April 8, 2018
Mystagogy is a Greek word that means Instruction in the mysteries of religion. It refers to the instructions given to new members of a religious group concerning the ceremonies of the group’s worship and the meaning thereof. In a Christian context, it means instruction in the meaning of the sacraments – particularly, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. In the days when the Church spoke Greek, this instruction took place during the weeks following Easter. If then; why not now?
Just before Easter I wrote about the state of a world in which something has gone terribly wrong. The depth and breadth of that wrongness can and has been debated between Christians for centuries. The Pelagians (the original ‘good persons’) said that it wasn’t all that bad. The Jansenists (influenced by the Calvinists) said it was beyond hope. Catholicism has always said that it was too wrong to right itself, but not so wrong that God could not make it right. More specifically, I am too wrong to make myself right, but not too wrong for God to do so. (So much for the ‘I’m a good person’ crowd!)
How does God make the wrong world right? There have been lots of answers to that question; all of them and each of them shaped by the answerer’s assumptions about what has gone wrong. If the world is sick; then healing (one meaning of ‘salvation’) is needed. If the world is in bondage to the devil; then redemption (buying back) is needed. If the world is criminally guilty; then forgiveness is needed. If the world is alienated (estranged) from God; then atonement (at-one-ment) or reconciliation is needed. If the world in default (debt); then some sort of repayment is needed.
Sloppy preachers and writers will often use these diagnoses and prescriptions interchangeably. Not I! By a theological metonymy (take the part for the whole – as it calling a car ‘wheels’ –) each of these images of wrongness (and its antidote) gets exploded into a global descriptor and prescriber. But that crowds out all the truth in other images and the necessity of a multi-pronged approach to the issue.
My own preference is to let the world be a wrong as it wants without trying too hard to pin down exactly what the wrongness is. The ‘righting’ of the world is not going to happen as a result of a wrong world – that’s clear. So … only God can make the world right. The ‘how’ of his doing is shaped, to my mind, by the ‘why’ of it; for love.
We are back to John 3:16. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son […] not to condemn the world. The Son of God, Jesus, comes into a wrong world for God’s loving purpose, the eternal life of those who believe in him.
Notice the two terms there: a wrong world and eternal (God’s own) life. These two terms will guide our further consideration of who and what Jesus is and does. That will guide our mystagogical reflections on the meaning and methods of the Sacraments.
Really and truly and sacramentally yours,