When I worked for my Uncle Joe at his pharmacy back in the day, he once had me use his car to make some deliveries. With the sun shining in my eyes, I pulled down the visor, which resulted in a number of small slips of paper falling into my lap. I glanced at the slips of paper and saw a list of words with definitions. When I asked my uncle about those slips, he said he practiced his vocabulary, always trying to increase his repertoire of words.
I always admired my uncle’s desire to expand his vocabulary and have tried to emulate that in my life. With that in mind, I have a word that I recommend you add to your catechetical vocabulary if you haven’t already, and that word is mystagogy (MISS-tuh-go-gee), which comes from the Greek language and simply means “reflection on mystery.”
While this word has been a part of the vocabulary of catechetical scholars for centuries, it has in recent times received more and more attention at the grassroots level, especially with the new Directory for Catechesis, which devotes a good deal of attention to this word (especially paragraphs 63–64). In short, the emphasis on mystagogy is a reminder that we are not teachers of a subject but are rather facilitators of an encounter with Mystery. When mystagogy is practiced in faith formation, the experience looks and feels less like a classroom (less academic) and more like a liturgical experience that includes Scripture, reflection, sharing, music and singing, sign, symbol, ritual, movement, gesture, and silence—all of which are elements of what I like to call a “language of mystery.”
The new Directory not only emphasizes the importance of mystagogy in faith formation, but goes as far as to refer to catechists as “mystagogues” (MISS-tuh-gawgs), or facilitators of encounters with mystery (113b). All of this means that we do not teach the Catholic faith as one would teach a science or other academic subject, but as an invitation to encounter the Mystery of God. It also means that we do not view our participants as students but rather as fellow travelers on the mystagogical journey, who are entering more deeply into a relationship with the Mystery of God.
If you’re wondering where you can find a good example of mystagogical faith formation, look no further than Springs of Faith, a comprehensive family formation and baptismal preparation program thoughtfully created to meet the needs of young adults and families who long for a community of faith and are considering having their children baptized in the Catholic Church. Springs of Faith is characterized by its mystagogical flavor, which accompanies young families on their spiritual journey while equipping them with the tools they need to make faith a more integral part of family life (such as focusing on the home as sacred space, family rituals, prayer in the home, and families in mission, to mention a few).
As a Church, we need to stop the all-too-common practice of making young parents jump through the hoop of a mandatory but perfunctory baptismal preparation meeting. Instead, we need to invite them into the spiritual journey, accompany them, form community, and equip them to recognize the grace that abounds in their daily lives, so that they, too, become mystagogues, or people who regularly recognize and reflect on the Divine Mystery in their midst. In short, we need to invite them in mystagogy!