How Do We Participate in the Paschal Mystery?
Individual Christians participate in the Paschal Mystery through their own sacrifices and through the sacramental life of the Church. The Paschal Mystery is not just about our own salvation; it calls us to continue Christ’s mission, inviting other people to know God’s saving power. Consider the Ascension, the final event in the Paschal Mystery definition. Christ’s Ascension marks the beginning of the mission of the Church. At His Ascension, Christ gives the Apostles their mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). Soon after this, the Apostles receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, empowering them for this mission.
Christ Himself set the foundation for uniting our sacrifices with His for the sake of our salvation and for the salvation of others. He instructs His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25). After we have been redeemed through our Baptism, we want to share the Gospel with others, even though doing so often requires some form of sacrifice. We might need to sacrifice comfort, popularity, or personal freedom. Or our sacrifice might be the pain of being rejected, misunderstood, or even tortured for speaking the truth and acting on it. The Church holds martyrs as exemplars of the Paschal Mystery because of the high price they paid in following Christ. We endure these sacrifices not on our own power, but by seeing them as extensions of Christ’s Passion. In prayer we consciously unite our sacrifices—even the suffering we do not choose, such as the suffering caused by illness or accidents—with Christ’s Passion and death.
There is a fine distinction to be made here. Taking up our cross does not mean that we earn our own salvation; that work is Christ’s alone. However, our willingness to endure suffering and even death to continue Christ’s mission earns us merit in the sight of God. We avoid egoism and give God His rightful glory by remembering that we can take up our cross only because God first reaches out to us and gives us the needed strength to do so. The sacramental life of the Church is the superlative source for experiencing God’s saving power and receiving the grace necessary to continue Christ’s mission. In the Sacrament of Baptism we are redeemed from our slavery to sin, and our original justice is restored. In the Sacrament of Confirmation we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit to continue Christ’s saving mission. In the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, we are again freed from slavery to sin when sin reenters our lives. In the Sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders, we receive the graces needed to continue Christ’s mission of salvation in family life or as an ordained minister of the Church. And in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, we receive God’s healing power and the grace to unite our suffering with Christ’s Passion.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist has a special place in our participation in the Paschal Mystery. In the Eucharist we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, the same Body and Blood that was broken and poured out to redeem us. We receive the same Christ who was raised as the promise of our own eternal life with God. Our hearing of the Word of God and our reception of the Eucharist is both the sign and the reality of our full communion with God. The Eucharist makes Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice present to us, so that we truly and actively participate in its saving power.