Archive for April, 2012

 

The Resurrection According to St. Paul

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Jesus Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

As we continue to bask in the joy of the Easter season, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on St. Paul’s teachings on the Resurrection of Christ.  St. Paul himself powerfully encountered the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, and this encounter changed his identity and mission forever.  St. Paul has left us a treasury of teachings on the Resurrection itself and the profound consequences for the human family and for each of us in our own lives.

The first of Paul’s powerful passages comes in his letter to the Romans where he speaks of Christ as the New Adam who reverses the sin and death of Adam.  Through the mystery of his death and Resurrection, Christ brings life and grace to all:

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned–

for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.

But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.

But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.

For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ. (Rm 5:15-17)

For Paul, just as the disobedience of Adam brought death to all, the obedience of Christ through his death brings life to all in the Resurrection.   In the same way that Original sin affected all of humanity, the Resurrection changes and elevates the entire human family to a dignity beyond measure.  Thus, Easter morning is truly the dawn of a new humanity, a new creation transformed and alive in Christ.  What then, are the true consequences of the Resurrection of Christ?  Paul concludes with this powerful passage:

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.

Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,

nor height, nor depth,nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35; 38-39)

Therefore, if Christ is truly raised from the dead and has truly defeated sin and death, then what do we have to be afraid of?   This message is particularly important for us to remember this Easter as we presently face many moral, economic, and foreign threats in our world today. We need to remember that ultimately Jesus Christ is victorious, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.   We must also be convicted that we must work diligently to live and preach the gospel in our own lives in order to bring about Christ’s victory and not allow worry, stress, greed, or indifference to rob us of our share in the salvation of Christ.

We also see St. Paul’s most explicit and developed teaching on the Resurrection of Christ in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  Paul was writing his letter to the Church in Corinth to correct both liturgical abuse and doctrinal error.   One of the dangerous heresies circulating around Corinth was a denial of the resurrection of the dead.  Paul forcefully corrects this error explaining the consequences of such a teaching:

But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.

Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

Paul then teaches us the reality of the Resurrection:  that Christ is truly alive and has destroyed sin and death forever and that the mystery of the Resurrection transforms us from being dead to sin to being alive in Christ and complete sharers in his victory over death:

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,

in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.

And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 51-57)

Thus, the Resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian faith.   If Christ is not truly risen, then all is in vain.   However, our hope as Christians lies precisely in that Christ is alive and is present and working in and through the Church.   Our task is to live as if Christ is truly risen!   Do we really believe that Christ is risen and has truly conquered sin and death?   Do our lives truly reflect this?  St. Paul challenges us to vibrantly live our lives alive in Christ:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-5;12-17)

May we, through the intercession of St. Paul, encounter anew the life and grace of the Risen Christ and become more effective witnesses of the truth of the Resurrection.  It is only through the grace, power, and conviction of the Resurrection that we can be the instruments that transform our culture into a culture of life and civilization of love so that all may come to know fullness of life in Christ.   Happy Easter!

 

The Mother of All Liturgies: The Sacred Triduum

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

After living and celebrating the holy and penitential season of Lent, we enter into Holy Week which is the holiest and most important time in the Liturgical Year. Holy Week is the time in which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ in a most unique and profound way. This reaches its climax in the celebration of the Triduum, the greatest of all liturgies, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil when we truly walk with Christ and enter into his saving mystery. Even though the Triduum is celebrated over three days, it is actually one liturgy that begins Holy Thursday evening and ends late Holy Saturday night. In fact, it is often called the “mother of all liturgies.” Through the Triduum, we literally walk and journey with Christ from the celebration of the Last Supper, to the Agony in the Garden, through the Passion and Crucifixion, unto the celebration and joy of the Resurrection. It is a powerful and moving experience that all Catholics should experience if they are able to.

