Liturgical catechesis seeks to lead communities and individual members of the faithful to maturity of faith through full and active participation in the liturgy, which effects and expresses that faith. As the name itself suggests, liturgical catechesis is only one of several forms of catechesis, although all forms have a liturgical dimension. Liturgical catechesis has certain identifying characteristics. It is trinitarian-paschal, ecclesial, sacramental and transformative. The paschal mystery is the heart of all catechesis, the cornerstone of Christian faith and paradigm of the Christian life, both for individuals and for a community of faith. Liturgical celebration is an ecclesial action. It is not simply a series of actions but the celebration and expression of relationships: relationship to God and to one another in Christ through the Spirit.
Liturgical catechesis takes place in the midst of the community because the Church's faith precedes the faith of those who are invited to believe. Catechesis is the responsibility of the whole church. Liturgical catechesis is sacramental. It aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ "by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the signified, from the sacrament to the mysteries" (CCC, no 1075). The central symbols such as the assembly, the water, wine, oil, imposition of hands, reading and interpretation of scripture and the sign of the cross are constituent of the liturgy and are contextualized within the liturgical year. Liturgical catechesis aims to uncover the meaning of these symbolic actions so that the faithful may gradually realize that by participation in the sacramental action they participate in the saving action of Christ. The liturgy supports conversion, a transformation that takes place throughout the individual's life, that results in a life lived in charity, justice and peace making.
Strictly speaking, liturgical catechesis is mystagogy. Mystagogy is a reflection upon the symbols, actions and scriptures of the liturgical rite in terms of one's daily life. It is dependent upon the celebration of the assembly, and the celebration in turn is deepened by a preparation for the liturgy that builds up a lexicon of images, concepts, scriptural stories, ritual action and symbols.
The first dimension, preparation for the liturgy, begins with the human values that are present in the liturgical celebration including "community activity, exchange of greetings, capacity to listen, to seek and grant pardon, expression of gratitude, experience of symbolic actions, a meal of friendship and festive celebration" (DMC, 9). Liturgical catechesis fosters reflection on the rites and prayers of the liturgy in the light of these human values. The rites and prayers are seen within the framework of the scriptures, the doctrinal and liturgical tradition, the liturgical year and of necessity include attention to the social and cultural context of the community. The theological principles for catechesis are drawn from the theology in the Introduction to the Rite. Liturgical catechesis takes place within a celebration of the word (RCIA, 85–89). The preparation for the liturgy is essential in building up a storehouse of images, rituals, symbols, gestures, music and sacred space that serve as a source for interpreting the experience of the liturgy and enabling the community to attend to the ways in which the liturgy reveals the presence of God in their lives.
The second phase is catechesis through the liturgy. Liturgy conveys its meaning not through explanation but through participation. Liturgy is experiential and liturgical catechesis opens up and brings to awareness what is known intuitively. The mystagogical reflection, catechesis from the liturgy, occurs after the celebration but the celebration of the rite and mystagogy is all of piece. It takes place in the midst of the community and brings together the human values, the received tradition, and the experience of the individual within the context of the community. Mystagogy is about making meaning. It is a way of interpreting life and responding to the mystery celebrated. The process then, progresses from reflection on the community's experience of the liturgical action in light of human values, to the interpretation of the experience in terms of the Scriptures and the Christian tradition; to an exploration of the meaning in their own lives and its ethical implications for living a life of peace and justice. Celebration followed by reflection, and then action, returns to celebration with new insight and new meaning.
This form of catechesis is not new but rather is a restoration of a relationship between liturgy and catechesis that existed in the early church and is so well illustrated by the mystagogical homilies for example, of St. ambrose, cyril of Jerusalem, theodore of Mopsuestia and St. augustine. It is again given prominence by the 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (48) and other liturgical and catechetical documents such as the 1967 Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery ([Eucharisticum mysterium ] (14–15), the Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, Catechesis in our Time (23), The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (75), the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1074–1075) and The General Directory for Catechesis (1997).
Bibliography: c. dooley, "Liturgical Catechesis: Mystagogy, Marriage or Misnomer?" Worship 66 (1992): 386–397. g. ostdiek, "Catechesis, Liturgical" in The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, ed. p. fink (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 163–172. g. ostdiek, "Liturgy as Catechesis For Life," Liturgical Ministry 7 (1998): 76–82. t. morris, "Liturgical Catechesis Revisited," Catechumenate 17 (May 1995): 13–19. g.f. baumbach, Experiencing Mystagogy: The Sacred Pause of Easter (New York: Paulist, 1996).