"So, why do we genuflect and bow, again?" "Why does the priest wear different colours at Mass?" "What does a sacrifice have to do with the Mass and the worship of God?"
These are only but a few basic questions that I have been asked about the sacred liturgy over the years. They may seem like simple questions, however, knowing the answers to them can have a profound impact on how a Catholic is able to have a deeper encounter with God and the sacred mysteries during Holy Mass. The answers to such questions come through liturgical catechesis which is also an important part of the new liturgical movement.
What is the purpose of liturgical catechetics? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "liturgical catechesis aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ (It is "mystagogy.") by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the "sacraments" to the "mysteries."
Also, the Holy Father addresses liturgical catechesis and how to approach it in Sacramentum Caritatis. He states that "the Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world." He further explains that it is a "mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated."
In a more detailed explanation of the mystagogical approach to catechesis, the Holy Father gives guidelines in Sacramentum Caritatis. There are three elements mentioned that should be followed in learning and teaching about the sacred mysteries: 1) "Interpreting the rites in light of the events of our salvation, in accordance with the Church's living tradition." 2) Presenting the traditional meanings of the signs, symbols, and gestures contained in the rites. 3) Bringing out the significance of the rites for living a Christian life.
Let's further look at the details of these three elements found in paragraph 64:
The first element:
a) It [mystagogial catechesis] interprets the rites in the light of the events of our salvation, in accordance with the Church's living tradition. The celebration of the Eucharist, in its infinite richness, makes constant reference to salvation history. In Christ crucified and risen, we truly celebrate the one who has united all things in himself (cf. Eph 1:10). From the beginning, the Christian community has interpreted the events of Jesus' life, and the Paschal Mystery in particular, in relation to the entire history of the Old Testament.
Many Catholics are often amazed when they learn of how God has interacted with His people in the same ways throughout salvation history from the Old Testament right through to this day. In learning and studying the Old Testament many are fascinated by the typology or foreshadowing of the Holy Catholic Church, the Sacraments, Holy Mass, the priesthood, and so forth. It's important for Catholics to learn and realize that such things, as well as others, are not merely man-made. St. Augustine's quote comes to mind here: "The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed."
As an example: The sacrificial nature of the worship of God is continuous. In the Old Testament, God commands His people to worship Him with a sacrifice, and so it is today that we worship God through the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, the most perfect sacrifice, in the sacred liturgy.
The second element:
b) A mystagogical catechesis must also be concerned with presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites. This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols. More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite.
Everything that is prescribed by the Church in the sacred liturgy matters, and nothing should be seen as useless. All of the authorized texts, gestures, postures, signs, symbols, vestments, etc, are rich in meaning and importance. It is through knowing what these visible realities signify in terms of the sacred mysteries that the faithful can draw into the invisible mysteries being celebrated.
Some examples are: genuflecting is a gesture of adoration to Our Lord substantially present in the Holy Eucharist; red vestments signify martyrdom; and the Sign of the Cross signifies and reaffirms the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and our salvation that comes through the Cross.
Today, unfortunately, there seems to be a loss of Catholic sensibilities in recognizing traditional Catholic "language" both in the spoken word and the unspoken "word" through the recognition of traditional Catholic signs, symbols and gestures. This lack does indeed affect ones ability to actually participate in the liturgy and ultimately it is a barrier to the faithful being transformed by a profound encounter with Christ through the sacred mysteries. This is why it is necessary to re-build these traditional Catholic sensibilities.
At times, in an attempt to make the Mass more "creative and meaningful", people will add signs and symbols to the sacred liturgy which are foreign to Catholic tradition and sensibilities. For instance, at one Mass there was a popsicle stick house placed in front of the altar and it was explained to the congregation that this was to represent the poor and how we need to help them to find proper shelter. This, of course, should not happen.
The third element:
c) Finally, a mystagogical catechesis must be concerned with bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions – work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose. Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of the faithful. The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated. The aim of all Christian education, moreover, is to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a "new creation", capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him.
In further delving into the sacred mysteries one should understand their significance and how they play out in living life as a Christian each day. Here are only a couple of examples: 1) A further understanding of the Paschal mystery and how Christ died for the sins of all mankind because of His profound love for each and every single person, should move us to imitate this in our lives by loving and protecting all people, born and unborn. 2) In further understanding the mystery of Christ's love for His Bride, the Holy Catholic Church, one can better understand how a husband should love his wife.
Of course, one does not need to know and understand everything about the sacred mysteries before beginning to be able to enter into them in the liturgical rites. In other words, one should not worry that they "don't know enough." Often, the mysteries are more and more deeply understood over one's lifetime.
There are various ways and means by which mystagogical catechesis -- which should be ongoing -- can be taught and learned; some of which are:
- parish websites
- parish bulletins
- pamphlets made available
- parish catechetical emails
- CD's and DVD's
The need for mystagogical catechesis is absolutely necessary in being able to fully enter into the sacred mysteries in the liturgy; mind, body, heart, and soul. Often, once one begins to understand and conform to the mysteries within the Mass they are further drawn to learn more and more since it is through the mysteries that one learn's more about God. And, the more one draws closer to God, the greater the desire to further know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
An excellent example of mystagogical catechesis can be found in this video that was made at St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.