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Tough Questions: What is the Paschal Mystery?
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The Paschal Mystery is the work Jesus Christ did to save us. It refers to his suffering (Passion), death, Resurrection, and Ascension. So, when you hear the term, "Paschal Mystery," we are talking about how Jesus saved us.
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What is the Paschal Mystery we so often hear about?
According to Genesis, when God created Adam and Eve, He gave them some gifts. One gift, sanctifying grace, allowed them to live in God's presence. The other gift was free will.
Understanding these is important to understanding everything else that follows.
Sanctifying grace is a share in God's immortal life. It's the thing that makes it so a person does not die, ever. A person cannot live in the presence of God without this special grace. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve needed this grace to live with God. Remember, anyone who does not have sanctifying grace will always die.
The second gift of free will is what makes love possible. God is love. He created out of love. To understand this, consider why we create. Think about why we have children. We do these things because of love. We have children to share our lives with them. Like God, we create out of love.
But for love to be possible, a choice must exist. Love cannot exist where there is no choice. For example, we may think our pets love us, but usually they have no choice. They either respond to us with love, or don't keep them or feed them. Nobody will tolerate a dog that bites them each time they feed it. To survive dogs and many other pets respond with what appears to be love when we care for them. But this is their survival instinct.
People are different. Unlike animals, God gave us free will so we may choose to love Him or reject Him. This is the purpose of our freedom. And without this freedom to choose, love would be impossible. Since the point of the exercise is love, freedom must also exist.
The problem is, Adam and Eve abused their freedom by choosing sin over love. By doing this, they destroyed their gift of sanctifying grace. They broke the very thing that ensured their survival.
To save their lives, God cast them out of the garden and onto the Earth. But without sanctifying grace, they were subject to pain, hardship, and death. And it has been like this ever since. Instead of inheriting sanctifying grace, we instead inherit original sin. Original sin not only means we are born cut off from God and His life. It also means we have a tendency to commit sins --to do evil.
This is why bad things happen. When we sin, we cause evil. But God must respect our free will, otherwise we do not have free will. God does not stop us from choosing evil because it would destroy the possibility of love. Remember, love is the purpose of creation!
As you can see, this is a difficult situation. God loves us, but we often choose sin. And without sanctifying grace, we are doomed! But God had a plan. Even when He cast Adam and Eve from the Garden, God revealed He had a plan to save Adam and Eve and all their descendants.
It took thousands of years to prepare the descendants of Adam and Eve to be ready for God's plan. That plan was to send His Son, Jesus, to preach a saving Gospel to all.
During those thousands of years, it was important for people to understand sin. They needed to understand that sin caused death. One way to illustrate this was through sacrifice. God's people often sacrificed perfect lambs when they asked pardon for their sins. The sacrifice was a way of acknowledging that sin is serious and deadly.
When the world was ready, God sent His Son to us. Jesus preached the Gospel, knowing He would be sacrificed for the sins of all humanity.
When Jesus suffered and died, He replaced all the lambs that were dying for the sins of the people. He was the ultimate, and therefore final sacrifice. He was literally the Lamb of God. No better sacrifice was necessary or possible.
Jesus died a terrible death. Had Jesus given us a stern lecture, few would have remembered. Few would have paid attention. But His crucifixion was a cruel, brutal spectacle. By dying in this way, He illustrated the serious deadliness of sin. He died so brutal a death, we remember His loving, perfect sacrifice with the Crucifix. Anything less, and we would not have understood as well as we do now.
After He died, Jesus rose from the dead, and fifty days later, He ascended into heaven. These miraculous events fulfilled God's loving plan for us. And because of these things, we are saved!
As Catholics, we call this the Paschal Mystery.
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