues, explaining that the neophytes’ understanding of Scripture, liturgy, and the Christian life must be deepened and enhanced, especially through special post-Baptismal Masses.  In this way, “…neophytes acquire a truly more complete and more fruitful grasp of the ‘mysteries’ by the newness of what they have heard and above all by the experience of the sacraments they have received.” (88)  Has this new mystagogy taken root in our parishes?  Perhaps not yet.  Most articles and websites describing mystagogy refer to it in terms of the neophytes sharing stories about their baptism, participating in parish life, attending Mass as a group, wearing their baptismal robes, or filling out workbook pages as they reflect on their new experiences. (89)  One article even redefined mystagogy as a “time when we share as fellow Catholics and learn to be Christ together” and exclaimed that it was a wonderful opportunity to help new Catholics find the right ministries for them in parish life. (90)  These things miss the point of mystagogy entirely, of course, but perhaps over time, and with some instruction, pastors and catechists in charge of modern RCIA programs will move beyond this narrow view of mystagogy and realize the depths of its potential to integrate three important aspects of Christian life, Scripture, liturgy, and mystery, just as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus.

79. “Bishops to Analyze Mass Attendance, Recent Data on U.S. Catholic Church,” Catholic News Agency, June 12, 2008, (accessed May 16, 2009).
80. David Pearson, No Wonder They Call It the Real Presence (Cincinnati: Servant Books, 2002), 11.
81. Corbon, 11, 132-136.
82. Joseph Ratzinger, with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985), 119-133; Ratzinger, Spirit, 23.
83. Ratzniger, Report, 119-133; Ratzinger, Spirit, 163-168; 198-199.
84. Ratzinger, Spirit, 23.
85. Ratzinger, Report, 74-76; Hahn, Lectures.
86. Mazza, xii; Hahn, Lectures.
87. Ratzinger, Report, 74.
88. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, The Catholic Liturgical Library, (accessed March 24, 2009).
89. Miriam Malone, “Six Steps to Effective Mystagogy,” Ministry & Liturgy, (accessed March 16, 2009); Paul Turner. “Successful Mystagogy,” Paul Turner, (accessed March 16, 2009).
90. Jeanie LeGendre, “Mystagogia and Discovering Our Role in the Church,” Tampa Roman Catholic Examiner, April 24, 2009, (accessed May 16, 2009).