Christmas and the Mystery of Redemption

trinity detailThe Prayer Over the Offerings, for Sunday, Tuesday and Friday of the Second Week of Advent offers a rich theology of redemption.  We pray:

Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings,

and, since we have no merits to plead our cause,

come, we prayer, to our rescue

with the protection of your mercy.

Through Christ our Lord.

We all stand as sinners before God in need of his redemption.  We are redeemed not by our own merits but by our faith in the Paschal mystery accomplished in Christ Jesus.  St. Paul writes to the Romans;

For there is no distinction; 23all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, 26through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22b-26, NABRE).

The passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ bring us redemption. “Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan.” (CCC 599) Jesus freely chose to die since He had power to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:18). Jesus freely offered Himself to the Father making the ultimate sacrifice to God (“for the sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2).  Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation of Our Lord—God becoming flesh in our midst. The Catechism notes;

“From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission” (CCC 606).

The very Incarnation itself is a proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus says, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (John 10:17).  The death of Christ is the very purpose of the Incarnation.  Acting out of love “Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death” (CCC 609). Christ’s Paschal sacrifice redeems us from sin.

The Catechism notes; “Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (CCC 613). This sacrifice “completes and surpasses all other sacrifices” (CCC 614).  It accomplished through obedience what was originally lost through Adam’s disobedience.

The catechism notes “The Paschal mystery…stands at the center of the Good news that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim” (CCC 571).  The Paschal Mystery entails Jesus who life of sacrifice and obedience. Christ’s whole life is an offering to the Father (CCC 606).  His redemptive passion is his final reason for the incarnation (CCC 607) and his ultimate act of love and obedience. “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Christ substitutes his obedience for our disobedience (CCC 615).  The Paschal Mystery especially focuses on the following aspects: Christ’s passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension (CCC 512) which can be grouped into five stages:

  1. Passion and Crucifixion: The suffering of Christ prior to His Death.
  2. Death: The separation of Christ’s human soul from His body. “By his death, Christ liberates us from sin” (CCC 654).
  3. Descent into Hell: The “Harrowing of Hell” in which Christ descended into the realm of the dead to free the souls of the just and lead them to eternal life. (CCC 633)
  4. Resurrection: The reunification of Christ’s human soul with His body (which was now glorified).  “By his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, ‘so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ (Romans 6:4; cf. 4:25) Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace. (Cf. Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 1:3)” (CCC 654).
  5. Ascension and Glorification: The taking up of Christ’s humanity, body and soul, into the fullness of Trinitarian life.  Through Glorification Christ sends the Holy Spirit and is inaugurated as the Head of the human race and thus its King and Source of grace.

As we prepare in this season of Advent to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, let us see the gift of divine love offered to each of us.  Through the Paschal Mystery we can each be redeemed and elevated to participation in divine life.

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