Mystagogy ("interpretation of mystery") is the final period of the initiation of adults (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults [Study Edition, Chicago 1988] 37). During this period the meaning of the Sacraments is explained to those who have newly received them. When Baptisms take place at the Easter Vigil, the mystagogy are held at the Sunday Masses of the Easter season (ibid. 40). No specific ceremonies are prescribed for this period, save that the neophytes maintain a special place among the faithful and are mentioned in the homily and the General Intercessions (ibid. 236). The purpose of the mystagogy is to enable the newly baptized to draw from their sacramental experience a new sense of the faith, the Church, and the world (ibid. 38). The families of the neophytes, their godparents, and the entire congregation share in this experience with them, but a heavy responsibility must fall upon the "mystagogue," the person (normally the pastor) who opens to them the mysteries of faith.
The practice of mystagogy emerged in the early Church, where the term "Mystagogical Catechesis" (Katecheseis Mystagogikai ) referred to the postbaptismal catechesis of the neophytes. Sources indicate that this period of postbaptismal catechesis lasted anywhere from five to seven days during Easter week. Its purpose was to explain to the neophytes the significance of the various rituals, signs, and symbols that they experienced at their initiation at the Easter Vigil. In contrast to the didactic orientation of prebaptismal catechesis, which focused on the communication of the foundational creedal tenets of the Christian faith, postbaptismal catechesis explored rituals, metaphors, symbols, images, and stories to reveal the deeper significance of the initiation experience.
It was at the mystagogy that St. ambrose, St. cyril of jerusalem, and other Church Fathers preached their classic homilies on the Christian Sacraments, opening their meaning to those who were newly frequenting them. It is here that the Church has traditionally taught the meaning of the sacramental life in Christ. These postbaptismal homilies represent some of the richest sources of patristic sacramental theology.
With the decline of adult baptism and the corresponding rise in infant baptism in the Middle Ages, the period of mystagogy, together with the catechumenate process, fell into disuse. It was reintroduced in 1972, with the promulgation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. For the Church today the period remains one of great importance both pastorally and pedagogically. It requires the active participation not only of the newly baptized and the pastor, but of the whole congregation, for it incorporates the newly baptized into the community of the faithful and places instruction in the meaning of the Sacraments in the context of their frequent reception. In this way the newly baptized can deepen and enrich their own experience of the Sacraments by a clear exposition of the Sacraments' inner meaning for their own lives and that of the whole Church and a showing forth of that meaning in the actual community life of the Church.
Bibliography: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (Study Edition, Chicago 1988). h. riley, Christian Initiation: A Comparative Study (Washington, D.C. 1974). e. j. yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation (Edinburgh and Collegeville 1994). m. e. johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (Collegeville 1999).
[l. l. mitchell/eds.]