Series on Mystagogy
Our current focus for the weekly blogs is the period of mystagogy, the final stage in the catechumenal process that encompasses the Easter Season when the neophytes—those incorporated into Christ by baptism (and those returning to their baptism through a rite of remembrance) at the Vigil—continue to gather weekly and reflect on ways in which the sacramental life of the church shapes them for witness and service in the world. As Kent has pointed out, “Preaching throughout the season of Easter should be mystagogical … It means that throughout the Easter season the preacher should proclaim the paschal mystery, the [life,] death and resurrection of Jesus as seed of the renewal of all creation and the life of the world” (Blog post, March 10, 2023).
This Saturday, the Feast of the Annunciation, is an opportunity to think expansively about the pascal mystery and include the Incarnation, one of the great mysteries of the faith, reflecting on the Annunciation to Mary in such a way that “we make the mystery of God no less mysterious but all the more knowable” and applicable to daily life for all the baptized (Diana Macalintal, Your Parish is the Curriculum, 99).
Mary is a model of the metanoia experienced within the catechumenate, of moving from unbelief (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” [Luke 1:34]) to faith: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Her life takes on a new direction from this point forward because of the new life within her.
At the Annunciation, the Word was united to Mary, the God-bearer, in utero. The union of the baptized with Christ is of a different kind, yet St. Paul writes of the promise of that union: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). The life of the baptized, like Mary’s at the Annunciation, takes a new direction. Mary conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit given to believers in baptism, the same Spirit who empowers Christians to turn away from self-centered living to lives of service for the sake of others. Ours is a daily dying to self and rising to that new life in Christ. At Martin Luther wrote,
For this reason let everyone esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old [creature] and grow up in the new. (https://bookofconcord.org/large-catechism/holy-baptism/)
Artist: Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1859-1937
Title: The Annunciation, 1898
Medium: Oil on canvas
Location: Philadelphia Museum of Art