What is the difference in the sacraments, mysteries, and mystagogy

What is the difference in the sacraments, mysteries, and mystagogy. Catechumens are only taught so much and then must experience the sacraments.


A Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace. They have guaranteed effects upon our soul (they always “work”).

A mystery (in Catholicism) is something that we could not know unless God revealed it to the Church. This is different than the usual English meaning of the word - in Catholicism, mysteries are things we know about (through divine revelation), not things we don’t know about (as the word is commonly used). There is no “secret knowledge” in Catholicism, but it would be impossible to present the entire teaching of the Church to a catechist - theologians spend their entire lives studying Church teaching and don’t know all of it (but, hey, it spans 2000 years, if you don’t count Jewish history). You are surely taught about many mysteries, such as Sacraments and the Trinity. The Catechism will reveal other mysteries that perhaps your class did not have time to cover. There is nothing “secret” about Catholic mysteries. People don’t get “let in” on anything once they are received into the Church.

Mystagogy is not a term that is used in Catholicism, and the term has no Catholic counterpart.

Actually, it is the fourth stage of RCIA.

Well, you are correct. It is the fourth stage of SOME RCIA instruction:

This stage of mystagogy during Easter is for continued reflection on the sacraments you have received at Easter, especially the Eucharist.

Specific catechesis on the Mass, the Sacraments, and especially the Eucharist are the focus of this stage.

The Mass and the Eucharist are the “source and summit” of the Christian life in the Catholic Church, and this period is designed to help you understand, appreciate, and live more deeply this center of Catholicism.

I was the RCIA Director for my Parish (Our Lady of Sorrows). I did not use any pre-prepared RCIA curriculum, but, because I found them lacking, I based my curriculum on Peter Kreft’s book, Catholic Christianity (which is based on the Catechism).

There is no such thing as “official Church catechesis.” There are no “official stages” of RCIA. A potential convert may still be instructed by a Parish priest and accepted into the Church without ANY RCIA (my wife and I were accepted in this manner).

I have found that the word “mystagogy” is used twice in the Catechism, but not in the usually understood English meaning (just as the word “mystery” does not mean what it usually means in English). If we wish to define the term “mystagogy” as the teaching of revealed Truth that we could not have perceived by our own efforts, then by all means the Church does this. Every day. All the time.

But I’m uncomfortable with this term because of it’s overt pagan connotations. Yeah, yeah, I know the Church conquered paganism and may thus appropriate any of its possessions (including its terminology) at will, but this term is not sufficiently established in the Catholic lexicon (at least in English) for me to be comfortable with it.

No, it is the 4th stage of RCIA, period. It is part of the Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum as established by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Which is fine, but unrelated to the Rite itself.

However, the General Directory for Catechesis called for in the conciliar documents of Vatican II and approved by Pope Paul VI, guides content, pedagogy, and methodology.

Yes, there are. If you are involved in RCIA in any capacity you need to obtain the Rite book itself.

Yes and no. He may not have conducted the Rites in their entirety, and that is a shame. But when you received the sacraments you were neophytes and in the period of mystagogy whether anyone helped you deepen your understanding of the holy mysteries or not.

In the context of the OP’s question – ‘sacraments and mysteries’, not ‘a mystery’ – perhaps he’s not thinking about revelation? In the early Church, the west used the Latin term ‘sacrament’ to describe the sacraments, while the east used the Greek term ‘mystery’ (μυστήριον (mysterion)) to designate them.

So, if that’s the context you’re thinking about, billcu, then ‘sacraments’ and ‘mysteries’ refer to the same thing…

In the context of the OP’s question, don’t Eastern Catholics refer to sacraments as mysteries? I believe Orthodox Christians do as well.

Here is an explanation from a Byzantine Catholic church: Byzantine Catholics share in seven sacraments as do all Catholics, instituted by Christ to give grace. In the Byzantine Church, sacraments are referred to as “Holy MYSTERIES” in order to emphasize mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. As explained by St. John Chrysostom: “It is called mystery, because what we believe is not the same as what we see; one thing we see and another we believe.”

Mystagogy is not only the fourth stage of the RCIA process, but it is the ongoing formation and deepening of our faith that applies to all of us. It’s a time to reflect on the great gifts we’ve received in the sacraments.

These 3 terms were expounded upon by something I was watching on ewtn with Scott Hahn. He mentioned two early bishops and I can’t remember their names maybe Augustine was one. It started with an ‘A’ anyway. Certain things he said was laid out to the catechumens and and was not expounded on. Then there’s something that has to be experienced and can’t be taught. I listened best I could but some of it escaped me. It might be on www.ewtn.com somewhere.

It seems like I am dealt with more in a state of sin than in grace sometimes. I guess the holy spirit never leaves. But the state of grace and connections are severed due to sin.


