The Mystery We Live and Celebrate
Paschal Anamnesis at the Center of the Church’s Life and Mission
Leo R. Ocampo
Christianity centers around the mystery of the Lord’s Passover from death to life continually celebrated by the Church in her theological, moral and liturgical life. According to the indelible memory of the Lord’s self-giving love, expressed in all its fullness on the Cross and leading us to the Resurrection, all of Christ’s faithful people together live out the mystery of Christ, the primordial Sacrament of God’s love, and so perpetuate in the world as a continuing Sacrament, his living message of salvation.
Christian Commitment and the Paschal Mystery
In the Cross, Christ at once assumed in his sacred body all our life and even our death—everything that is genuinely human, except sin—and also extends to us an invitation to join him in his Passover from death to life, by way of the same Cross, that he may give us all that is his. To be a true Christian is to partake in the Paschal Mystery of Christ lived in a life-long commitment in imitation of him.
“The whole earthly life of Christ came to its climax in his Paschal Mystery: his suffering, Death and Resurrection”[i] Indeed, it may be said that the final episodes of Christ’s earthly life contain, as though in a capsule, the entire message of his Incarnation: Christus nostra sumpsit ut sua nobis daret, as the Church Fathers very fondly say. In the fullness of time, Christ took on in his earthly Body of flesh born of the Virgin Mary, all that is ours so that, carrying our humanity in his being brought so low as well as in his being raised in glory by the Father, he may then give us, in his Risen and Transformed Body of which we become a part, all that is his in eternity. By taking on our life and our death, he gave to us his own life and death as the way for us to live and die with him that we too may rise and be transformed.
Through Baptism, we are initiated into the Christian life, the life of the Paschal mystery. Entering with Christ into the waters of death, we rise with him to new life in grace. Thus, Christ gifts us with all that are properly his: his sonship, his divine life, his threefold mission. Baptism therefore opens us to the new life of grace we have in Jesus as sons and daughters of God, for us to live as such and to fulfill the mission expected of us. Reborn in baptism, we become incorporated—that is made part of the holy Body (corpus) of Christ, which is the Church. Just as the Church received the Spirit as Christ’s final gift on the Cross and persevered in waiting for the definitive anointing of the Spirit that came on the day of Pentecost, so all the baptized look forward to receiving the “seal of the Spirit” given to us in Confirmation to formally commence our Christian committed life.
When children are baptized, they already become members of the Church but not yet fully, until they are able to pronounce for themselves during the liturgy of Confirmation the promises made for them by their parents and godparents in Baptism: to reject Satan and to believe in God, the Father, Son and Spirit always adored and active in the Church. As confirmed Christians already sealed by the strength of the Spirit of Jesus and endowed with his empowering gifts, we are then invited to make a mature commitment to dedicate ourselves to Christ and to choose the path that he laid out for us when he said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[ii] That is why the Christian life does not merely consist in plainly having a baptismal, or even confirmation certificates to flash before our pastors at the canonical interview before marriage and before Saint Peter at the pearly gates, but in a conscious, committed and continual sequela Christi—following of Christ in our daily life.
Indeed, the essence of Christian commitment is following Christ into his Paschal mystery—a constant dying to self, but not just a meaningless dying, but a dying out of love. Every day of our Christian life we encounter the Paschal mystery as a constant invitation, as the ancient Christological hymn exhorts us, to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God—a thing to be grasped.” [iii]
This “grasping” of the great mystery of Christ, of the Cross, indeed of the Church, is carried out not only in theology but also in morals i.e., in the life of the community and of the individual believers as well as in their worship, as we shall see in the next sections. To believe in Christ is to enter into the way of his Cross, the life of the Church. Thus we live in communion with him and his whole Body the Paschal Mystery that allows us to cross-over from our death in sin to the new life of grace.
Christian Commitment and Human Sexuality
One of the most eloquent and most beautiful of all the Pauline metaphors is that of marriage as a symbol of the covenant-relationship between Christ and his Body and Bride, the Church: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior: wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord; husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.”[iv] However, this is not just some elegant and well-crafted imagery, but a true mystery and a pattern presented for our living. Because Christ so lived and died, because he so loved, the meaning of living, dying and loving for the Christian is forever changed.