Holy Thursday

The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday night with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Triduum starts on a very celebratory note as we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and the institution of the Priesthood. For the first time in weeks, we sing the Gloria and we recall with great love and thanksgiving the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who in anticipation of his sacrifice on the Cross gives us his Body and his Blood as true food and drink. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56) With the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus also gives the command “Do this in memory of me.” Through this command, Jesus institutes the Priesthood of the New Covenant and gives the Apostles the authority to act in his person and through the power of the Holy Spirit change bread and wine into his Body and Blood. Thus, Holy Thursday recalls the great gift and mystery of the Priesthood through which Christ dispenses the great wealth of sacramental grace.

On Holy Thursday, we also recall that during the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. Through the reenactment of the washing of the feet, we are remember that Jesus himself came to serve and that we are also called to serve and bring Christ’s presence and Good News to the most vulnerable and outcast of society.

The mood of the Liturgy changes quickly after the Celebration of the Eucharist as we begin to move into the Passion of Christ and the beginning of the Agony in the Garden. In dramatic fashion, the altar is stripped and the Eucharist is processed out of the Church and the faithful are invited to enter into Christ’s passion. The absence of the Eucharist in the church is a reminder of the Lord’s passion and the cost of losing our communion with Christ through sin. What began as celebration now pauses in solemnity and sorrow as the passion of the Christ has begun.

Good Friday

The Triduum resumes with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. The liturgy begins in silence as the priests enter the Church and then prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of penance and sorrow. We then move into the Liturgy of the Word which includes a passage from Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant. We then pray the powerful Psalm 22 which Christ exclaimed from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The Passion according to St. John is then read followed by the Veneration of the Cross. In this powerful moment, we literally find ourselves at the foot of the Cross adoring Christ, the Lamb of God, who as both Priest and Victim, offered himself for the salvation of the world. Finally, the Eucharist is brought in procession back into the Church so that we may receive the very Body of Christ, the fruit of the New Tree of Life, who is Christ crucified. The Eucharist is then taken in procession back out of the Church and the liturgy again pauses as we enter into the time of hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Easter Vigil

The Triduum ends with the celebration of the Easter Vigil which is the climax of the entire Liturgical Year. It is the celebration of the Resurrection of the Christ, and the entire loving plan of salvation accomplished in Christ.

The Easter Vigil begins in total darkness, the darkness of sin and the darkness of the grave. Then, the Easter fire is lit outside the Church which represents the light of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle is then prepared and slowly brought into the Church in solemn procession as a symbol of the Resurrected Christ. As the Paschal Candle is processed in, the priest sings “Light of Christ.” The light of the Paschal Candle shatters the darkness of sin and death! As the Paschal candle continues to process into the Church, the individual candles of the gathered faithful are also lit, reminding us that each and every one of us, through our Baptism, are called to be the light of Christ in the world. Suddenly, the entire church is full of light, the light of the Resurrection!

“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God”s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” These powerful words of the Exultet the great prayer of the Church that first announce the Good News of the Resurrection are then proclaimed. This begins the Liturgy of the Word that is a series of nine readings. These readings cover God’s entire plan of salvation accomplished in Christ, beginning with Genesis, then the Exodus, then readings from the Prophets. Then, in glorious fashion, the Gloria is sung and as the lights of the church come on, the full celebration of the Resurrection begins. The Epistle of Paul is read and the Gospel is proclaimed. Christ indeed is risen!

After the homily, the full fruits of the Resurrection are made visibly present through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The Elect and Candidates who have been preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church are received into the Church. Finally, the Easter Vigil and the entire Triduum concludes with the Celebration of the Eucharist.

The Triduum is a powerful liturgical experience, not only during the celebrations at the parish, but also throughout the entire three days. One is able to literally experience and live the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is a profound way to truly contemplate the face of Christ and to deepen our communion with him. In addition, walking this journey with our Lord only deepens our awareness of the power and reality of the Resurrection and the presence and power of Christ in our lives. I encourage all to experience this journey of grace!