How often have you heard a priest use the term Paschal Mystery and think “I’ve heard that term all my life, but I am not really sure what it means?” It’s like the Latin prayers we had to learn as altar servers before the Second Vatican Council. We knew they were important but didn’t understand them.
Well, let’s see what the Paschal Mystery is and why it is so important to us as Christians. The word paschal started out as the Hebrew word pesach, meaning passover and referred to Israel’s first Passover in Egypt when the angel of death passed over the Israelites’ homes whose lintels and doorposts were marked with the blood of a lamb slain for the occasion. (Exodus 12:21-24) When the Hebrew scripture was translated into Greek, pesach became pascha and the meal at which the slain lamb was eaten came to be called the paschal meal.
Jewish people celebrate the paschal meal or Passover meal each year as a festival of redemption, memorializing not only the Passover, but the entire Exodus event and God’s Covenant with them. It marked their passage from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life.
For Christians, Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection is our festival of redemption. Jesus is the Paschal Lamb whose blood saves us. Our Paschal Mystery, the unfolding of God’s plan, is the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. That Paschal Mystery remains sacramentally present for us today in the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated as a memorial to the death and resurrection of the Lord who said: “Do this in memory of me,” and as a sacred banquet through which we share the benefits of the Paschal sacrifice and renew the new covenant which God has made through the blood of Christ. (Cf. Eucharisticum Mysterium 3)
The Eucharist recalls the Paschal Mystery not simply as a reminder of things past but makes it truly present. Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist is his greatest gift to the Church. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats if this bread, he will live forever; … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and … abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51, 54, 56)
On Holy Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate and commemorate that wonderful gift and the priesthood through which it is perpetuated. The antiphon for the Holy Thursday liturgy reminds us: “Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ.”
It has been said that in the Eucharist we become what we celebrate. The Holy Communion we receive leads us to the Holy Communion that we are called to be.
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