The Sacraments In Light of the Easter Season

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We now find ourselves in the Easter season. Now is a time for rejoicing and for thanking the Lord for His love and salvation. Now is also a time for reflection and for action. This grace-filled season beckons us to recall the reason why the Resurrection was necessary. It is impossible to correctly understand the glory of Easter morning without at the same time acknowledging the dark ugliness of Good Friday. We must not, therefore, forget the sufferings of Christ on the Cross as we celebrate His Glorious Resurrection from the tomb.

However, we must also not forget that the death and resurrection of the Jesus are not merely historical events to be studied and remembered. As St. Paul says, in our baptism, we are baptized in the death of the Lord so we may also rise with the Lord (Romans 6: 3-4). St. Paul also rejoices in the fact that through suffering we can make perfect “what is lacking in the suffering of Christ” (Colossians 1: 24). Our lives are meant to be the means by which Christ’s love and salvation are given to all the world. But how is this the case? How can this happen 2,000 years after His death and resurrection? One of the keys to understanding this lies in understanding the sacraments.

The Cure for our Sinfulness

On the face of it, the suggestion that there is something “lacking” in Christ’s sufferings or more needs to be done after Easter seems borderline blasphemous. Christ’s suffered for the express purpose of redeeming us sinners (CCC 1992). He was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit and was like us in all ways but sin (Hebrews 4: 15). How could it be possible that His sacrifice as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth could be found wanting? It is impossible that Christ’s suffering could be found wanting in itself. However, there is another sense in which His sufferings can be found wanting.

Consider the case of when a cure is discovered for a disease. The work that went into creating the cure has proved fruitful and the disease is now defeated in the sense those infected are now able to secure the means to defeat the illness. However, the discovery and manufacture of the cure are not enough. It actually has to enter into the bodies of those who are ill so that the victory can be won on the ground so to speak. Until the point in which the victims of the disease take the cure into their own bodies to combat the sickness, there is, in a sense, something lacking with the cure. The cure in itself or the work leading up to its discovery were not ineffectual. It is just that the cure cannot affect the recovery of the infected without actually making contact with the infected.

By keeping this metaphor in mind, we can see both what St. Paul is getting at and why the redemptive work of Christ did not end 2,000 years ago but continues throughout time until He comes again. Christ’s sacrifice in itself is perfect and complete, just like the cure for a disease is in itself complete and capable of neutralizing it’s intended target. However, in order to actually affect the salvation of the world, the merits of Christ’s sacrifice need to enter into our lives. They need to enter into our being just as the cure enters into our bodies through a pill or injection. Our Lord makes it clear in scripture the need for His grace and merits to enter into our lives.

Jesus tells the crowd in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel He is the bread of life and whoever eats of this bread will not die but will have eternal life. Our Lord also tells Nicodemus a man must be born again of the water and Spirit if he is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3: 1 – 21). At the Last Supper Jesus tells the disciples He and the Father will make their abode in those who keep His commandments and love Him(John 14: 23). The sacraments are the primary and ordinary route by which His grace enters into our being.

The Sacraments

The sacraments are the chief means by which the Lord enters into our lives in order to give us the power to do His will and to attain life everlasting as His children. In Baptism we receive the grace of entering into the family of the Father and being born again of the Spirit. By receiving the Holy Eucharist we receive the Bread from Heaven that will profit us unto eternal life. In Confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit who strengthens us to keep the commandments and to follow the example of the Lord (John 13: 15). In Holy Orders and Matrimony, we receive grace to live out our respective vocations and to spread the gospel by our lives. In Confession we are healed by the wounds of Christ (Isaiah 53: 3 -7) and the sins we have committed after entering into His family are washed away (John 20: 22-23).  Lastly, it is in the Anointing of the Sick that we receive the grace of healing and a happy death which leads to the light of God’s face.

Easter is Never Over

Easter makes it possible for us to enter heaven but the graces won for us at Easter on account of the sufferings of Christ need to take root in our souls. They need to be injected into our being to stamp out the strain of sin, just like a cure for physical sickness needs to be injected into our bodies. Just as it may be necessary to receive several rounds of treatment for a physical cure to take effect, we also need to return to the sacraments often (particularly Eucharist and Confession) in order to build up our spiritual strength and root out every vestige of sin and ungodliness within us. So while Christ’s offering of His life to the Father 2,000 years ago was a perfect act of loving sacrifice in itself, it still lacks application in the lives of many throughout the world.

The Lord has risen, the victory is won. Let us rejoice but let us also realize the work is not done. Christ relies on us in His family (the Church) to carry his victory to the far ends of the earth and to the neighbor living next to us. The best way we can give glory to God this Easter season, therefore, is to spread His victory and realize Christ’s work did not end in the first century. It had only just begun.

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