This series of teaching editorials focuses on themes of The Creed, the topic of this season’s Why Catholic? process.
The heart of the Creed we share is the Paschal mystery. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the centre of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world” (571).
This statement can raise three questions:
- What is the “Paschal mystery?”
- How does the Church show the centrality of this mystery?
- What does it mean in my life?
First, as the Catechism states, the Paschal mystery is Christ’s death and resurrection (654). Christ’s death freed us from sin. His resurrection brought for us new life — “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. … For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (I Cor.15:20-22).
The Paschal mystery is “a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away. The Paschal mystery of Christ cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is — all that he did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life” (Catechism, 1085). Second, the
Paschal mystery is the context for the liturgical readings cycle and sacraments as signs of God’s presence. In the readings “it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present” (Catechism, 1085). During Advent, we focus on preparing for and celebrating the coming of the Christ who lives the Paschal mystery.
After his baptism by John, Jesus goes into the desert to reflect on his mission. Resisting there the devil’s temptations, he returns and begins his ministry. Through his stories, teachings and actions he promised people two things — the cross and an abundance of life. To the sick, outcast and weak, he promised new life. The powerful, arrogant and closed were challenged to die to human pride and riches to embrace the real life and pain around them. He prophesied his death and challenged his followers to also choose the cross and follow him.
During the Easter triduum, the Church embraces Jesus’ suffering and death as well as the power of his resurrection. As the Easter season closes, we celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven and his seating at the right hand of God. Between Easter and the Ascension we hear stories of the people to whom Jesus appears so they may both experience and share the power of resurrection — e.g., apostles in the upper room, travelers on the road to Emmaus, apostles in their fishing boats.
In the sacraments, we see the meaning of the Paschal mystery as individuals and as a community. In baptism, we are cleansed of sin and receive the light and strength to live a faith filled life. In confirmation comes strength and commitment to embrace the paschal mystery. Eucharist provides food and communal strength. In orders or marriage, we choose a vocation through which to witness to the power of death and resurrection every day. In sickness and death, we receive the strength to complete our mission and embrace the life with God promised at baptism.
Third, what does this mystery mean in my life? The deepest meaning for the Paschal mystery is that it is the context for all life. Nature lives in the cycle of dying and rising annually with the seasons. When winter comes, we await with certainty the gift of spring and summer. Our own lives are rooted in the same dynamic. When we choose someone or something, we die to other options. When a couple marries, they leave family and other relationships and cling to each other. We know the loss of loved ones and the birth of babies. We experience death and life in all relationships. We hurt and are hurt. We lose someone or something, and God provides a new way. We speak out for the weak and lose higher connections.
Jesus taught us to embrace the deaths we experience and not be afraid. New life will always follow if we have faith. We learn that if we embrace death to choose life and follow Christ’s way, we will find peace in life, we will truly image God for others, and we will embrace our ultimate death to attain fullness of life with God.
Dr. Patricia Norris is the Associate Director of the Metropolitan Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Louisville and a member of St. William Church.