17. THE PASCH, THE PASS OF THE LORD. He passes by saving

Created: Friday, 26 July 2013 Last Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014

17.  THE PASCH, THE PASS OF THE LORD
He passes by saving


1. Easter is not today as it was before. It is necessary to recover it. Celebrating Easter means assuming the essence of two traditions: Jewish Passover, which celebrates (in the past) the exodus from Egypt and (in the present) the passing from oppression into liberty; God appears saving; and from the Christian Easter that celebrates (in the past) the passage of Christ from this world to the Father and (in present) his appearance among us as the Lord of history: He appears saving. Before the IV century, there was only a celebration, which happens in the night of Easter. We can ask ourselves what is the meaning today of Jesus’ words: Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover (Lk 22,8).
2. Jewish Passover is celebrated in a familiar circle, at home, in the frame of a dinner, with lamb: “You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month and then with the whole assembly of Israel present it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight (Ex 12,6; see 12,1-5). Jewish Passover is a dinner with readings and psalms (report of Exodus; Ps 113-118; see Mk 14,26). The unleavened bread (like the bitter greens) is symbol of the past difficulties. It is the bread of persecution, of misery, of being in a rush that has to be brought and cooked before fermentation. Thus it is said in the Jewish ritual of Easter: “Here it is the bread of misery that our ancestors had to eat in Egypt, whoever is in need come to celebrate the Passover”. The Exodus is an experience of permanent value: the living God, who acts in history, opens a road for the liberation of the oppressed. The believer, grateful and hopeful, raises the cup of salvation (Ps 116,13; Lk 22,20).
3. In the frame of the Jewish Passover, everyone tells his story. And all together celebrate the common story of Israel. They repeat a refrain (dayenou: it would have been enough for us), proclaim the liberating action of God: “With how many favours he has filled us up!...  If he had separated for us the sea without letting us cross it by foot, this would have been enough for us... If he had given us the Law without letting us enter in Israel’s land, that would have been enough for us. If he had made us enter into Israel’s land without building for us the Election House, that would have been enough for us.
4. During the first centuries, Christian Easter is preceded by a short and rigorous fasting (one day, two or more) that comes from a literal interpretation of the gospel’s passage in which Jesus is asked why his disciples do not fast. The day in which they are deprived of Jesus’ presence, then they will fast (Mt 9,15), but in a different form. One forgets soon Jesus’ learning: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (see Mk 7,5-23). In this sense. the question is valid: From what do we have to fast to celebrate Easter? Furthermore, it is relevant that Jesus, the Lamb of God (Jn 1,29), was sacrificed the day of the preparation of Passover (19,14; 1 Co 5,7).
5. One essential thing that one does not fully understand is this: Easter eve is the celebration of the whole Easter. Easter is not simply the passion and the resurrection as two successive acts. It is the passage from one to the other, from darkness to life, from death to life, from sadness to joy (Jn 16,20). It is an eve. That is why one is going to stay vigilant (see Ex 12,42), with the lamps lit (Mt 25,4), and the content of this eve is, first of all, the Word of God (alive and plentiful), afterwards the Eucharist (thanksgiving).
6. Very old testimonies (the Letter of the Apostles at the middle of the II century and the Didascalia in the III century) show us an eve celebrated during the night until cock song; so, it begun at dark and finished after midnight with the Eucharist. Sooner or later, above all in the time of the catechumenate teaching (III-IV centuries), Easter eve became the focus of the celebration of baptism (see Rm 6,3-11). The date was subject of many arguments in the II century: Asia Minor’s communities celebrated Easter the 14th of Nisan, the same day that the Jews and the first disciples; the rest of the Church did so on the night from Saturday to Sunday, emphasizing more the resurrection. Victor, bishop of Rome, threatened excomunion. But Ireneo of Lyon and Polícrates from Efeso, with the bishops from Asia, reminded him of the ecclesiastical tradition: Policarpus from Esmirna and Anicetus from Rome (above these differences) were in communion (Eusebio of C., HE V, 24,17).

7. The Didascalia describes Easter eve in this way: “You will meet and watch and the whole night you will do guard in prayer and tears, with the reading of the prophets and the gospels and the psalms, with fear and sorrow and with requests, just until the third hour of the night that follows Saturday. And then you will break fasting, will offer the sacrifice and will eat and will be blessed in happiness and joy, as Christ, the first fruits of our resurrection, has resurrected.”
8. At the end of the IV century the tradition of the holy triduo already appears, where the successive aspects of the Easter mysteries are celebrated. St. Ambrose says: “This is the holy triduo...during which (Christ) suffered, rested and was raised (Ep. 23,12-13:PL 16,1030). St. Augustine compares the passage of Jonah in the whale with the triduo during which the Lord died and was resurrected”: Friday, Saturday, Sunday (De consensus Evang., 3,66:PL 34,1199).
9. From the V century, catechumenate teaching disappears progressively and, also, the baptismal aspect of the Easter eve. It was attempted to minimize this defect through an enlargement of the ritual symbolism: blessing of fire, wax candle, water. This symbolic phase was soon followed by the dramatic phase, when, under the influence of the liturgy of Jerusalem, the circumstances of the passion were staged.
10. Already in the V century, inaugural Sunday of the Holy Week, the Oriental liturgy celebrates the messianic entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, while the Roman liturgy (with St. Leo Magnus) includes already the passion (also Holy Wednesday and Friday). For his part, St. Augustine responds to one consultation about what has to be done on the Holy Thursday: for him, the golden rule is to follow the practice of the Church where one finds himself (Ep.54, 5:PL 32,202). From VIII century, a new conception of triduo is imposed in the Latin Church, the triduo before Easter: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Gradually, the degradation of the Easter continues farther on. Pius V (1566) forbids the celebration of the Mass in the afternoon, so the Easter Eve celebration is moved forward to Saturday morning. Nevertheless, on 9 February 1951 the Congregation of Rites decrees the restoration of the Easter Eve.
11. In spite of all reforms (the one of 1955 and 1970), problems still remain: on Palm Sunday they unite the Messianic entry with the passion and, furthermore, they avoid the denouncement of the temple that explains the death of Jesus (Mk 11,18); on Holy Thursday the washing of the disciples’  prevails over the Easter Supper (Jn 13-17; 1 Co 11,23-26); on Holy Friday the impressive Word of the cross is ignored (Ps 22); on Easter Eve, the renovation of the baptism promises is not sufficient and is only formal; the present deficit of evangelization of the baptized requires something more: a process of catechumenal inspiration that help to discover what baptism means; finally, the indivisible dynamism of the Easter mystery (the passage from oppression to liberty, from death to life) is not highlighted and Easter is not what it was.
12. Whenever it is celebrated, before Easter Holiday (Jn 13,1), the first day of the week (Jn 20,1), eight days after (Jn 20,26), during forty days (Acts 1,3), during fifty (2,1), every week (20,7; Rv. 1,10), during the whole year, the fundamental fact is this: Jesus, the crucified, is the Lord (Acts 2,36). We also can recognize his presence and action in multiple signs (1 Co 15,16; Jn 21,7), which are produced as fruit of his Easter. His Easter, his pass, has inaugurated for the whole world the dawn of a new day that never will finish.