Are You Having a Mystagogical Lent?


Mystagogical. From “mystagogy”–literally “words about mystery,” but it has a much richer meaning than just that.

Mystagogy is an ancient Christian practice. It involves sitting attentively with the sacred texts of our worship–scriptures, hymns, prayers–as well as with the images that assist our worship–icons, crosses, etc.–and allowing them to “interrogate” us, to shine a light on our knowledge and love of the Lord. This is more than just reading or hearing. It’s even more than careful study. One could liken it to bathing in our tradition, our inheritance.

You have probably participated in mystagogy several times without even knowing it, and certainly without using such an exotic word! Have you ever attended a celebration of the Eucharist and come away thinking to yourself, “Wow! That really clicked. The hymns, the collect of the day, the readings, the sermon, the Prayers of the People–it all just held together. Everything illuminated everything else.” It you’ve ever had such an experience, you were doing mystagogy!

One of the key components of mystagogy is that it happens in community. It’s not just the blind leading the blind; there are appropriately leaders and facilitators, even teachers. But it’s not the mere passing on of information from those who have it to those who don’t. There is always an element of mutuality. There is sharing, openness. In mystagogy, we engage sacred texts with our whole selves–not just our minds, and not just our emotions or impressions, but with all that we are. It is a holistic spiritual practice.

The clergy of the diocese took part in mystagogical exercises during our recent pre-Lenten retreat. We focused on the texts of our common worship on the occasion–two celebrations of the Eucharist, and four observances of the daily office. Most of them found it a uniquely nourishing and grounding experience. We had a lively discussion about how mystagogy might be deployed and embedded in our diocesan life–from the preparation of candidates for baptism and confirmation, to the formation of adults in their various lay ministries, and even among those who are slowly being shaped into deacons or priests. In this increasingly secular cultural climate in which we live, we do well to double down on adhering to the rock from which we were hewn.

Let’s all become mystagogues!

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