Here, Paul mentions first that the wife be subject to her husband just as the Church is subject to Christ her Bridegroom, who is in turn subject to the Father. This subjection is not meant to be a mere power-structure as some can simplistically interpret it, but is a reflection of the relation of perfect love that is in the Trinity in all eternity and has since been revealed and opened up to us in Christ our Lord. The complementary of persons in the Trinity allow this relationship of mutual love, which is mirrored in the complementarity we find in our sexed and differentiated humanity made in no less than God’s own image and likeness[v]. The Father loves the Son as Father and the Son is obedient to the Father as Son, in a perfect bond of love effected by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, Paul exhorts the husbands to love their wives in imitation of the love of Christ and to give themselves up for them. For the sincere and true Christian, this statement cannot fail to ring a bell. The husband is to give himself up for his wife even as Christ gave himself up—no less than on the Cross!—selflessly and totally for his Bride. In another place the apostle Paul tells him to love his wife just as he loves his own body for indeed they become one body just as Christ and the Church are one! Therefore Marriage is not a simple social contract but a Christian covenant of love that endures even the betrayal and infidelity of one or both of the parties because Love itself, Yahweh to harlot Israel, Christ to his sinful Church, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”[vi].
The Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality bear a lesson here for our growth in Christian commitment. First, we are part of the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, as we each are: whether male or female, ordained or lay (we are all priests in baptism before anything!): “for just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”[vii] Second, we are to live the love of Christ in the manner of the Cross—loving one another and giving ourselves up for each other even as he himself did for us. Thus, it is in our diversity that we fully express the richness of the charisms of the Spirit in a complementarity of gifts and of persons. It is in our own radical dying to self in union with Christ that we are able to proclaim the greatness of his saving love.
Therefore women must not insist on becoming priests and men must also not insist on becoming wives! Each part is as important as any other part and needs the other parts to live as well. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”[viii] Instead, we should live out our specific and individual vocations according to our basic and common vocation which is to be holy—to be faithful members of Christ’s Body, the Church, each according to his own unique role and place.
Second, our Christian commitment is not just a “personal relationship with my Lord and Savior” as some would like to think but a commitment within the Church and extending to the wider human community in a relationship that imitates the Lord’s own relating with his people: solidary, generous and unreserved self-giving. The radicality of the Christian message lies precisely in the fact that God himself was revolutionary in his expression of love: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” [ix] Therefore we who desire to follow him are also to “walk in love” in imitation of him, even if it means and indeed it will always mean dying on the Cross!—with the same limitlessness and unconventionality of Christ’s sacrifice that ever transcends and challenges our finite human conceptions of love. Christianity is not a sugar-coated religion, not even opium to enervate our senses. Conversely, it makes an absolute and rather strong demand to love everyone just as Christ himself did, and heightens our sensitivity to identify with and care for all people. Christianity is, as Benedict XVI reaffirmed in his Deus Caritas Est: “a path which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit,”[x] if only we really take it seriously!
The Church as Mystery of Communion and Mission
Because Christ loved us, we are to love one another: “for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.”[xi] Henceforth, we do not live for ourselves alone but for Christ of whose Body we are now a part. “And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”[xii] Therefore we in the Church are one Body, in communion with Christ our Head, and in communion with one another who are our members: “For Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.”[xiii]
The Church is a mystery of Communion because we in Baptism we have become part of the Mystical Body of Christ, in communion with our Head and with each and all of its members. We together, Christians of every time and age, comprise the Body of our Paschal Victim, Crucified and Risen: holy and glorious, broken and downtrodden, already triumphant in victory over sin and death yet struggling on earth still. Thus, we also share the Mission of Christ—which is, as he himself proclaims at the beginning of his public ministry, reading from the prophecy of Isaiah: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”[xiv]
We find the Church’s discernment of her identity and mission in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age,
especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and
hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing
genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a
community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in
their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of
salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that
it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.[xv]
Here we see a beautiful image of the Church as a community of men, a communion of persons “united in Christ” journeying together “led by the Spirit” in pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom. Following the Incarnate Word, her Head and her Bridegroom, the Church is one with all humanity—in everything that is genuinely human, which excludes sin: the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of all people groaning for God. “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself.”[xvi]
Hence, our communion is one that ever seeks to embrace all humanity within its bosom for the good news is “meant for every man.” Our mission then is to build this Church of Communion so that even as Jesus prayed[xvii], all may enter our communion with the Father, Son and Spirit![xviii]
Wherever people suffer and are oppressed, all the members of the Body of Christ feel for them for they too are part of Christ’s Body. Action on behalf of the poor is a constitutive element of Christianity for indeed the Apostle Paul tells us: “God has so composed the body, that the members may have the same care for one another.”[xix] When we take care of any of these little ones, we are doing no less than to take care of the Church, our Body in Christ, and indeed of Christ himself who said: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.”[xx]
Until all people arrive to fullness of life in Jesus, our common mission continues as we move closer with joyful hope to the full revelation of our eschatological wedding with our Beloved Bridegroom. “While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.”[xxi]
The Mystery We Celebrate and Live
”Sapagkat tandang-tanda pa namin…” goes the beginning of the Institution Narrative in the inculturated Misa ng Sambayanang Pilipino. Truly, the anamnesis of the Paschal Mystery celebrated in the Eucharist, “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows”[xxii], lies at the heart of the Church as the source of its fruitfulness and the end of all its efforts, indeed its very center. In the broken bread and wine outpoured, in the Body and Blood of the Lord given up for us, we see who we are and what we are called to do together. In the memorial of our Lord who suffered, died and rose again, the Church sees her own identity and each believer discovers the commitment that he is also invited to make.
