Embracing the Mysteries as One: Mystagogy and Marriage

We do not think it is a stretch to assert that marriage in the Roman Catholic (or any other Christian) tradition in the United States is under attack.  Due in large part to the contemporary values of individualism, indeterminacy, and consumerism, American Catholics (along with our Christian brothers and sisters) live in an age of serial monogamy that discourages exclusive love, long-term commitments, and personal sacrifice.  This cultural condition especially places tremendous pressure on the newly married, who already struggle naturally in establishing a new shared journey towards God.

Newly married couples require support from the Church community.  While the number and variety of resources for the newly married have grown considerably within the Church over the past twenty years, the Church continues to invest more time in the wedding day than in the lifelong fruit of the sacrament.  In an attempt to forge a stronger link between the marriage rite and marital journey, we offer Embracing the Mysteries as One: A Mystagogy for the Newly Married – a time for reflection modeled after the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis and Mystagogy in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

It is through the Rite of Marriage that a couple establishes an irrevocable bond of lifelong love.  It is through the rite that a couple opens themselves to the lifelong grace of Christ.  It is through the rite that a couple establishes the Domestic Church.  The marriage rite is the source of sustenance for the marriage journey.  Therefore, gaining a greater appreciation of the rite may assist married couples (especially the newly married) in gaining a greater appreciation of their shared journey towards God.

The final step in the RCIA process is the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis and Mystagogy.  It is a time when those newly received into the Church contemplatively reflect on their experience of the Initiation Rites.  As Sr. Kathleen Hughes aptly writes in Saying Amen: A Mystagogy of Sacrament, this is done to “savor its memory…ponder [symbolic] meanings of [actions and words]…and live out its vision. Questions that typically arise include:  What physically happened to me?  How did I feel?  What words, actions, or symbols particularly resonated with me?  How does this experience carry me forward in life?

These questions bear significant relevancy to the marriage rite and newly journeying couples.  Our session would offer couples the opportunity to reflect contemplatively and prayerfully on the sacrament they conferred upon each other on their wedding day.  With the aid of at least one mentor couple and an ordained minister, couples would mystagogically explore what it means to establish an irrevocable bond of lifelong love with the grace of Christ.

In the coming months we will be piloting this session in several diverse parishes around Minnesota.  Our initial target audience comprises couples of diverse ages and backgrounds who have been married for at least six months.  We will be happy to share the results of this pilot endeavor with the blog community at PrayTell!

Jeffrey and Natalie (Perl) Regan are St. John’s School of Theology·Seminary, Jeff as a liturgy student and Natalie as director of admissions.

4 comments

  1. I have LONG advocated this, and for all of the sacraments. I did this following Confirmations and I learned so much from the confirmed. I do this at my seminary after ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood, and after candidacy, and after the institutions to reader and acolyte. Sacraments and sacramentals are “gifts that keep on giving.”

  2. A great initiative. When I was a grad student, my home parish conducted what the pastor called a “5,000-mile check-up” with himself, the sponsor couple and the newly married couple. It was limited to a single meeting, but resources and all were, I assume, provided.

    It was part of the inspiration of my Master’s thesis on applying a deeper mystagogy to the catechumenate, and also to apply it to other sacraments, including marriage.

    Sacrifice is often touted as an essential component, in both secular and spiritual spheres, in marriage. And this is good. What makes sacramental marriage distinctive is not only the notion of sacrifice (Christ’s sacrificial Passion and death) but the entirety of the Paschal Mystery. How does Christian marriage reflect other aspects of Christ: the mandatum, the sharing of the Eucharist, as well as the resurrection and ascension? How do we invite couples to deepen and strengthen their marriage and supplement the baptismal call to holiness?

  3. Thank you for this. Providing opportunities for mystagogical reflection on marriage is vital – perhaps via invitations annually in the parish/deanery to those who have been married that year (or with special anniversaries or indeed all married people) and the sharing of the experience of the sacrament as lived out would be very rich. It is the work of Andrea Grillo (St Anselmo, Rome) that speaks of the experience of ritual in family life, using the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen to symbolise these, as places of loving acceptance, vulnerability, listening, healing, encouragement, communication, self-discipline – in fact every experience of joy and sorrow causing growth, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, surely all reflecting the paschal mystery/call to holiness in the domestic setting. (Grillo’s paper ‘Familial Rites and Ecclesial Rites:Anthropological and Theological Perspectives of Relationship’ can be found at Catholic University of Louvain, INTAMS conference March…

  4. I am wondering if you did this program and if so, how did it go? I am very interested in the mystagogical dimension of marriage, from both an academic stance and, of course, ministerial. I would love to chat with you.

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