Just a bit from Fr Schmidt – May 7, 2023

Christ Our Paschal Lamb

Even though I don’t tend to use all that many in speaking, I’ve always had a great love for words. Even the histories and etymologies, how they come in from other languages with different layers of meaning, have always been fascinating to me. Before we reach the end of the Easter season, there’s a word I’d like to highlight that we’ve probably heard frequently in the prayers at Mass without necessarily noticing or thinking too deeply about it: paschal.

The other name for the Easter season—these 50 days that run from Easter Sunday to the Feast of Pentecost—is Paschaltide. Paschal is simply the adjective form of the word for Passover. Passover refers to the Jewish feast commemorating the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, when they sacrificed and ate an unblemished lamb and marked their doorposts with its blood. In a Christian context, however, Passover became associated with the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God, accomplished our deliverance from slavery to sin and death. We know from the Gospel that Jesus suffered and died just as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed for the Jewish feast.

As the first Christians came to use the term in the early Church, paschal was always in reference to Christ, the definitive Passover Lamb. The Paschal Mystery refers to the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. Even though more than 40 days passed between Good Friday and Ascension Thursday, these events tended to be viewed together as the source of all grace communicated to us in the sacraments.

The prayers at Mass also use this phrase in the plural (paschal mysteries). Here it’s important to note that the original Greek of the New Testament has one word (mysterion) which English and Latin translate into two different terms, both mystery and sacrament. Paschal mysteries, then, refers more to our participation through the liturgy and sacraments of the Church in the grace of Christ’s offering of Himself for our salvation. And more than in any other sacrament, Christ and the saving work of His Passover is made truly present to us in the Most Holy Eucharist, so the Church also refers to the Eucharist specifically as the paschal Sacrament.

I hope this sheds some light for us on one of the richest terms in catholic Tradition, so that as the Easter Prefaces at Mass say, we may be “overcome with paschal joy,” always giving thanks that Christ has enabled us to pass over from death to life through His own victory over the grave and by His entrance into heavenly glory.

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