Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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The centrality of the Paschal Mystery
by Father Jan Larson
(From the January 17, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
The Paschal Mystery is at the very heart of Catholic Christian life, liturgy and spirituality. The word paschal is from a Greek or Hebrew word that means passover, while the word mystery comes from a Greek word meaning a “secret reality” or a “rite.” The Paschal Mystery refers to the mystery of Christ’s “passing over” to the Father, while at the same time drawing all humankind and all of history with him. Thus all creation is transformed. Christ does this, of course, through all of the events of his passion, death, Resurrection, ascension, and the pouring out of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Clearly the Paschal Mystery finds its most solemn expression in the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter, but the reality of the Paschal Mystery has an impact on us at every moment, and so every liturgical act celebrates the Paschal Mystery – the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus and our incorporation into that mystery. So the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy teaches, “By baptism all are plunged into the Paschal Mystery of Christ: they die with him, are buried with him, and rise with him; they receive the spirit of adoption as children ‘in which we cry: Abba, Father,’ and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks.... From that time (of Jesus) onward the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the Paschal Mystery.”
The Paschal Mystery means that there can be no light without darkness, no resurrection without the cross. This is why Jesus tells us that we must take up crosses daily if we want to be his disciples, but at the same time he offers us the assurance that his yoke is easy and his burden light. This passage or passing over is remembered and expressed in the yearly Jewish Passover, commemorating the saving of the Israelites by their passage though the deadly waters of the Red Sea into freedom. It is commemorated and experienced by Christians today as they pass through the waters of baptism into a new identity as adopted children of God, alive in Christ and saved from the ravages of sin and death.
All the liturgies of the Church enjoy this built-in theme – the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus. And part of the good news, the “gospel” about this mystery, is that it is not something we have to wait for, but something that is already happening! As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World repeats for us, “Christ, freeing us from death by his own death, in rising to life has already won that victory.” Because of the death and Resurrection of Jesus, sin and death and the tragedies of our human experience can never be victorious. Rather, life and light will win out in the end.
In this regard, some liturgical experts suggest that on Good Friday of Holy Week, a day when Mass is never celebrated, people should not even be given Communion, even though the liturgy of Good Friday includes the distribution of Holy Communion. I would argue that people always have the option of receiving Communion, and that this option should never be denied them. Good Friday, even with the somber tones of its liturgy, is not simply a day of mourning over the death of Jesus, but is, like every other liturgical day, a celebration and proclamation of his glorious Resurrection. What better way to celebrate and proclaim the reality of the Paschal Mystery on this day than to receive the sacramental presence of the Risen Lord in Holy Communion?
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)
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