Paschal Mystery is one of the central concepts of Catholic faith relating to the history of salvation. Its main subject is the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – the work God the Father sent his Son to accomplish on earth. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Paschal Mystery of Jesus, which comprises his passion, death, resurrection, and glorification, stands at the centre of the Christian faith because God’s saving plan was accomplished once for all by the redemptive death of His Son Jesus Christ”(CCC 571).
The word “paschal” is the equivalent of the Greek word “pascha” and it is derived from the Aramaic word “pasḥā” and Hebrew word “pesaḥ”, which means “the passing over”. It refers to the passage of God on the Passover night, when the Israelites left Egypt. He struck the houses of Egyptians and left the Israelites untouched, i.e. passed over.
Jesus celebrated the last supper during the Jewish Passover feast, by which the Passover of the people of God from Egypt to the Promised Land, from slavery to freedom, was remembered. The new pasha – the Passover of Jesus from this world to his Father through death – was anticipated in the last supper on Maundy Thursday, when he instituted the Eucharist. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the climax of the history of salvation and anticipates the eschatological Passover of the Church into the glory of the kingdom of God.
The Eucharistic meal is an unfathomable mystery, which we are unable to grasp. It is from the Eucharistic Lord that we learn the lessons of self-emptying, self-giving, humility, simplicity and sharing. By becoming a human being Jesus accepted our human lot and shared his whole life with us. On Holy Thursday we remember in a special way that Jesus shared everything with us, his whole being, including his body and blood. When we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the body of Christ, we must keep in mind that he gave himself totally, “so that we may have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10. 10).
Jesus instituted the Eucharistic offering with the words: “This is my body which will be broken for you….This is my blood which will be poured out for you” (Mt 26. 26-28) and asked his disciples to continue it until he comes. Thus through the Eucharistic celebration the sacrifice of the cross continues until his return (1 Cor 11. 26). Christ handed over to the Church the remembrance of his death and resurrection and the testament of his limitless love with the words: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22. 19). The Church remained always faithful to his command. From the very beginning, Christians used to get together, especially on Sundays, the day of the resurrection of Christ, “to break the bread” (Acts 20.7). Such gatherings were called the ‘Breaking of the Bread’. It was at the breaking of bread that the disciples recognised him again after his resurrection (Lk 24. 30-31).
“To be broken and be shared”, was the motto of the Eucharistic Year 2005. And St. Pope John Paul II used to say: “Jesus is the bread broken for the whole world”. Jesus said: “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15. 13). He let himself be broken as bread, bread that gives eternal life. Only an almighty God can perform such a miracle, can empty himself into the form of a piece of bread to be our food, to be shared by us and to become one with us. At every celebration of the Eucharist Jesus breaks himself and gives us, so that we too may become bread to be broken for our fellowmen. The Eucharistic Lord invites us to break ourselves and share our whole being and all that we have with others in love. It is also in the Eucharist that we find the strength and courage to be broken for others, for the whole mankind – for the hungry, sickly, aged and downhearted. How beautiful it would be, if the Eucharistic celebration becomes such an experience for us!
In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus reveals himself as the bread of life, bread which gives us eternal life. “I am the bread of life… I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The bread which I give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6.48-51). Jesus has given himself to be eaten as bread. When we partake of his body, we should remember that he gave everything, even his life, in order that we may have life and that we have to share ourselves with others.
The Holy Eucharist is the celebration of the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the first letter to the Corinthians written between 53 and 55 A.D., we have the oldest statement of the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper (1 Cor. 11, 23-26). In this account, Jesus says twice: “Do this in remembrance of me”. All relationships are remembrance. Relationship is established when remembrance becomes unforgettable, undeletable. Religion is relationship. Without remembrance, without true and moving remembrance, I cannot have a confident love-relationship with God. Therefore Jesus said: “Do this in remembrance of me”. Through God’s entrance into human history, through his self-emptying and self-giving love for mankind, his death and resurrection, Christ has become an undeletable and striking remembrance for us. Christianity is nothing other than remembrance of Jesus Christ, of his death and resurrection, remembrance of all that he has done and suffered for us, just as, the remembrance of God’s great act of liberation of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt was the foundation of Judaism. The Holy Eucharist is the sum total of Christ’s life and message, – the remembrance of his suffering, death and resurrection. Therefore we can rightly say that the Eucharist is the heart and soul of Christianity. If the remembrance of Christ dies, Christianity and my being a Christian also will die with it. Through my love for Christ and for the fellowmen, through my sharing in his suffering and death, I too must become a remembrance to him and to my fellowmen.
The Eucharist is both a sacrament and a sacrifice. It is the central sacrament of Christian life and the heart of Christianity. There can be no Christianity and no Church without the Holy Eucharist. The Church lives through the Eucharist. Vatican II says: “Eucharist is the source and culmination of the whole Christian life” (LG 1). Christians could never think of Christian life without the Eucharist. It is the sum and substance of our Christian faith. It has a special place as the sacrament of sacraments. All other sacraments have the Eucharist as their goal and culmination. At all times, even during the time of persecution the Holy Eucharist has been the secret of the life of the Christians. Then without the Eucharist we cannot live a life in and with God.
Every Eucharistic celebration makes us participate not only in the suffering and death of Christ, but also in his resurrection. The Eucharist is the supreme form of communion and relationship. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him” (Jn 6. 56). A deeper communion and a more intimate union cannot be thought of. In the Eucharistic celebration we surrender our whole life to him and a new covenant is established.
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, thanking God for his work of creation, redemption and sanctification. As we celebrate the Passover feast and the anniversary of the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, we remember in a special way God’s great love for us and his sacrifice. In the Eucharistic celebration we think of Christ’s infinite love and mercy for mankind, his self-sacrifice and thank him. We declare our deep faith in the Eucharistic Lord and affirm that we are ready to share our life and all that we have with our fellowmen.
Fr. James Mundackal CST