The Paschal Mystery
The Easter season, the most important season of the church year, begins on Easter Sunday and extends to Pentecost Sunday, a total of fifty days. During this time, we commemorate and celebrate one of the central mysteries of our faith – the Paschal Mystery. To fully understand what the Paschal Mystery is, we have to return to our Jewish roots found in the Passover.
Passover was a pivotal event in the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. In order to coerce the Pharaoh to release the Jews from captivity, God worked ten plagues upon the Egyptians, the last of which was the Passover. In this final plague God went through the land of Egypt killing the first born of both man and beast. The Jews, however, were instructed to smear the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of theirs homes. The Lord, seeing the blood, would passover their houses thus sparing their firstborn. God later instructed the Jews to commemorate this saving event by celebrating the feast of Passover every year for all ages to come.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection are closely associated with the feast of Passover; in fact, the Last Supper is a Passover meal. Jesus himself is portrayed as the new Passover lamb. As the lamb was slain at the time of the exodus to save the firstborn of the Jews from death, Jesus, the new Passover lamb, died on the cross in order to save mankind from sin and everlasting death. The act of Jesus “passing” from death on the cross to new life at the resurrection, therefore, has been called the “Paschal Mystery”. The word “Paschal” is derived from the Hebrew word which means “Passover.”
The Paschal Mystery is composed of several events and it is these events that are celebrated throughout the fifty days of the Easter season. These events include Jesus’ passion, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and finally his ascension into heaven. The last day of the Easter season is the great feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit to the apostles. This marked the occasion in which the apostles were filled with the Spirit so that they were enabled to bear witness to the Paschal Mystery by proclaiming it throughout the world.
Although the Paschal Mystery takes fifty days to adequately celebrate, it can be summarized by the phrase “passing from death to life”. We see and experience this passage from death to life all around us. The most vivid expression of it is in the annual change of seasons. Nature passes from a gradual death in autumn and winter to a burst of new life in spring and summer. The passage from death to life can also be seen in many common experiences. One example is the passage from illness to restored health; this, in a very real sense, is a passage from death to life. As we continue to celebrate the Paschal Mystery for the next several weeks, see how many examples of the “passover” from death to life you can see in the daily events that surround you.