OK, I stand corrected. Alas, I must admit that I was not aware even of the existence of this book. I’m an apologist whom my priest snagged for an empty RCIA spot - just a couple of weeks before classes began. I had no idea how RCIA worked (I had never been through it). It was a crash course and a scramble to prepare a syllabus.

As I said, I based my curriculum on Catholic Christianity, by Peter Kreft. My syllabus was pretty much Kreft’s table of contents. I’m pretty sure he did not use the term “mystagogy.” I don’t think my class suffered by the exclusion of this term. The term comes up only twice a year in this Forum (I searched), and I have never participated in any of those discussions.

I don’t like the terms mystagogy and mystery. The normal English meanings are completely different from Catholic usage (opposite, in fact). It creates confusion to explain that “mystery” means the opposite of what you think it means (something known, as opposed to something unknown). I prefer the term “revealed truths” or something similar for “mystery” and “teaching of divinely revealed truth” for mystagogy. It’s wordier, but it is clear to an English speaker what is meant. And nobody knows what mystagogy means anyway. Why throw around arcane terms that have to be explained in plain English, when plain English will do just as well? Why add that layer of confusion?

Jack Chick and his ilk zero in on these terms, using their ordinary meaning to conclude that the Church has “secret” doctrine that is not readily known. I wondered if the OP had heard any such arguments and was confused by them. I sensed that the OP was wondering about what teaching was being “withheld” from him. Had the OP never been introduced to the confusing terms mystagogy and mystery, I don’t think this could have ever occured to him (and I’m not saying it did occur, I’m just saying that I considered the possibility).

Alas. I am not gonna win this fight. But, if I am ever involved in RCIA again, I will not use the term mystagogy.

Why not? It’s an important part of the process!

Having received the sacraments, it’s the appropriate time to reflect on the experience for the neophyte Catholics. What did the reception of the sacraments mean to them? Is their understanding different, now that they have both learned about and experienced the sacraments and their graces? What is their experience of being a Catholic?

On the practical side, it’s a good time to work the handoff from catechumen/candidate to active member of the parish. It’s a time to talk about ministries and about keeping the flame of their faith kindled.

Call it “post-induction orientation” if you must… but ‘mystagogy’ sounds much cooler…! :wink:

[quote=DavidFilmer]Alas. I am not gonna win this fight. But, if I am ever involved in RCIA again, I will not use the term mystagogy.

Here’s an article you will probably appreciate. :slight_smile:

This makes me want to cry!

Not directed at David, but at the world in general: how can you implement the vision of the Church if you don’t know what that vision is?

I believe in my RCIA class the term mystagogy was never mentioned either. After first communion, baptism, and confirmation which I received all three that night, we went back to class to talk about our experience; and what we were going to do next. Using the term Mystagogy may not be necessary. I asked about it because I wanted to know if I was understanding Scott Hahn right.


The Mysteries in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches are synonymous with the Sacraments in the Western Catholic Church.

The fourth stage of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is called “mystagogy,” from the Greek words meaning “to lead through the mysteries.” Traditionally mystagogy extends throughout the Easter season, until the feast of Pentecost. This is a period of accompaniment for new Catholics as they discover what it means to fully participate in the sacramental mysteries of the Church.

Ok. Well in what I was watching, Scott Hahn was talking at all about RCIA. I just mentioned it because that’s how I came into the church. And had to get a sponsor and so on.


That’s not correct. 1075

YOU make me want to cry!

Do you think that an RCIA class which is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church lacks “vision” simply because it did not teach an arcane term (which would be completely unfamiliar to most Catholics)?

When my priest asked me to direct RCIA for his Parish, I accepted, thinking it would be an easy task - I would just adopt one of the many RCIA curriculums out there. I found NONE that I thought properly represented the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They focused on things like seasonal liturgical colors. Is THIS the “vision” you want to teach to catechumims?

The problem with American RCIA is that it is not based on and founded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That makes ME want to cry.

Catechesis is one part of RCIA, it is not the whole of the RCIA process.

Paragraph 75 of the rite – a rite approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship for the universal Church, not simply the US – spells out the requirements for someone to be considered ready for the sacraments of initiation.

It requires four things:

  1. Formation through catechesis
  2. Formation in and through the Christian community
  3. Formation in liturgical prayer
  4. Formation in apostolic service and witness

If someone comes through RCIA full of facts but without experience in prayer, liturgy, and service, they’ve missed out on a lot of the Church’s vision of what their formation should have been.

It’s one thing to be able to recite the corporal works of mercy, it’s something different to have worked with others in the parish to carry them out. Similarly, knowing about prayer is different from praying. And reading about saints or Church leaders is different from having the experience of knowing Mary who takes communion to the sick or Joe who is a mainstay of the St. Vincent de Paul group and having worked alongside them as apprentices in the Christian way of life (see the General Directory for Catechesis paragraph 67).

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