Symbolon Sunday #6: The Paschal Mystery

This week we watched episode 6, The Paschal Mystery aka The Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Perhaps the cross of Jesus has become almost too familiar. Some of us might see images of crosses and crucifixes so often, we may not realise that in the ancient world, the cross was a horrifying image—a little like an electric chair is today. Yet, the cross is the primary symbol of our faith, through which Jesus has given us the gift of salvation and eternal life. An ancient Roman wearing a cross around his neck like jewelry would be like us wearing a little electric chair around our necks. It would not only be bizarre; it would be shocking and appalling to the people around us. Yet the cross is the primary symbol of our faith. It is through Jesus’ death on that instrument of torture that he gave us the gift of salvation and eternal life.

We call Jesus’ work of redemption, accomplished principally through his passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, the Paschal Mystery. The word Paschal refers to Jesus’ offering of his life as the new Passover (or Paschal) lamb for our salvation. We express this in the Mass when we say, “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.” Underlying the Paschal mystery is one fundamental reality: Jesus gives himself completely in love to the Father on our behalf to restore our relationship with God. And Jesus, through his death on the cross, also reveals to us that we are all called to the sacrificial love that leads to true happiness here on earth and eternal joy in the next life.

We started with some scripture to ‘set the scene’ and learn more about Jesus’ sacrifice from the Bible:

  • Philippians 2:6-11 – tells us about Jesus humility in coming to the world as human
  • Ephesians 2:1-8 -The gospel of salvation that God worked in Christ is reiterated in terms of what God’s great love, expressed in Christ, means for us. The passage sometimes addresses you, Gentiles, but other times speaks of all of us who believe. In urging people to remember their grim past when they were dead in sins and what they are now in Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – explains the Paradox of the Cross.
  • Romans 5:9-17 – St Paul reflects on the sin of Adam (Gn 3:113) in the light of the redemptive mystery of Christ.


Because crucifixion is so far removed from our experience, it may seem that Jesus was the only person to be crucified. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thousands were killed in this manner, because crucifixion was the standard means of executing criminals from about the 6th century BC until 337 AD when the Emperor Constantine I forbade its use in the Roman Empire. In 1968, the bones of a crucified man were discovered in Jerusalem, in a stone box used to preserve bones. Archaeologists were able to determine the man had been crucified because his heel bone still had a nail driven through its side. In addition, his legs were broken to hasten death, just as John 19:31-35 describes happening to the people crucified next to Jesus.

Sheol, the Place of the Dead

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell”—Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek—because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer…Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him….The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase that is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption (CCC 633-634).

Key Learnings 

  • We learned that God’s love is so profound, he would do anything—even die—so that we might be with him. Jesus shows us that dying to our own selfish desires is the key to true love. When we love as God loves, we are willing to accept whatever cross God desires to give us, trusting that it is all part of his plan for our salvation.
  • We learned that Jesus’ last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were not a cry of despair, but a prayer of hope that God’s will for all of humanity was being accomplished from Psalm 22.
  • Jesus had to die in order for us to be saved because no human being, even the holiest, could take on the sins of all humanity and become a sacrifice for all (CCC 616). Only Jesus, the divine Son of God who became man, could offer his life as a redemptive sacrifice that liberates the human family from sin. Jesus is able to do this because he is both God and man(CCC 240-242, 455)
  • Fully human, Jesus can represent the human family and offer a gift of love on behalf of all humanity. Since he is also fully divine, his gift of love takes on infinite value–offering the perfect, redemptive sacrifice for all (CCC 616).
  • By his death, Jesus liberates us from sin. By his Resurrection, he opens the way for us to become sons and daughters of God (CCC 654). By his Ascension, Jesus precedes us into his Father’s kingdom (CCC 666).
  • When we proclaim that Jesus descended into hell in the Creed,, we don’t mean he visited the place of eternal damnation. Rather we mean that he came to the place of the dead, the place where souls of those who died before Jesus came to earth were waiting. He proclaimed the Good News to them, thus offering salvation to all who have lived, regardless of their time in history (CCC 637).
  • Jesus truly rose from the dead (CCC 693) and he invites us to participate in the mystery of his death and Resurrection by uniting our entire lives— our daily works, joys, and sufferings—with the cross of Christ (CCC 618).
  • The ‘uniting our entire lives with Christ’ part, we often think about it being something ‘BIG’ or making a huge sacrifice to God. However, sometimes it might just mean we actually obey Jesus and the teachings of his church. For example we could read a small part the bible daily in order to get to know Christ more, we could say our daily prayers, attend mass regularly and actively participate, we could give up small comforts for the sake of another – a friend or a stranger. Basically, we can unite ourselves with Christ’s sufferings by giving up ourselves everyday and offering it up to Him.

Reflection: Spend a few moments reflecting on what the death and Resurrection of Jesus means to you with the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 19.49.37

For more in-depth reading about Jesus, see the following Catechism passages:

  • The Trinity: CCC 238-248, 452-455
  • Value of Christ’s sacrifice: CCC 616-617
  • The descent into hell: CCC 632-635
  • The meaning of the Resurrection: CCC 651-655 Jesus precedes us into heaven: CCC 665-667
  • Our participation in Christ’s sacrifice: CCC 618

Other Resources:

  • United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, Chapter 8
  • Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI
  • Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft
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