Questions for Shaping Mystagogy-Minded Celebrations

June 12, 2007


People are hungry to understand how Eucharist can take on deeper meaning for daily life. To savor how liturgy and life flow from and into each other.  That is where mystagogy can help.  But it needs to build on what people experience in celebrating the Eucharist.

How can a celebration provide the bridge over which the “liturgy of life” flows into the Eucharist and Eucharist flows back out into the “liturgy after the liturgy”?  How can the rites and place of worship be shaped to connect life and liturgy?

Gathering in the liturgy of life.

Gathering does not begin with the entrance procession.  That is only the final, formal moment of an in-gathering streaming from all the places of daily life.

»    The prelude to the entrance rite happens just outside the church.  As they arrive, people can be gathered into community by paths that speak of journey and by commons that begin to forge them into a community.  How can landscape, pathways, and portal be shaped to bring people and their life journeys together?

»    The narthex invites people to enter a time and place apart, without leaving their lives behind.   How can the environment of the narthex both collect the dying-rising of daily life and intimate how it will be drawn into the liturgical season and eucharistic celebration that name and transform it?

The symbols of the entrance procession sum up what people bring from daily life.

»    Processional cross.  The story of Jesus.  But also ours.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”  It invites all in the assembly to walk in spirit behind that cross, carrying the mini-moments of dying that have filled their week.  How can the image of Christ be depicted so that all recognize his story as theirs, too?  Can the processional cross be enshrined in the narthex for people to touch as they enter, just as they do the water?

»    Candles.  Mini-versions of the Easter candle which tells the story of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.  They tell our story, too.  “You are the light of the world.”  The mini-moments of rising that have brought light into the darkness within and around us in daily life.  Can candles invite worshipers to join the procession in spirit, bearing the light of new life and witness?

»    Gospel book.  The story of Jesus’ life and teaching, his summons to live out that story and act as he did.  Can the book be enshrined in the narthex before the celebration, so that all can touch it in reverence as they enter?  As it processes down the aisle through their midst, can they together reaffirm their common story and calling?

»    Once the Gospel has been proclaimed, the homily will be charged with showing how its message is being “fulfilled in your hearing.”  Can small reflection groups help the homilist discover in the Gospel story the stories of their lives?

Presenting and offering gifts. 

Presentation is a preliminary act of offering.

»    Bread and wine are the condensation of all human labor and life.  Can the assembly be invited to stand in solidarity as the gifts are brought forward?  To walk in spirit with the gift-bearers, carrying their lives in their hands to place them on the altar?

»    Presenting the gifts dedicates them for the act of offering a “living sacrifice” that is to follow.  Can the gifts be brought to the very altar itself, rather than handed over at the foot of the sanctuary?

»    The gift to be offered includes our life of service to others.  Can gifts in kind for those in need be brought into the celebration?

The act of offering reaches completion in the eucharistic prayer with the words: “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”

»    Presiders often speak these words with little attention to their import.  Can presiders truly proclaim these words in such a way that people are invited to offer their lives in union with Christ’s self-offering?

»    People pay little attention to words poorly proclaimed.  How can we help them truly understand the awesomeness and commitment of what they are now doing?

Sending out into liturgy after the liturgy. 

The concluding rite is too brief to express fully what it truly means.

»    Can catechesis help people understand that they are being sent on mission, to perform the liturgy after the liturgy, the liturgy of the neighbor?

The narthex is not only the place of gathering.  It is also the place of sending.

»    Can the processional cross and Gospel book again be enshrined for people to touch as they leave on mission?  Can the hungers of the world be named as the assembly leaves, now broken as bread for the life of world?

These pastoral questions face us as we seek to feed a hungry people.

Rev. Gil Ostdiek, OFM is Professor of Liturgy and Director of the Institute for Liturgical Consultants at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois and is the author of Catechesis for Liturgy: A Program for Parish Involvement (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1986) ISBN-10: 0912405236; ISBN-13: 978-0912405230.


Notes for a Mystagogy of Eucharist
Reflections on the Liturgy of Life and Liturgy of Sunday (Part I, Part II, Part III)

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