Transitus Domini

I would like to share with you a blog version of a seminar I prepared when I was up at Fribourg. This is a subject that is highly appropriate for Lent as well as Holy Week and Easter. At the time (16th February 1988) I wrote a twenty-five page study on The Theological Themes of the Easter Vigil from texts of the first five centuries. It represents an introduction of liturgical theology into our western minds. My tutor, Dr Jakob Baumgartner, had extensively studied the teachings of Melito of Sardis, especially Peri Pascha, a second-century homily on the mystery of Easter. It is quite heady stuff including some very precise ideas of biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. I have considerably abridged the text here and removed the Greek expressions, with the intention of it being of interest to Christians outside university faculties!

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  1. Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover

The Fathers of the Church understood the word Πάσχα (pascha) in many different ways according to their interpretations of Scripture. There were several developments of the meaning of this word during those early centuries.

In the Asian tradition, pascha means passion, the suffering of Christ. This was at the root of the quartodeciman controversy – basing the date of Passover on the Passion (14 Nisan) or on Resurrection Sunday. This trend spread from Asia to Gaul, Africa, Rome and even Alexandria. The whole idea of victory and glory was linked to the Passion, and the Resurrection was seen as a consequence.

This interpretation is found in Jewish writers like Philo of Alexandria and some of the Gnostics. Saint Justin associates the Paschal Lamb of Exodus 12 with the suffering of Christ on the Cross. Melito of Sardis uses the term paschein in the meaning of celebrating the Passion (to suffer) = Passover. Hippolitus follows the same theme: “The Passover that Jesus desired for us was to suffer”. For Hippolitus, Passover is the memory of the immolation of Christ, the exaltation being celebrated at Pentecost. Origen was also of this opinion “most of the brothers … admit that the Passover is so named because of the Saviour’s passion“. This interpretation was certainly influenced by the persecutions of the early Church. It is puzzling to find Christ’s suffering associated with the day of Easter and not the Friday of the Preparation. Predictably, the Latin west is heavily influenced by Tertullian. This tradition entered many Hispanic, Ambrosian and Roman liturgies, in which Easter is considered the day Christ was immolated.

Saint Ambrose introduces transitus in the moral meaning in harmony with the pascha as passion. Saint Augustine is stronger with the transitus as a passage of Christ from death to life – per passionem enim transiit Dominus a morte ad vitam. Some interpretations were very subtly different, especially when they spoke of things like passage by suffering (transitus per passionem) and passing over like the Israelites passing from Egypt on their way to the Promised Land.

One notion of passage is found in the Alexandrian tradition. The passage depicted in the story of the Exodus and in that of Christ takes on an anthropological and allegorical dimension. In this neo-Platonist milieu, Christian life is seen as an exodus – from conversion to faith, to the migration of the body and of this world. This is a human passage. In In leremiam homiliae, Origen says: “And if you went up with him (Christ) to celebrate Passover…” Easter does not mean the Eucharist, but the ascent of man, made possible by the descent of the Logos.

Gregory of Nazianzus defines Passover: “The term means passage: historically, it refers to the flight and emigration from Egypt to the land of Chanaan; spiritually, on the other hand, it refers to the progress and passage from here below to those above, to the promised land“. We can compare this interpretation to the neo-Platonist spiritualisation of Origen (pascha = passage out of evil). The Alexandrian tradition continues with Didymus of Alexandria who harmonises three interpretations of Passover, but the transitus theme remains dominant in Alexandria, as in Cyril of Alexandria.

Ambrose sought a moral meaning, as in passage from vice to virtue. In his book on the Sacraments, Ambrose inserts a Christological and sacramental perspective into the philological moral view: “What could be more extraordinary than the passage of the Jews through the sea, to speak now of baptism?” The Jews who passed through it all died in the desert. On the other hand, he who passes through this fountain, that is, from earthly things to heavenly things, this is the passage and therefore the Passover, that is, “his passage”, from sin to life, from fault to grace, from defilement to holiness, – he who passes through this fountain does not die, but rises again.

Jerome gives a similar meaning de transitus: “We celebrate our passage, that is to say our “phase” (id est phase), if, leaving the things of this earth and Egypt, we hasten to the heavenly realities“.

By the fourth century, the pascha – passio tradition was deeply rooted among the Latins when Ambrose brought in the pascha = transitus. Saint Augustine came up with the formula transitus per passionem, synthesizing Ambrose’s position and the Latin tradition. It is the Christianisation of the ancient Passover. Augustine put it this way: “Well-informed scholars (Jerome) have discovered that Easter is a Hebrew word that does not mean passion, but passage. It is through his passion that the Lord passed from death to life and opened the way to his resurrection for us believers, so that we too might pass from death to life“. Here we see this synthesis of Easter-passion and transitus. Many of the difficulties were caused by understanding words variously in their Greek and Hebrew meanings. Concepts were very gradually converging at this time. In a text attributed to Augustine, a similar conciliation is made by saying that it was all about celebrating the passage of the Jews across the Red Sea and Christ’s passion. Redemption from slavery to freedom became a type of Christ’s passion redeeming humanity from sin.

