If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” With these words, I and students of Lasallian schools around the world would pause before class to contemplate and center ourselves on this truth. This call to prayer tended to have the effect of stilling the room, if only for a few moments of silence, but I especially appreciated turning my focus to God before carrying on with my day. Even after I graduated from high school, I was able to cherish this simple ritual even more as I would go through my busy routine at The Catholic University of America. I found that even the simplest acknowledgement of God— this small act of love— would help me endure the challenges of the day.
The Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Baptist de La Salle on April 7, though his institutions continue to celebrate on May 15, the date of his original feast day until 1969. Students of De La Salle’s schools may be very familiar with his biography, whose life’s works are the very foundation of their education. De La Salle was born to a wealthy family in Reims, France in 1651. At that time, most children had little hope for social or economic advancement. Seeing how the educators in his hometown were struggling, lacking leadership, purpose, and training, De La Salle determined to put his own talents and education at the service of the children “often left to themselves and badly brought up.” Having donated his inheritance to the poor of the famine-afflicted province of Champagne, De La Salle began a new religious institute, a community of consecrated laymen to run free schools “together and by association,” the first with no priests among its members: the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known in the United States as the Christian Brothers. His community would grow to succeed in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that boasted revolutionary educational practices such as instructing in the vernacular, grouping students according to ability and achievement, integrating religious and secular subjects, having well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and involving parents. Today, the Christian Brothers are assisted by more than 73,000 lay colleagues, teaching over 900,000 students in 80 countries.
As a “Brother’s boy,” each of my peers and I would learn to take up our studies as well as our friendships with gusto and dedication, being made ever aware of the gifts God had given each of us. The life of De La Salle was especially studied as part of the freshmen curriculum, but each student was expected to emulate his example of charity and spirituality through and beyond graduation. St. John Baptist de La Salle showed others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, and how to affirm, strengthen, and heal. His advice to his community of educators still rings true for the countless students taught in his name: “to do all [your] actions for the Love of [God] … with all the affection of your heart” and to “hold prayer in high esteem as the foundation of all the virtues, and the source of all grace needed to sanctify [yourselves].” The Brothers I was blessed to have as mentors surely strove to follow this example in all aspects of their lives; they’d encourage us to simply be aware of and open to God’s will.
Returning to prayer, then, was essential to the ministry of St. John Baptist de La Salle. I would and still marvel over how truly beautiful is the sight of seeing students pray before class, meals, games, and trips —not just out of need or a particular want, but out of love, faithful devotion, praise, and thanksgiving. Especially in times of global, local, or personal strife, the small chapel in the corner of my high school would always contain at least one of my peers before the Blessed Sacrament. Of the many gifts our beloved founder gave to the modern education system, I especially cherish the routine of prayer instilled in my life and that of countless others. Not only would we remember our being in God’s holy presence, but also that God Himself faithfully, lovingly, eternally, and supportively lives in each of us.
“Saint John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us!”
“Live, Jesus, in our hearts! Forever!”
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
“The work of teaching is one of the most important in the Church.”
~St. John Baptist De La Salle
Today, we often take for granted Catholic schools. Most likely either you or someone you know attended a Catholic school. A Catholic education is often seen as top quality, and Catholic schools are considered some of our finest places of learning.
The modern concept of education dates back to the late 17th century France and one individual in particular: St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. His work was not only revolutionary in method, but also unique in terms of educating the poor and underprivileged. Some 300 years later, de La Salle’s vision of educating those most in need remains strong in the United States through the Miguel model school.
The Miguel school system was established in 1993 with the sole purpose of educating under-served children, focusing on students in middle school. The system was named after St. Miguel Cordero, a Christian Brother who dedicated his life to the education of poor Ecuadorians. Recent news about families and children fleeing their homes in Central and South American to find better educational and economic opportunities demonstrates that the need for quality education is as great today as in the time of St. Miguel.
Here in Washington D.C., a Miguel school was established in 2002 as an extension of St. John’s College High School with 8 students – San Miguel School of Washington. It rapidly grew, and this past year the school graduated its largest class of 23 students and currently has a total of sixty-three Latino boys in grades six to eight.
All San Miguel students come into sixth-grade from DC public schools and, on average, have reading and math skills of a fourth-grader. By the end of their time at San Miguel as eighth graders, they are 100% proficient in these subjects.  This success results from their own hard work and that of experienced teachers and tutors. Additionally, San Miguel, like most Miguel-style schools, operates on an extended day and year-round school program (200 school days vs. a traditional 160 days).
This hard work pays off - 98% of San Miguel graduates have either completed their high school diploma or are in the process of doing so. The graduation rate for Latino males in DC public schools is 46% . Clearly, San Miguel and its unique style of education is paying off.
In addition to my role at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I work as an intern in the Development Office at San Miguel School. It has been an exciting time and a true blessing to work to make sure that San Miguel students receive the education they deserve. It has helped me to grow in trust for the good work that the Church does as a whole. We as Catholics have the obligation to serve others, as apostles of Christ. We have the responsibility to do our part in the greater effort of Christ’s mission. San Miguel School truly changes the lives of its students. By serving these at risk Latino boys, I know that I am changing the world and trying to do my part.
Patrick Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and an intern in the Development Office of San Miguel School.
 San Miguel School DC, website, sanmigueldc.org.
 Statistic from the National Center of Education Statistics.