Celebrating Holy Week

Submitted by: Jim Bacik

Through the inspiring liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, we celebrate the Paschal mystery, the passion, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ.  The term “Pascal mystery” might not be familiar to some, but it is rich in meaning worth exploring. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) retrieved the term from the early Church to explicate the dynamics of God’s salvific plan. For example, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy used it to describe the saving work of Christ: “He achieved his task principally by the Paschal mystery of the blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and glorious ascension, where by dying, He destroyed our death and rising, He restored our life” (n5). The constitution goes on to teach that by baptism Christians “are plunged into the Paschal mystery of Christ: they die with him, are buried with him and rise with him.” Ever since the first Pentecost, “the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the Paschal mystery,” especially in the “Eucharist in which the victory and triumph of his death are again made present” (n6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Paschal Mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world” (n571). The preface for Pentecost Sunday proclaims: Today you sent the Holy Spirit and “brought the paschal mystery to its completion.”

Reflecting on the Paschal mystery reminds us that we are saved not just by the death of Christ but by his death and resurrection. An exclusive emphasis on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross can lead to a morbid outlook that imagines God as a harsh judge and Christ as a failed prophet. The apostle Paul put it this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). The sadness of Good Friday actually prepares for the joy of Easter. Again, Paul recognized this dynamic interaction: Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:8-11). Our God is a loving trustworthy Father who wills the salvation of all people. Christ is our Savior who has conquered death and shares his risen life with us. The Holy Week liturgies celebrate the joyful victory of life over death, good over evil and hope over despair.

Furthermore, regular attendance at Mass, with conscious participation in the liturgy has the power to shape our fundamental outlooks on life. Our ritual celebration of the Paschal mystery can help us develop a “paschal imagination” that inclines us to see light in the midst of darkness, meaning in the face of absurdity, and hope in a world filled with violence and division. For example, it can prompt us to recognize and applaud the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people under siege from an immoral, illegitimate and senseless war; the efforts of some politicians to find bipartisan solutions to important societal problems despite losing political support; the truly remarkable civic courage and Christian witness of Aleksei Navalny who sacrificed his life to expose the corruption of the Putin regime; and the faith of Christians who maintain hope in their heavenly Father even in the worst of times.


How can I live the Paschal mystery more faithfully?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.

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