Part Six – Easter Vigil
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: Being made Free
St. Anselm, who was the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, a ‘Doctor of the Church, said in his book entitled Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”), that human sin has “infinitely offended” God and that God requires an “infinite satisfaction” in order to restore divine honor. He taught that Christ's sacrificial death was necessary to liberate humanity from sin and restore communion with the Father, that the blood of Jesus was "payment" to God for human sin. The Scriptures foretold this divine plan of salvation and, citing a confession of faith that he himself had received, St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”
Concentrating our reflections on the sufferings of Jesus only has meaning when they lead us into reflections on the resurrection, new life, and new joy. The pain and sufferings of our lives even when they are the consequence of our sins, in the plan of God can become sources of good. They help us to become more like Jesus when they lead to our own liberation and the liberation of others.
Palm Sunday is both the beginning of Holy Week and the climax of our Lenten journey. The Eucharist we celebrated leads us into the depths of the Lord’s passion and to gaze into and through the cross with hope toward the resurrection, toward our Easter Hope. Why did Jesus become “one like us in all things but sin”; because “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” An unmerited gift through Christ who freely chose to “give his life as a ransom for many.” As St. Paul said, God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” “in accordance with the scriptures”.
The readings from Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week moved us to more firmly identify with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, and the challenge as his adopted brothers and sisters to love as he loved, sacrificially. Our celebration of Holy Week has been a deep reflection moving us toward the depths of each of the mysteries, together with Jesus. By prayerfully entering into these mysteries through guidance by the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand our brokenness and need for salvation more fully. We more deeply recognize that there can be no peace in the world until the peace of God reigns in our hearts. There can be no true freedom without having first been liberated from slavery to sin. In our baptism we die and rise in him, we are made free in rebirth, a new creation. The Word of God throughout this week has been increasingly pointing all the baptized to remember, repent anew and rejoice in this sacramental way salvation.
Holy Thursday spoke to us of the humility of the Savior who emptied himself for love of us. He was not a victim, but rather “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The Scriptures are clear that what Jesus freely chose to experience for us; the ridicule, arrest, torture and death, is a preeminent manifestation of God’s boundless love. Out of love for his Father and all of creation, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death to destroy the power of death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. He says to all who hope in Him, “because I live, you shall live also”. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.” By being obedient to death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our sins and made satisfaction to the Father.
Good Friday spoke to us of the tragedy of the dark forces at work in human hearts, that inspired rage and hatred. And even in his closest friends, fear and despair. But as emotions raged, fueled by the words, "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation," spoken by the Sanhedrin after the raising of Lazarus; the voice and plan of God could also be heard and seen in the words of the high priest Caiaphas as he unknowingly prophesied: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The sacrifice of Jesus "for the sins of the whole world” expresses his loving communion with the Father. From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son". Although Man's sins are punishable by death, we "were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the "lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and as the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover. Christ's whole life expresses his mission: "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” In suffering and death, by embracing in his human heart the Father’s love for us, his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men; that is, our freedom from slavery to sin.
It is love "to the end” that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemptive and reparative, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. No person, not even the holiest, was ever able to take upon themself the sins of all and offer themself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
At the moment of His death, when Jesus "released the spirit", at that moment a power was released into the world, the power of the Love between the Father and the Son which proceeds, as the Holy Spirit. The power which would soon come to fill the Apostles and complete the work of giving birth to the Church. The Holy Spirit that leads us into the Truth of God and empowers we who believe that “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Saint Paul affirmed in his teaching that just as those who seek to live by the law must carry out all its contents, so those who have faith and live by promise must stand firm in their freedom. Galatians 3:10-12 “for freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
It is that same power of the Holy Spirit at work here tonight, in a special way, which makes these Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – effective. The three sacraments of initiation which will be received by the catechumens and candidates here tonight and recalled with great affection and gratitude by all here who have received the same sacraments of their salvation.
The Sacraments of the New Testament were instituted by Christ the Lord and entrusted to the Church. As actions of Christ and of the Church, they are signs and means by which faith is expressed and strengthened, worship is offered to God and our sanctification is brought about. Thus, they contribute in the most effective manner to establishing, strengthening, and manifesting ecclesiastical communion. (The Code of Canon Law (CIC), 1983. Canon 840).
From the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in several stages. This journey can be covered rapidly or slowly, but certain essential elements will always have to be present: proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, Baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic communion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1229)
The sacraments of Christian initiation lay the foundations of every Christian life. The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the sacramental way of salvation and outpouring of the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1212
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.