The Catholic Thing
Modern Mystagogy Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Some people, young and old, have trouble with tradition: older folks because they no longer remember where it came from; youngsters because they never learned it. It’s the way we’ve always done it. So do it. And we do, and the tradition may become rote, a routine, and even a rut.

As Scott Hahn writes in his latest book, Signs of Life: “Even devout Catholics can treat these many and diverse customs as if they’re disconnected and random acts – superstitions that have somehow gained the Church’s approval.” But it’s not just Catholics who struggle with some aspects of Catholic life. So much about the Church mystifies other Christians, who often ask about one or another Catholic rite or ritual: “Where’s that in the Bible?”

Thank heavens then for a book with answers – from Scripture, yes, but also from history and from common sense; a book that celebrates “all things Catholic, and the biblical doctrine that makes them Catholic.” A guide to the mysteries: a mystagogy. Hahn quotes Benedict XVI: “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated . . . mak[ing] him a ‘new creation.’”

Dr. Hahn discusses forty Catholic traditions, placing each in the contexts of the Bible, history, and the Magisterium. For instance, in the book’s seventh section, titled “Love of My Life,” chapters describe: devotion to the Trinity, the Rosary, scapulars and medals, and reverence for the Tabernacle.


Discussing the Rosary, Dr. Hahn eloquently describes the prayer as the fulfillment of Mary’s prophecy in Luke 1:48: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” He gives an overview of the mysteries and the varying ways different individuals and groups say the prayer. But then he goes on to describe the beauty of saying the Rosary as a family, which is no easy task.

There was a time in my family when we found it almost impossible to trap all our sport-minded teenagers in the house at once. So we did what we could. We locked onto the one time when we were almost always together – dinner – and we concluded our meal with a decade.
Sound thinking. Most of us aren’t like the O’Haras at Tara, who nightly gathered to pray to Our Lady. But Scarlett and the girls had no soccer practice, no television, no cell phones.

Hahn ends each chapter with an apposite quotation from a key Catholic figure. In the case of the Rosary, he gives the last word to John Paul II, who describes it as Marian and Christocentric. It is, the pope wrote, “the school of Mary . . .”

If the book suffers at all, it’s from being occasionally predictable. After all, we have a catechism, which is the ultimate mystagogy, and in some of Dr. Hahn’s forty chapters it’s fair to say there’s nothing new, nothing startling, nothing memorable. This is not to say that both the information and insight in Signs of Life aren’t rock solid; only that an informed Catholic reader may be inclined to skip over certain sections filled with familiar material. And Hahn sometimes wanders a bit. In discussing the Trinity, for instance, he digresses into a reflection on prayer. Valuable thoughts, but a tad discursive.

But please don’t let my nitpicking give the impression I lack enthusiasm about Signs of Life. I’m a convert who has been Catholic now longer than I was ever anything else, and I’ve learned a lot about the faith. But reading this book has answered many questions I’ve never got around to asking and some others I never even thought to ask. The thing is: the book is so . . . so . . . What’s the word? Oh, the word is Catholic.

Converts such as I, old or new, will find Signs of Life valuable as a guide – a sort of refresher course – to the history and practice of the essentials of Catholic life, but the book may find its greatest value and largest audience among non-Catholics curious about what makes Catholics Catholic, most especially if they themselves are considering “crossing the Tiber.” (Anglicans take note.) Why do we make the Sign of the Cross? How did the Mass evolve from Passover? What’s a novena? You mean to tell me the Church still grants indulgences!? If you know somebody interested in converting or have a friend who stubbornly insists that many Catholic rites and rituals have no basis in Scripture, this is the book you need to give them.

Dr. Hahn is a convert, and, boy!, was he a good get. A former Presbyterian minister and Catholic basher, he has heard all of the sola scriptura arguments of pared-down Protestantism, and he counters them with great effectiveness in Signs of Life. As Archbishop Timothy Dolan puts it: “Lifelong Catholics realize that it usually takes a convert to help us appreciate and better understand the customs and practices we too often take for granted.” Scott Hahn is that mystagogue.

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and author of The Compleat Gentleman.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (10)Add Comment
Signs of Life
written by Jeff Hendrix, November 12, 2009
As a convert for a mere 8 years, I'm thankful for all the wherewithal that Our Lord provides through His Church. Having cancer and facing the fact of our mortality provides ample opportunity for practicing the virtue of Hope. (Cf. my book, A Little Guide for Your Last Days, Bridegroom Press, 2009).
one of my heroes!
written by debby, November 12, 2009
Dr. Hahn grad from same seminary as my Dr of Theo brother Randy. would my family at TCT pray a H.Mary for Randy? he Hates the Church, has no love for me & reads Hahn to Prove him Wrong! (havent we all heard that before?!)he preaches against Catholicism to his mostly ex-cath congregation. Sad. wounded guy. im trusting the Good Shepherd to resuce him. every one should read Dr. Hahn-comprehensive & easy to understand, unites heart & head w/Spirit. thanks, brad.
To Jeff
written by Brad Miner, November 12, 2009
Thanks for your comment. We'll pray for your recovery; we know that whatever happens you have the friendship of Christ.
Blessed are the suffering
written by Kevin in Texas, November 12, 2009
Jeff, may God bless you and may your suffering be united to that of Our Lord! Your prayer and the offering up of your suffering may be the vehicle for many more to turn to God in faith, and perhaps for their conversion to the fullness of Truth that resides in the Catholic faith. I'll be praying for you and your family, and thank you for writing your book, which I can imagine will be a powerful tool for healing and acceptance of so much human suffering.
Obligatory Chesterton...
written by Rouxfus, November 13, 2009
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. [G.K. Chesterton]
Thanks for this review
written by Beth, November 13, 2009
I have many questions about Catholicism and find the catechism intimidating. I look forward to reading this book to give me an easier start. Thanks so much for posting this review.
written by Joseph, November 13, 2009
To Brad: Thanks for this review and for all your writing on TCT. May our Lord at Mass continue to increase your faith on a daily basis. To Jeff: I was clearing my desk just this afternoon and saw a note to myself to buy a book that came with high recommendation. Of course it was your "guide." I shall indeed purchase it now that the Holy Spirit moves me in this direction. As you offer your sufferings at Mass united with Christ in His, would you include this old "cradle" Catholic in your prayers?
written by Chuck, November 13, 2009
I just finished reading S. Hahn & B. Wiker's response to the new atheists. What a treat! Like Jeff, I am also a convert in my 8th year. I must say that I find that most cradle Catholics simply have no idea of how to defend the Faith. I conclude that God had to bring people like Scott Hahn into the Church to do the job right. I am sorry that he will never be a Bishop. Defending the faith used to be a Bishop's job. I won't go any further with that thought. Thanks Scott!
written by debby, November 16, 2009
so sorry i got your name wrong in my prior post. i just ordered your book. i was priviledged to wait with one of my dearest friends about 18 months ago. she couldn't wait to run into the arms of her One True Love.....i can't wait to meet you in your work. thank you for revealing yourself. i read the amazon reveiws-you are dearly loved.
Blessings of the King to you!
p.s. may i suggest Peter Kreeft's Jesus Shock to you?
written by George, February 04, 2010
I understand that fully 50% of seminarians are homosexual. Have we not learned what these satanic beasts have done to Mother Church. Also 40% of all U.S.congressional staffers are likewise homosexual.These spawn of satan are destroying our Church and our Country.Rampant Homosexualism is part and parcel of Satan's plan to destroy Church and Country. We must expunge militant homosexuals from the Church and the Congress. We must not lose our resolve lest we become a modern day Sodom.

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