The Season of Lent and the celebration of the Easter Triduum, leading up to the Easter Vigil, are important observances for us as Catholics. But we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that they are simply commemorations of historical events that transpired 2,000 years ago. They are so much more than that...and they can be powerfully effective in our lives.Consider the Season of Lent. Through this observance, we are called to remember and draw strength from the strength of our Lord Jesus who overcame His temptations. But when we think how many times we fail in our Lenten commitments, rather than give in we should allow ourselves to be reminded that we are not strong enough to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil alone. No! We can only overcome insofar as we are strengthened by the power of God’s grace. We should also learn that when we fall, God the Good Father in all His graciousness is there to pick us up, to forgive us, and to set us on our way again.
After this extended time of Preparation, we come to Holy Week and specifically the beginning of the Easter Triduum. On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in which we are reminded of the events on the night that the Lord was betrayed. The Mass concludes with the stripping of the altar and the Blessed Sacrament being transferred to the Altar of Repose. The Procession itself is quite moving because it signifies the Lord and His disciples leaving the Upper Room – departing for the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The sombreness of the Holy Thursday Mass is intensified by the fact that after Mass all the lights in the church are extinguished and the faithful leave the church in total silence. Then there are also those who remain with the Lord to watch and pray.Good Friday follows – with the devotion of the Stations of the Cross in the morning, and the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3pm (being the hour at which Jesus gave up His spirit).
In all of these events, Holy Mother Church is calling us to do more than simply remember what our Lord went through. Rather, we are being called to unite ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ by being immersed completely in all of these events, and so be transformed through them.But all of these sombre events – Lent, Holy Thursday, the Passion, etc. – would be useless if it wasn’t for that greatest celebration of all – the celebration which all these things prepare us for...the celebration of the Resurrection and Easter!
Easter Sunday marks the highest day in the Catholic Church’s Liturgical Calendar. Why? Because Easter Sunday is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and His glorious Resurrection is the whole basis for our faith. As St. Paul reminds us in his first epistle to the Corinthians – if Christ is not risen, then our faith is empty and pointless (1 Cor 15:14). Or as the Catechism states:
“The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross...” – (CCC # 638, emphasis mine)
As Catholics, we are quite familiar with the idea of being united with Christ in our sufferings (Col 1:24). When we are sick or struggling with some sort of hardship, we often hear the advice to “offer it up”. Now, this is great advice, because when we unite the sufferings that we endure with those of Christ, they are given redemptive value [see here, here, and here for more on this]. But this isn’t the whole story...
Just as we are called to unite ourselves with our Lord in His Passion and Death, what we are called to during the Season of Easter is to unite ourselves with His Resurrection. In other words, it is not just about being united to His sufferings – it is about being united with Him in His fullness.This was such an important theme for St. Paul that he went so far as to say that he counted all things as nothing more than dung for the sake of gaining the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8). He went on to explain what he meant by saying that his desire was “to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death” (Phil 3:10, NRSV).
What did St. Paul mean when he said that he wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings, and to know Him and the power of His resurrection? The word that St. Paul uses for “sharing” in Phil 3:10 (i.e. koinonia) is the same word that he uses in 1 Cor 10:16 to speaks about our “communion” in the Eucharist is our being united completely with the Lord Jesus [e.g. see here ].So, for St. Paul, to share in Christ’s sufferings and know Him and the power of His Resurrection was more than having a theoretical knowledge. Rather, his desire was an intimate knowledge of Christ – an experiential knowledge that comes only from being completely united and immersed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But, what does it mean to “know the power of Christ’s Resurrection”? To understand this, we need to understand what St. Paul meant by “the power of the Resurrection”. In Eph 1:20, St. Paul talks about this “power of the Resurrection” when he says that “God put His power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead”. But what is so amazing is that he also says in Eph 1:19 that it is this same “power of the Resurrection” which is at work in the lives of the faithful.How is this so? Well, it all starts with our baptism when, by the power of God, we are born again and raised to new life in Christ [see here and here].
St. Paul says as much when he tells us that “all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death” and that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”, so we too have been raised to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5, see also Col 2:11-12).St. Paul reminds us that if we have been raised to Christ in baptism (Col 2:11-12), we are called to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated, at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). This means that as new creations, we are called to walk in a way that is worthy of the name “Christian”. And this means to walk in holiness and obedience as imitators of Jesus Christ; it means to live in the way of self-denial for the love of God and of our neighbour.
In this respect, we see that the Seasons of Lent and Easter are not mutually exclusive. Whilst the “flavour” of each Season may be different, the goal of conformity to Christ is always the same. Lent is what prepares us for Easter, and Easter is fruition of what has taken place during Lent. So, whilst our fasting has given way to feasting, may we continue this Easter Season with the same spirit of faith, hope, and love that we sought to cultivate during the Lenten Season.