Most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist is the outstanding means
whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the
mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church… While the liturgy
daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a
dwelling place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of
Christ at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ,
and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up
among the nations under which the scattered children of God may be gathered
together, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.[xxiii]
Thus was the love of Christ for his Body and Bride, the Church, which is precisely what the Christian strives to imitate in his daily life, as expressed in the plethora of the Spirit’s charisms and in the manner of the Cross, in the way our understanding of marriage and human sexuality enlightens us. As we receive the Lord himself in Holy Communion, we encounter the profound mystery of our being One Body in the One Lord as we partake of the One Bread.[xxiv] As the Mass ends, we are then dismissed with the command: Ite!—echoing nothing less than the Lord’s final mandate when he bid the disciples Ite et docete—go and make disciples of all nations.
Therefore we are sent to make all people part of this communion that we celebrate and partake: “For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.”[xxv] We want all people to be part and work so that all may gather, as Christ’s Body and Bride assembled before this wedding banquet, waiting for the Bridegroom’s final coming.
As a Dutiful Wife
To present a final analogy, nay a final image of the Church, extolled in tradition but here revisited with a fresh imagery, we may see the Church as a dutiful wife. As a woman, she is won by Christ by a most precious dowry, no less than Himself, made flesh and made bread, battered and broken for love of her. As a response of gratitude and love to his unequaled magnanimity, she therefore dedicates her whole life to her husband, (commitment) perseveres in duty and faithfulness to him (marriage) and begets for him as many offspring to gather around his table and bring him joy (mission) all the while singing his faithfulness and love and passing it on to their children.
Hence, we find the Paschal Mystery at the very heart of the Church’s life of communion and work of mission: the perpetual anamnesis that grounds, animates and integrates our thought, our life, and our worship. By our professing, living and celebrating it, Christ continues to be present through us who are members of his Body as a Sacrament of salvation for all people. Continually we remember it, we live it and we proclaim it to all the world: Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored your life, Maranatha, Lord in glory!
Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, Mother of the Church of Communion, pray for us!
San Jose Major Seminary
February 14, 2007
Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius
Builders of Communities and Zealous Missionaries
[i] CFC 551. cf. CCC 571f. PCPII 55, 85, 413.
[ii] cf. Mt 16: 24. Mk 8: 34. Lk 9: 23.
[iii] Philippians 2: 5-6.
[iv] Eph 5: 23-25.
[v] Cf. Gen 1: 27.
[vi] 1 Cor 13: 17.
[vii] 1 Cor 12: 12
[viii] 1 Cor 12: 21.
[ix] Eph 5: 2.
[x] Deus Caritas Est, no. 6
[xi] 1 Peter 2: 21.
[xii] 2 Cor 5: 15.
[xiii] Eph 2: 14-16.
[xiv] Lk 4: 18-19.
[xv] GS, No. 1.
[xvi] Deus Caritas Est, no. 14.
[xvii] Jn 17: 11.
[xviii] cf. Mt 28: 19. Mk 16: 15.
[xix] 1 Cor 12: 24.
[xx] Mt 25: 40.
[xxi] LG, 5.
[xxii] SC, 10.
[xxiii] SC, no. 2.
[xxiv] Cf. 1 Cor 10: 17.
[xxv] SC, 10.