KIERNAN: The underutilized gift of mystagogy

April 9, 2024

I remember one of my graduate-level theology professors sharing a story about the first time he encountered the word “mystagogy.” This particular professor was so confused that he initially thought his instructor was talking about a figurative gentleman named Mr. Gogi, the Polish neighbor who lived down the street. Many parish employees or volunteers, especially those connected to initiation ministries, might find this amusing. However, the concept of mystagogy and the gift it is to the life of the Church is often severely underutilized.

At its simplest definition, mystagogy is a leading into the mystery. “What mystery?” you may ask. The mystery of God and His revelation to us. It is an ongoing reflection into the ways God is present, working and communicating Himself in our lives. This practice is so crucial that it is one of the programmatic elements for the Rite of Christian Initiation. After our elect have received their Sacraments at Easter, their process continues with mystagogy. They gather to reflect on their experience of the Sacraments, explore the way they experienced God, ponder how their lives are changed due to the efficacy of the Sacraments, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, discern how to respond to God’s continued invitation for their lives. The practice of mystagogy is imperative in the creation of a disciple because it is a prayerful awareness of how one connects with God.

The best part is that mystagogy is not reserved only for those who participate in RCIA. Instead, the Church invites all its members into a perpetual life of mystagogy — reflecting on the mystery. In this light, every time you enter a Church and mark yourself with holy water you are remembering your Baptism and how your life is different because you are a member of God’s family. When you are struggling with a tough decision, mystagogy reminds you of the Holy Spirit’s gift of right judgment and allows you to discern the correct path.

When we really think about it, God is so present in our lives that we sometimes take His presence for granted. There is a temptation to diminish the Sunday Liturgy to a mere routine. Living life from a mystagogical perspective reminds us to pause for a moment, to remember the incredible gift of our Lord we receive in the Eucharist, and to recognize the way God is making Himself known in our lives.

The other good news is that mystagogy isn’t complicated. When I was volunteering for my parish’s vacation Bible school program, one of the activities each day was for the children to share a “God sighting” or something that reminded them of God that day. This could be a warm hug, a delicious meal, a beautiful sunset, the parish tabernacle, a kind action and so much more. The answers of these five-year-old children were inspiring.

The practice of mystagogy works in a very similar way. All we simply need to ask ourselves is “How have I experienced Christ today, this week, etc.” This simple practice allows us to reflect upon our human experience, but more importantly, to move this experience deeper into the mystery of God, our source of truth, meaning and joy.

During this time, when we celebrate the newest members of our Catholic family that entered the Church this Easter, let us also remember that we too were once new members. May their joy inspire us to shake off our complacency and view our faith as an eternal celebration, guided by the gift of mystagogy which moves us more and more into the very mystery of God. 

Matt Kiernan is an associate director for Sacrament Preparation in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

(File photo by Jonah Dycus/Herald)