Parsch on Easter Sunday: what does the Church really celebrate?

In monasteries, the Triduum is a busy time: liturgy abounds! Here the time between the Vigil and Pontifical Second Vespers of Easter Sunday allows only a few periods of respite, as this one now. Having had little time to put together many thoughts, I leave it again to Fr Pius Parsch to edify us in any moment of repose we might have today on this feast of feasts. Perhaps we might do well to realise more deeply that, at Easter, we celebrate more than just the Resurrection of Christ. It is far richer than this great mystery alone.

…from the liturgical point of view Christ’s death and resurrection, considered merely as historical events, take second place to the acknowledgement of the fruit which resulted from them, namely grace. …

… We would almost certainly get a completely false idea of the liturgy if we failed to set Christ’s resurrection at the very centre of the Easter festival and of the whole of Paschaltide. Indeed, every Sunday is an echo of the Lord’s resurrection, for Sunday is the Lord’s Day… My purpose is merely to establish that it is not the resurrection alone that we are celebrating at Eastertime. …

…We tend to take far too simplified a view of the feasts we celebrate. We divide up the life of Jesus into parts, allocating each to a special season of the Church’s year. At Christmas we see only the Child in the crib, during Lent the Man of sorrows, at Easter the risen Christ, at the Ascension Christ glorified. But we must think more in terms of the ‘mysteries’. In every feast the Church has the whole of Christ’s redemptive work before her eyes, even when she selects a particular event for special consideration. This is most especially true of the two fundamental acts of our Lord’s life: His death and resurrection. The liturgy never separates these events. When it tells of His death, it tells also of the glory of His resurrection. When it tells of the resurrection, it tells also of His death. …

Take today’s Mass. You will be amazed to find how frequent is the mention of Christ’s death there. Indeed, the leitmotif of today’s Mass is not the resurrection, but Christ’s death: “Christ, our paschal victim, is sacrificed”. … Death and resurrection belong together; together they form the whole content of our Easter celebration, which began in Holy Week. …

We come now to the main point: the Church is here not really celebrating the historical events of Christ’s death and resurrection. She is celebrating His redemptive work, which comprises His death and resurrection. She keeps her eyes steadfastly on the fruit of this redemptive work, the glory of grace. If we want to gain a complete picture of the Easter festival in all its magnificence, we must see it as the feast of our reception into the state of grace. …

… There were two fundamental acts in Christ’s life, His death and resurrection, and these must continue their effect in the life of the person in grace. He must die with Christ – die, that is, in respect of his former, sinful nature – and there after must be continually risen with Christ.  Our sinful state of death is constantly being annihilated by Christ’s death, and our life of grace is renewed and restored by Christ’s resurrection. This happens because by grace we have become members of Christ’s Body, and as such have a continual share in His death and resurrection. …

And that, Christians, is what our Easter resolution must be. That is our Easter programme; a programme which demands all our love and zeal and strength of purpose. That is why the Epistle [1 Cor 5:6-8] admonishes us to rid ourselves “of the leaven that remains over”, so that we “may be a new mixture”. “Let us keep the feast, then, not with the leaven of yesterday, that was all vice and mischief, but with unleavened bread, with purity and honesty of intent”. … Let us die: away with the leaven of vice and wickedness! Let us rise again, with the unleavened bread of purity and sincerity. That is what the Church has so much at heart: that we should rise again with Christ in the spirit of love.

[“Easter Sunday” in Seasons of Grace, London, 1963]

Parsch’s point in a nutshell seems to be this: we celebrate on Easter day not so much what happened to Christ in his death and resurrection, but what Christ’s death and resurrection have done to us. They have given to us the life of grace, which allows us to live obedient to Christ’s commandment to love in this world, that we might live eternally in the next.

Let us pray that, not least through us, the contagion of divine love might spread through the whole world, that all of us might, at the last, come to the joy of the Kingdom.

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