It’s that time of the year. Easter has come and gone, and the new Catechumens have finished their initiation rites and become full fledged members of the Church. They’re all excited. It’s time to get going, time to get out there and set the world on fire for Jesus! They’re ready for some action, aren’t they?
Well, yes and no.
Of course the new Christians should be excited and ready to do their part. But according to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, “The third step of Christian initiation, the celebration of the sacraments, is followed by the final period of postbaptismal catechesis or MYSTAGOGY. This is a time for the community and the neophytes together (we’re not supposed to leave the newbies alone to fend for themselves during this period) to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation of the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist, and doing works of charity... The neophytes are, as the term “mystagogy” suggests, introduced into a fuller and more effective understanding of the mysteries through the Gospel message they have learned and above all through their experience of the sacraments they have received.”
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI explains, “In the Church's most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. While not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centered on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ… A mystagogical catechesis must be concerned with bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions – work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose. Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of the faithful. The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated.”
While this may come across like the Church is trying to dampen a new Christian’s enthusiasm for the faith, nothing could be farther from the case. No one should ever try to squelch the emotional high that comes with joining the Church. But as old married folks will tell you, emotions and experience aren’t necessarily the same thing. Sometimes, a marriage can be going through rough times emotionally, and yet be solid as a rock because of the accumulated experience the pair has together. And that’s one of the things mystagogy is preparing the neophytes for, that inevitable time when the ‘honeymoon’ ends, when the explosiveness of the Easter Season gives way to the routines of Ordinary Time and the drudgeries of everyday life renew their assault. It’s during those moments that the time spent during mystagogy experiencing and contemplating the sacramental rites of the Church can really save a person’s faith.