Live the Paschal Mystery

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

To the many thousands of faithful gathered in the Vatican Basilica for the General Audience on 9th April, Paul VI delivered the following address:

Beloved Sons and Daughters!

What can We speak to you about in these days following the great celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ if not of the "paschal mystery"? Oh! We do not intend to venture on the delicate and erudite discussion that has engrossed scholars in the last few decades on the subject of the Christian mystery, on the relations—alleged, denied and specified—between the Christian mystery and pagan mysteries. We will just rely on the conclusion, now accepted by scholars, exegetes, historians, philosophers, about the biblical originality of this word and its Christian, cultural and theological meaning, even if, in the Christian literature of the first centuries, it was used with a purely literary reference, analogical with the current Hellenistic language (cfr. Bouyer, Le mystère pascal, p. 453 ss.; La vie de la liturgie, p. 115 ss.).

We speak to you of the paschal mystery in the elementary and homely terms of this usual talk of Ours to Our visitors at the weekly General Audience; first of all because this time it falls in the Easter octave; and then because this expression "paschal mystery" has come into current use. The Council brought it into honour, and often repeats it in its documents, especially in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (cfr. Sacros. Cone. nn. 5, 6, 61, 106).

What is meant by mystery? We must keep in mind the double meaning of this word in the Scriptures. The first meaning is that of our usual language: something concealed, a hidden truth.

Divine plan in action

"The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you", (he Master once said (Mark 4, 11); and St. Paul speaks of "the mystery of Christ that... was unknown to any men in past generations" (Eph. 3, 5; and Col. 1, 26). The mystery, in this sense, is the object of a revelation, which reveals a secret of God to the "saints ", that is, to his faithful, to whom he wished "to make known the manifold splendour of this secret among the Gentiles—Christ among you, your hope of glory" (Col. 1, 27). And here there appears the other meaning of the word mystery in Scriptural and Christian language; and it is the one that it is most important to consider. Mystery is the divine plan in action, it is the economy of the Gospel, hidden in God for centuries and, at a certain moment, made clear and operating in Christ (cfr. Eph. 1, 9; 3, 9). It is the new and divine work that is carried out, on this earth, in time, for believers; it is the amazing reality of the vital relationship reestablished, in an order transcending the natural order, between God and mankind, by means of Christ, in living divine Love, the Holy Spirit.

Why is this astonishing novelty, this mystery, habitually associated with the adjective "paschal"? Because the mystery of salvation was fulfilled by means of the death and resurrection of Christ, by means of the Cross, and is perpetuated by means of the eucharistic sacrifice: Eucharist, Passion, Resurrection are the salvific passover accomplished by Jesus: "Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed'' (I Cor. 5, 7), our liberator, our saviour. The paschal mystery is nothing but redemption: "temporalis dispensatio divinae providentiae pro salute generis humani ", that is the history of salvation (cfr. St. Augustine, De vera rel. VII, 13; P.L. 34, 128; cfr. Vagaggini, "Il senso teologico della liturgia", p. 672 ss.), which has its focal point in the death and the glorification of Christ. The secret of this mystery is the Word of God made man who, out of love for man, died and rose again.

Historical synthesis and biblical synthesis

The paschal mystery has, therefore, the value of a synthesis. A historical synthesis, because the whole course of human events and of the destiny of mankind is concentrated in it; a biblical synthesis, .the key to the whole Bible (Origen); a christological and soteriological synthesis, in which the whole Gospel is concentrated in the "hour" awaited by Jesus (cfr. Jn. 12, 23; 13, 1; I7, 1; Luke 22, 15; etc.); a religious synthesis, because it is by the sacrifice of Christ and by his resurrection that we have been reconciled with God and justified (Rom. 5, 10; 4, 25); a cultural and liturgical synthesis, because, in the celebration of the paschal mystery, there survives in the new reality what was symbol and prophecy in the Jewish Passover (cfr. Duchesne, "Origines" ..., 248). Christ's drama of redemption is actualized, anchored to the celebration of the paschal supper transformed into the sacrificial sacrament, with the express intention of perpetuating the memory of Jesus, by his explicit mandate (Luke 22, 19; 1 Cor. 11, 24-25) and with explicit reference to his redeeming death.

From these rapid indications we can draw a first conclusion, which the new liturgical formation makes obvious to us: that is the preeminence of Easter in our cultural and spiritual calendar. We must put Easter, its sacraments and its rites, more clearly in the first place of our religious evaluation, as beingat the centre of the divine plan for our salvation. The two principal sacraments, from which we receive it, baptism and the Holy Eucharist, are clearly derived from the paschal mystery: "Baptism, St. Thomas writes, referring to St. Paul (Rom. 6, 3), is the sacrament of the death and passion of Christ, in that man is reborn in Christ by virtue of his passion; ... the Eucharist is the sacrament of the passion of Christ, in that man is integrated in union with Christ suffering... As baptism is called the sacrament of faith, on which spiritual life is based, so the Eucharist is called the sacrament of charity, which is the bond that makes us perfect" (Col. III, 14; St. Th. III, 73 ad 3). "Until the 4th century, Jungmann writes (Trad. lit., 342), Easter was the feast par excellence, the only feast that was celebrated by the whole of Christendom. Every Sunday was considered a repetition of the Easter feast".

Communion with Christ

And here another conclusion is offered, a deeper one, which lets us penetrate the intimate theological and ontological reality of the paschal mystery. The celebration of this mystery is not just a commemoration. For believing Christians, purified of their faults and living in the grace of the Holy Spirit, it is a reviviscence of the death and resurrection of the Lord, it is an actualization, always new, of the one drama of redemption, it is a permanent, extemporaneous reality, in which we have the privilege of actually, thoughsacramentally, participating. To participate in the paschal mystery is nothing other than to put oneself in real communion with him, dying with him, rising with him. The expression "contemporaneousness of Christ" has been used (Kierkegaard, cfr. Fabro, Diario, III, 499).

This is what the Council recommended us to remember, with the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy: "recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, so that these are in some way made present at all times" (Sacr. Conc. n. 102). And it is what We will recommend to you: to keep in mind, to honour, to have living in your Christian authenticity, the mystery of our salvation, the paschal mystery. With Our Apostolic Benediction.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 April 1969, page 1

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