A Magical Mystagogical Tour for Reverts?

Some days, my revertigo is beyond dizzying.

On this Easter Monday I am suffering from a kind of religious withdrawal. Having the disciplines and ceremonies of Lent, Holy Week, and the Triduum to steer me into the second year of my reversion has been terrific. I was able especially, in this last week, to submerge myself completely in the depths of the Paschal Mystery, being part of the beautifully and reverently celebrated liturgies at my parish. But today, getting back to the real world and the newly-reopened comboxes of Catholicism, I have a big case of the letdown blues. From being “so inflamed with heavenly desires” on Saturday night, it’s back to the combox flame wars today. Sigh.

From the way that my sistren and brethren are duking it out over at The Deacon’s Bench, for example, on the issue of whether children too young to receive should be given a blessing at Communion time, I can see that Easter didn’t infuse a new charity and sense of oneness into that portion of the flock that hangs out in the blogoshere. And I can just hear the way the majority of those comboxers (the ones who characterize the practice of blessing children as “obnoxious,” and who agree with Fr Cory Sticha that it can “seriously damage their relationship with God”) would recoil on learning that my deeply reverent and moving Triduum included such obnoxious and potentially relationship-with-God-damaging aberrations as the washing of female feet at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the praying of the Lord’s Prayer with hands in the horrifying orans position or (shudder!) holding hands with family members, and the chanting of the Exsultet by a (female!) cantor with a glorious voice that did justice to a glorious (if slightly more tangled-up syntactically in the new translation) text, while there were two deacons, two priests, and a stray seminarian present who probably could have stumbled croakingly through it for the sake of not being liturgically obnoxious.

I’ve never noticed, frankly, whether our priests or ELMs bless or even acknowledge children who are brought forward at Communion (much less, per the update to Deacon Greg’s post–horror upon horror!–divorced and remarried Catholics or other Eucharistic losers who might be foolish enough to come forward), but whether they do–which I agree would be against liturgical order, though not anything near the level of liturgical abuse that’s being charged–or don’t, what they don’t do is make somebody feel like an abject idiot for wondering what’s wrong with it.

No, I have to go to my sistren and brethren in the blogosphere for that level of uncharity. Now, many new or returning Catholics don’t go to the blogosphere in the first place, and those that do may, like me, know what they’re getting themselves in for. But what if I were a lot less informed about how divided and vitriolic a Church we can be? What if I had come into the Church in the glorious blaze of Saturday’s Vigil, or returned just this weekend, after years or decades away, in response to a Catholics Come Home TV ad and a sense of nostalgia I couldn’t actually define, and had happened to stumble upon this post at Deacon Greg’s blog for the first time this morning? I might feel more than just the vague queasiness this stuff gives me. I might want to turn right around and run back to lapsed-Catholic land. If, for example, the notion of acknowledging an innocent toddler at Mass is so hideous, why should I think the Church wants me, with my baggage of doubts and questions and confusions, back for any other reason than demographics?

I am not–please, comboxers, don’t start!–making a case that anything should go when it comes to liturgy. I am a veteran of the original era of MGM liturgies (More Gimmicks at Mass) and I know that honey is no better than vinegar at catching Catholic flies and keeping them in the pews. I am advocating, as a general rule, more charity in comboxes, and anywhere else we engage in making our relative cases public. That is surely a minimum requirement of the New Evangelization–that as far as possible, we refrain from flaming one another at the stake. Make the case for the incorrectness of blessing children in the Communion line or at the rail (though I’m sure no parish that has a rail would ever commit such a sacrilege), but make it kindly and with the generosity of spirit that should accompany being right. Don’t tell parents they’re raising their kids to be greedy and entitled little monsters; even if you think so, it’s not germane to patient catechesis on the Eucharist.

And that–patient catechesis, kindly and generously given–is what I am advocating as the real-life approach to this stuff, especially when it involves making liturgical changes that correct the form but destroy the way custom has functioned in a parish. It is not enough to blame everything one finds fault with in the Church on bad catechesis. (I have my arguments with that formula, but I’ll save them for another post.) No, let us be about good catechesis, starting now. Good catechesis is much more than reading the rule book aloud, whether that be Sacrosanctum Concilium or the Baltimore Catechism. It is inviting people into the mysteries in a way that respects both the mysteries themselves and the circumstances of the learner. It is, in short, what these 50 days of Easter have always been all about: mystagogia.

As a revert, I envy the neophytes this precious time in their journey of faith, especially in parishes where mystagogia is taken seriously. And if another of Deacon Greg’s posts this morning is any indication, I will not be alone in my envy. If reversion is indeed on the rise, shouldn’t we look seriously at a kind of Rite of Catholic Re-Initiation of Adults, a magical mystagogical tour for returnees? Such a long-term follow-up to Welcome home might be just the place where current and returning Catholics could receive good catechesis together, unlearning old incorrect practices and coming to understand new or restored ones, with patient unpacking of the reasoning behind the rules, the substance that gives life to the form.

It’s not at all a bad question for an Easter Monday, when we often recall the kind of mystagogia the Risen Christ conducted on the road to Emmaus. Sure, he started by chiding his fellow travelers for their poor understanding of the Scriptures (though he didn’t blame it on 30 years of bad catechesis, I might point out), but then he moved quickly to a catch-up lesson that left their hearts burning within them. And they knew him–blessed or unblessed, worthy or unworthy, Luke doesn’t find it necessary to say–in the breaking of the bread.

Could we follow the lead of the Lord in walking with, engaging, inflaming the desires of returnees (or newbies, or those who’ve taken the lifelong staycation approach to the Church)? Or is that just the Easter Monday revertigo talking?

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