The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 13, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

A mystery that has meaning for each one of us

The Paschal Mystery unearths clues for new life


By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Why do we call it Easter? Actually, when Christians started celebrating Christ's resurrection, we called it the Pasch. The Greek word was Pascha, developed from the Hebrew Pesach for Passover - as in Israel's Passover from slavery. At Easter, Christ passed over from death to new life.

From the word Pascha, we get Paschal, as in Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery, while one event that we can only begin to understand, can be better grasped by seeing it as three parts of that one whole event. The Creed we say at Mass lists these three parts: "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day, he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."

So we can see three distinct parts here in the one mystery of our salvation: Jesus' passion and death; the Resurrection; the Ascension. We can begin to understand that mystery by first looking at what it means in terms of universal salvation, and then what it means for our individual salvation.

First, the Paschal Mystery teaches us about God's salvation for everyone.

Universal connections

The Passion, death and burial: Through his death, Jesus frees us from sin. His suffering and death were the climax - in his human condition - of God's redeeming love united with our own weak, fallen humanity. By accepting death, Jesus completely tied humanity into God's act of redemption.

"Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned," the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us. "But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God 'did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all' so that we might be 'reconciled to God by the death of his Son.'" (n. 603).

The Resurrection: Christians have always viewed the passion and death of Jesus in the light of the resurrection. Without the resurrection, Jesus' suffering and death would have no meaning. It is from the perspective of the resurrection that the church has always understood what God did through Jesus. The resurrection was God's triumph over death and all separations and, through Jesus, is our source and promise of new life.

"The new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, 'so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.' Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace" (CCC, 654). The catechism adds that justification brings about our adoption by God, making us brothers and sisters of Christ and "gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection."

The Ascension: Through the Ascension, Jesus received the glory and honor that was his as God's Son and through that glory and power, he sent the Spirit. Through the ascension, resurrection power flowed out upon all creation.

"The ascended Christ, far from being absent, fills the cosmos in a new way," explains theologian Sr. Brid Long. "The ascension implies that the Church now begins to function as the visible embodiment of Jesus."

Personal connections

This is what the Paschal Mystery means for the entire Church, all who call themselves Christian. But what do the events of the Paschal Mystery mean for each individual? For you and me in our own everyday flesh?

The Passion, death and burial: We all experience suffering and death. Jesus' suffering and death speak to our own. Jesus is united to us in our weakness, through his own weakness. One way to illustrate that, according to theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, is to look the words we say in the Apostles Creed about Jesus' "descent into hell."

"What this symbolic way of speaking signifies," says Sr. Johnson, "is that even those who die victimized, those who disappear, those who are no longer part of the living history of the earth, those no longer remembered - all these people are not beyond the reach of the living God. The Crucified Jesus has joined them, identifying with them, and bringing the power of the reign of God even there."

The Resurrection: Jesus' humanity and resurrection foreshadow what will happen to each of us.

"Bodily resurrection is a way of saying that Jesus, in the wholeness of his being, is with God," says Fr. Zachary Hayes, OFM. ".In this destiny of Jesus is anticipated the destiny of humanity and of the world."

What happened to Jesus in his humanity, will happen to each one of us in our humanity. We, too, will rise.

The Ascension. Because of the glory that came to Jesus at the Ascension, we, ourselves, know we are called to a destiny greater than anything we can imagine.

"Only the one who 'came from the Father' can return to the Father." the Catechism tells us. "Left to its own natural powers, humanity does not have access to the 'Father's house,' to God's life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us" (n. 661).

Our mystery, too

All of this happens in the one glorious event we call the Paschal Mystery. And even though we have talked about that mystery in three parts, none of those parts can be viewed separately. We must always remember that the Crucified One is also the Risen and Exalted One. Jesus - human and divine, Lord, Savior and our brother - is one person. And His Paschal Mystery is our mystery too. We have all been promised that what happened to Jesus will happen to each of us who share in Christ's humanity and who conformed ourselves to his image in baptism.

Fr. Gerald Sloyan is a visiting professor of religion at Catholic University. He says that people today most need to remember what the first Christians heard, how the Gospel was first preached: "A man who died a cruel tortured death was uniquely the Son of God and that God raised him up from the dead and exalted him to God's right hand. Specifically, the earliest believers, Jews and non-Jews alike, were invited to consider what their own hard lives of suffering and their seemingly meaningless death might mean, once God's plan for a life to come in the body was revealed to them."

Easter celebrates that plan unfolding in creation - and in our own lives.

Oh, and the word Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddess of springtime and dawn - Estre. Using her name is just an example of how early missionaries used what was already in place to make Christian feasts attractive to those they hoped to convert.


(Sources: Consider Jesus, Waves of Renewal in Christology; Catechism of the Catholic Church; Visions of a Future, A Study of Christian Eschatology; The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia)


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