How do we “live from the liturgy”? This question is at the heart of a book about mystagogy, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life, by the Italian monk and liturgical theologian Goffredo Boselli (Liturgical Press, English translation 2014). I think this question is even more urgent and timely today, as Mass attendance continues to decline and old structures of belonging that used to undergird liturgical participation are either crumbling or no longer there. If Catholics do not develop effective ways to derive spiritual nourishment from the liturgy itself, it’s not clear what else will keep them coming.
The reason to live from the liturgy is that Christ is present in the gathering of his people and in the breaking of the bread. Christ himself is the mystery to which the liturgy gives access, and it is his presence in the liturgy that nourishes and gives life. Yet drawing on the mystery of Christ in the liturgy to nourish one’s own life of faith is not always a self-evident or easy thing to do. Many people don’t know how to do it, and therefore go away feeling they derived little from the celebration.
After the Second Vatican Council there was a great flourishing of interest in gaining spiritual nourishment from the Word of God. Various forms of spiritual reading of the scriptures enabled the faithful—priests, laity, and religious alike—to find inspiration and strength for Christian living. Lectio divina, for example, has served as a tool for praying with the sacred text and listening to the Word at ever deepening levels. But a similar development with respect to liturgy simply has not happened. The reason for this, Boselli argues, is that we have not put into people’s hands the premier tool we have for fostering spiritual engagement with the liturgy. That tool is mystagogy.