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Fall in love and stay in love

We know that the wise men came from the East. But on this particular occasion, I learnt a great deal from a very wise woman from the West. Let me explain. I was presenting an RCIA formation day in Perth on ‘What to do during the Easter season’. My presentation was going to explore the period of mystagogy from the theological, liturgical, sacramental and pastoral dimension. The wise woman from the West piped up and suggested that, for her, the Easter season was like her honeymoon. She continued by saying that the whole of the RCIA journey was about falling in love, staying in love and growing in love. 

She explained that the RCIA journey begins with falling in love with Jesus Christ. The catechumenate is a time of exploring and deepening that love. The Rite of Election calls for a permanent commitment, like an engagement. The Rites of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil are like the wedding: a solemn, formal and public commitment to becoming one with Christ. The Easter time is the honeymoon period: a time to explore the beauty and all the dimensions of this commitment. Finally, she said, Ordinary Time is the time to discover and live out this extraordinary love in the ordinary events and experiences of daily life. What a wonderful way to talk about the whole liturgical year! 

Let’s look closely at the fifty days of Easter, a ‘week of weeks’. For those who have gone through the RCIA journey, this is the period for ‘mystagogy’. It is a time for mystagogical catechesis, not only for the ‘neophytes’ (the newly baptised), but also for the rest of us, the ‘old-phytes’. This is beautifully expressed by Barbara Hixon in RCIA Ministry: An Adventure into Mayhem and Mystery when she writes, ‘No one ever graduates from Mystagogia’ (San Jose, Calif.: Resource Publications, 1989, p 133). We are all on a mystagogical journey which only finishes ‘when our lives return to their source in the inexhaustible mystery of God’ (Nathan Mitchell, in Assembly: A Journal of Liturgical Theology, 2000). This is a theological way of saying that we all need mystagogical catechesis until the day we die and meet Jesus Christ face to face.

 

What is mystagogical catechesis? It consists of three steps, clearly outlined by Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis, §64:

1.  ‘Interpreting the rites in the light of the events of our salvation

How do we do this? The celebration of the Triduum is one celebration lasting three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. When a couple go on a honeymoon, they have the time to reflect on the whole wedding experience. They go over and over each step and detail of the wedding day: the preparation, the arrival at the church, the liturgical ceremony and the reception afterwards. They share their memories and feelings of the wedding day. The same applies to all of us, whether we are new to the life of faith or not. The church invites us during the fifty days of Easter time to remember and reflect on how we felt during the rituals of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil as celebrations of the love that God has for each one of us.

2.  ‘presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites’

As the newly married share their memories and the feelings they experienced during the wedding day, they also begin to realise that these memories and feelings are genuine and true expressions of the love and total commitment they have for each other. Similarly, for us, the Easter season is a time to remember and reflect that the rituals we celebrated at the Easter Vigil were the manifestation of the total, complete and unconditional love that Jesus Christ has shown for us as a community and for each one of us as individuals. In what way do we respond as a community? In what way do I respond as an individual?

3.  ‘Bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions … work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose’ 

The honeymoon is a time of joy and celebration for the married couple, but they also know that the honeymoon does not last forever. The wedding ritual has changed their very identity, and now they are called to live their whole lives in a new way: as a married couple. They know that from now on, they are committed to express and to live their extraordinary love in all the ordinary moments of their lives. The same process happens to all of us who have celebrated the Easter Triduum. Nathan Mitchell expresses it very succinctly and poignantly: ‘No one leaves the Easter Vigil the same. If you do, you haven’t been there’ (Eucharist as a Sacrament of Initiation, Chicag Liturgy Training Publications, 1994, p. 180). After the spiritual honeymoon of the Easter season, we too are sent, on the day of Pentecost, to bring Christ’s extraordinary love to all those we encounter in our daily life.

 

The three steps of mystagogical catechesis invite us to move from remembrance to meaning and finally to new life. How can we make sure that the mystagogical catechesis of the Easter season brings about this transformation in each one of us? We find some clues in the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar

The fifty days from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday are celebrated with joy and exultation as one feast day, indeed as one ‘great Sunday’ … The first eight days of Easter Time constitute the Octave of Easter and are celebrated as Solemnities of the Lord … The Sundays of this time of the year are considered to be Sundays of Easter.

GNLYC, §22–24
 

Each Sunday during this period, then, is a personal invitation to encounter and experience the risen Christ. Each Sunday calls us to renew our commitment to love through the Eucharist. Each Sunday is a call to deepen and to grow in our love for the risen Christ. In order to grow, we need the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ. Every Eucharist becomes an experience of union and communion with Jesus Christ. 

Each Sunday, we will also encounter Jesus Christ, who speaks to us in the liturgy of the Word, especially the Gospels. This year, Year C, Jesus will ask us, as he asked Thomas, to touch his wounds and believe. He will invite us to sit by the lake to share the bread and the fish that he has prepared and blessed. Jesus will then remind us that we are his sheep and that whenever we listen to his new commandment to love one another, we are already sharing the divine life. He will tell us that he will not leave us orphans and will keep his promise to fill us with his Spirit of love. And on the day of Pentecost, Jesus will send us to go out, not only to be visible signs of God’s love, but also to invite others to enter into this wonderful journey of love with Jesus. If the Easter Triduum and the Easter season is a true experience of love, we will want to tell others about it and invite them to enter into this relationship—a relationship capable of transforming every moment of our lives.

I am so grateful to my wise woman from the West. I finish with more wise words, from someone who also knew what falling in love, and staying in love, really means: 

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love with God in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love. Stay in love and it will decide everything. 

—Fr Pedro Arrupe, speaking to a group of religious sisters

 

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Rev. Dr Elio Capra SDB, a Salesians of Don Bosco priest, lectures in Liturgy and Sacramental Theology at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne. 

 
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