Mystagogy and Community

Mystagogy and Communityfeatured

October struck me by surprise with a full schedule of doctor appointments, school schedules, and several Church feasts. When I looked at the calendar, my heart dropped to realize that I had been absent for over a month from the blog. If you are interested in what I was doing, you can visit The Classical Homeschool Podcast. What a blessing to be exploring and discussing with Jennifer!  As a welcome back, I put together a mini-series for the month of November. Last week, I discussed how moral imagination, faith, and reason work are fused together by liturgy.  

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The liberal arts help man to explore the mystagogy present in the universe by justifying the knowledge collected and gathered. However, we are left with the questions, “How do we collect the knowledge? How do we gather? What does it mean to observe?” Liturgy provides a path, a form, that assists man in training his emotions, his observational skills, and most importantly, his ability to practice actions with guiding principles. Liturgy is the unique form that binds practice with principle moving man from the mystagogy into the physical community by demanding that man be present, be a participant, and be open to penance and transformation. The Greek word mystagogy generally means a mystery; a person who initiates someone into the mystery is the mystagogue. In this post, we will be defining mystagogy more in-depth from Stratford Caldecott’s book, Beauty in the Word. “Mystagogy refers to the. . .explanation and exploration of the symbolic meanings and theological dimension or the rites. . . not just the rites but the gestures , words, music, images, and structures associated with that rite” (99). An example of mystagogy would be the personal encounter with the Invisible God, or as its normally called, prayer. Other examples are the sun, its rising and setting, or the tides that come and go. In the Catholic Church, mystagogy is the veil in which heaven and earth are separated. Man pierces the veil to receive graces by participating in the seven sacraments; there are also symbols like the lamb that call man into the veil. Man contemplates the metaphor in order to reach closer to God. The liberal arts allow man to see deeper and deeper into the metaphor as more and more honed the arts become.

It seems like a gigantic leap from mystagogy to physical community; however, God created man to be paired with woman. How man was created is the mystagogy, but what He created and what was modeled are the physical representations leading back to the mystagogy. God ordered the world, so that man knew His steadfast love. God gave man symbols of constancy in the sun and tides; God gave man community when He created Eve. In the present time, man has a complex and plentiful community on Earth. There are school groups, church groups, hobby groups, book clubs, Facebook groups, etc. Modern man has an abundance of physical community; however, when asked modern man often replies he is alone or feels isolated. Some blame social media. Some blame public schools. More often some blame a lack of presence. Being present in the moment means to be completely focused on the current task or place or event. Liturgical forms require man to be present or rather ceremonially at hand in order to witness the mystagogy. Liturgy urges man to step back from anxiety, multi-tasking, and rest in the mystery that was made for God’s creations. Being present at the liturgy is the opportunity to gather knowledge, to observe the patterns, the forms, the sounds, the smells, the people, their emotions. Being present is the opportunity to serve physical community; by being at this place at this time with these people, God has gifted man with the ability to choose to love his neighbor.

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Being present at the liturgy is not the end but the beginning. Man must participate in the liturgy; God has given the opportunity, now man must accept or reject the opportunity. Pope St. John Paul II said, ” Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” God offers freedom in the rightly ordered liturgy. Because a rightly ordered liturgy is steeped in the transcendentals, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, man choosing to participate in the liturgy is engaging and entering into the mysteries present; therefore man is choosing his freedom from the false promises of the current world. Man is choosing to give himself to others ushering man into doing what he ought to do rather than what he would like.

Once man is attentive and participating in the liturgy, he still must be receptive to the frailty of his being. Man is broken; man is loved by his Creator, God the father. Because of the fatherly love God has for man, we must be prepared for correction. Participation in the liturgy can be awkward or poorly done; however, it is in the action that man learns the most. God offers us correction in our awkward actions or our lack of conviction in participation. Virtue becomes embodied because of the state of our mind, body, and soul. Man can not erect barriers of pride, envy, sloth, greed, lust, anger, or gluttony. Man must prepare himself for transformation by choosing to repent and rightly order their actions. The more man participates in a rightly ordered liturgy, the more he softens and receives God’s fatherly corrections in a transformative way.

 The liberal arts heal man’s organ of truth perception in order that man can understand metaphor in deeper and deeper levels. This deeper understanding of metaphor is really how man interacts with the mystagogy or mystery of God and His creation. Liturgy is the form in which the liberal arts are used to gather, justify, and form relationships with knowledge. Once man attends to liturgy, he must chose to participate in the form while being gently corrected with each action into a rightly ordered whole man. The rightly ordered man serves not himself but the community. The rightly ordered man seeks to love his neighbor; he seeks to govern justly. The rightly ordered man integrates his purpose with his action.

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