Experience, appreciate God's mystery
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 7, 2002
1 Peter 1:3-9
Happy Easter, everyone! Congratulations to the newly baptized! Christ has blessed your life. You grace our community.
The Easter season extends from now through Pentecost. The newly baptized have their final period of formation. Their instruction also benefits the entire Christian community. This period is called mystagogy.
The word mystagogy is related to our word mystery. The God we meet at the Easter Vigil is beyond comprehension. It is easier to experience God than to explain God. We experience God in the sacraments, but we struggle to explain the mystery we encounter. Mystagogy is reflection on the sacraments to help us appreciate the mystery we meet.
We experience God especially through baptism and the Eucharist. Through mystagogy we think about our experience in a way that gives us another experience of God all over again.
In the early church, the fathers explained to the newly baptized the symbols of water, oil, bread, wine and the other elements that helped them unite with God in the sacraments. People thought about their ordinary experiences of these elements, and preachers applied those experiences to the divine life. For example, water has properties that destroy, cleanse and give life. The fathers explained baptism as a destruction of evil, cleansing of sin and the giving of new life. Mystagogy opens up the symbols of the sacraments for a deeper experience of God.
The Sunday lectionary of the Easter season was designed for mystagogy. The framers of the lectionary believed that the readings we hear this year (Year A of the three-year cycle) are so appropriate for mystagogy that they may be used any year there are baptisms in your parish at the Easter Vigil.
For this reason, over the next five weeks, the Good News column will search these Gospels for their mystagogic content. What do they contribute to the experience of God at the Easter Vigil and in the Christian life?
The Gospel for next Sunday (John 20:19-31) is the same in all three years of the cycle. It has been proclaimed in Catholic Churches on the Sunday after Easter for hundreds of years. The reason is simple. It tells the stories of what happened on the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead and on the Sunday afterwards. Jesus appears to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection, offers them peace and shows his wounds. He sends them on mission. He gives them the Holy Spirit and allows them to forgive sins.
Thomas, absent, doubts the report from the others. Eight days later, Jesus appears to the whole group and shows his wounds. He asks Thomas to believe. Thomas acclaims, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus blesses those who have not seen but have believed.
This Gospel overflows with themes for mystagogy.
Resurrection: It proclaims the central Christian belief, that Jesus is risen from the dead. He can walk through locked doors, yet his wounds are visible.
Eighth day: Jesus returns on a Sunday, a day that completes the past week and begins the new. It is like an extra day in the week, showing that human time cannot contain the full mystery of divine time. Sunday signifies the eighth day of the week, the day beyond the week, the day beyond our life when we will experience God fully in another time. We gather for Eucharist on the eighth day each week, to signify our belief in eternal life.
Mission: Jesus sends the disciples on mission. His resurrection is not just a hat trick. It comes with the expectation that his followers will evangelize.
The Holy Spirit: We celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation at the Easter Vigil. In John's Gospel, Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples on Easter Sunday, so that God may dwell with them always.
Forgiveness of sins: The gift of the Spirit empowers the community to forgive sins. One of the benefits of baptism is forgiveness.
Lord and God: Thomas acclaims that Jesus is God. This statement of faith brings the whole Gospel story to a climax. Put onto the lips of the faithful, it summarizes our belief in the divinity of Christ.
Through mystagogy, preachers and catechists will pull apart the symbols of the Easter vigil - the sacraments, the professions of faith, the renewal of baptismal promises - and affirm these central teachings of our faith.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron.