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 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.
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
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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