The Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – stands at the center of the Christian faith. Every liturgical year, from Palm Sunday through the Easter Triduum, Christians discover and rediscover the historical origins and salvific message of the Church. The extraordinary days of Holy Week nourish deep faith, true hope, and real love. They have in the past, they do so this week, and they will continue to do so until the end of time.
Encompassing Good Friday, the Paschal Mystery also features a cross. The Roman Empire employed crosses for the death penalty. But such a barren, tortuous object alone doesn’t completely explain the Paschal Mystery. Men of faith understand the cross in far more fulfilling terms. By dying in innocence for our sins and out of love for us all, Christ himself transformed the cross from a crossroads of death on earth into the way toward eternal life in heaven.
St. Matthew and St. Mark both chronicle how Roman soldiers “pressed into service” a Cyrenian man named Simon to carry the Cross (Mt 27:32; Mk 15:21). St. Luke further remarks that once the soldiers laid the cross on Jesus, they made Simon “carry it behind” him (Lk 23:26). Historical scholarship confirms that a person condemned to death in Roman times had to carry his own cross, or at the very least the crossbeam.
The first three Gospel accounts may suggest that the “way of the cross” was an imposed and impossible torture. But to carry even the crossbeam of Christ’s Paschal Cross allows each of us unique opportunities to aid and follow Christ in our own life. The cross seen from this view no longer serves as an earthly burden but as a heavenly calling. Salvation comes from Christ crucified. Indeed, the Crucifixion concludes with one of the criminals hanging beside Jesus asking him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
The fourth Gospel by St. John characterizes the cross in the Paschal Mystery with profound significance for the Church and her followers. St. John makes explicitly clear that Jesus himself carried the Paschal Cross to Golgotha (cf. Jn 19:17). No other Gospel writer has Jesus alone carrying and controlling the cross. St. John also details how both he and the Blessed Virgin Mary stood at the foot of the cross shortly before Jesus died. Church Fathers recognize the base of the Paschal Cross as the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary received from her Son the charge as the mother of the entire Church (cf. Jn 19:25-27).
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Such a clarion call to men proves empty without the Paschal Cross. The Gospels reveal how victories over our own crosses demand that we first surrender, next seek, and always celebrate Christ conquering through the cross.
This week lift high your cross and, united closer to Christ, prepare to live stronger together forever after.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.