Another meaning is that of passing over as in sparing the innocent from punishment. This kind of passing over is an action of God, not of man. God passed over the houses with the marked doors, sparing the first-born and whose inhabitants had sacrificed and eaten the paschal lamb.

The paschal lamb is central in these themes. Exodus 12 is clear:

Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.

The lamb is the passover. The lamb was to be sacrificed at sundown on the 14th day of Nisan; its blood would save the Israelites from destruction, and it was to be eaten without breaking its bones. Jeremiah (11, 19) identifies himself with a lamb being taken to the slaughterhouse. Isaiah (53, 7), speaking of the suffering servant, says: “…as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth…” The lamb in Israel became a symbol of the sacrificial victim, as we say in English, a scapegoat. The Lamb symbolises the redemption of the people from all evil, so that God may pass over the righteous.

Christ is the new paschal lamb: In St. John, John the Baptist identifies Christ with the Lamb of God (1, 29) – Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. Even if this quotation is added by John in the light of the resurrection, it attests to the typology understood in the Apostolic Church. Christ becomes the Paschal Lamb of the New Testament, of which the Old is only the type (τύπος). In John’s account of the passion (19, 36), he alludes to Exodus 12 to support his theology: “For all this has come to pass that the scripture may be fulfilled – not one of his bones shall be broken“.

Exodus 12 inspires Paul when he writes: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast… (I Cor 5, 7-8). Passover clearly means Christ crucified, the new Paschal Lamb, and the feast to which Paul refers is, from the Greek verb used (ἑορτάζωμεν), the Christian celebration, not that of the Jews. Paul continues his typology: “…but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Peter 1,19)

Now we move on to the Fathers: Justin bases his teaching on I Cor 5, 7 saying: For the Passover was Christ who was then slain, as Isaiah says: Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter. You took him away on Passover day, and you crucified him on Passover day: it is written. And as the blood of the Passover saved those who were in Egypt, so the blood of Christ shall preserve from death those who believed in him. Passover is interpreted here as Christ.

Melito of Sardis takes advantage of the Paschal lamb = Christ paschal typology. It explains the typology of the Old Testament, and shows how Christ is the new suffering servant of Isaiah and the Paschal Lamb of the Exodus: “For like a sheep he was taken away to be slain, and yet he was not a sheep, and like a lamb.speechless, and yet he was not a lamb. Indeed, the figure is passed and the truth has been fulfilled. For instead of the lamb it is God who came and instead of the sheep a man…”. The New Testament uses the term ἀμνός (lamb) to refer to the paschal victim. Later tradition applies to Christ ἀμνός or πρόβατον (lamb in the meaning of a suffering servant – Is 53, 7). Melito uses πρόβατον to designate Christ as man, and ἀμνός for Christ as God or Son of God in the Johannine meaning. He continues further in his homily to identify the mystery of Easter with Christ as it constitutes a unique context – as a figure (τύπος) and then as a reality (ἀλήθεια).

Ambrose talks about this typology: Under the figure of the lamb was the truth foretold, which is the passion of the Lord. This text exposes the theology Easter=passion, but it incorporates the Christ=Lamb theology into this thought. Finally, in the liturgy we find in the Praeconium Paschale (Exultet) from the fourth century to the present day a reference to the theology Lamb=Christ: “the true Lamb is slain” (verus ille agnus occiditur).

  1. The Paschal Mystery and its dimensions

Fr Jakob Baumgartner, a native German-speaker, often repeated the word dimensions to mean various aspects or different ways of understanding a single concept. As his student, I readily adopted the word in my own written work.

In any liturgical study, we understand things as they historically developed from some utilitarian origin. The maniple, for example, was originally nothing more than a towel, and had no allegorical meaning. Thus we can speak of dimensions like the various hermeneutic keys for reading Scripture given by Origen. The Paschal Mystery is also understood through a variety of lenses and colour filters, using the analogy of photography.

From being a feast of redemption, the Mystery goes from being the commemoration of the event of Christ to the whole history of salvation, and finally of the feast as a sacrament. This is the liturgy, a ritual and cultic re-presentation of God’s redemptive action in the whole of human history.

During the first centuries, Easter was the only feast: the whole mystery of Christ was celebrated in this one feast. Melito comments briefly on the Incarnation. This is the theme of kenosis (cf. Phil 2, 6-11): Christ became man in order to suffer: “He who came down from heaven to earth for him who was suffering, clothed himself with it even through the bosom of a virgin, from which he came forth a man. He took upon himself the sufferings of the flesh and , by his spirit which cannot die, killed murderous death“. The main interest here is not incarnation but passion: he came down from heaven to be a suffering servant and a sacrificial lamb.

The Epistula Apostolorum seems to come from the mid-Quarterodeciman era where Easter commemorates exclusively the passion and death of Christ. It speaks about the point of view of Christ: “After my return to the Father, you will remember my death”, (so gedenket ihr meines Todes) Tricentius, in the context of talking about the date of Easter, considers that what is more important is to remember the passion. Commemorating the passion and death of Christ is linked to the pascha – suffering tradition. A text attributed to Cyprian says: “…we who celebrate the Passover (…) in commemoration of the Passion of the Son of God“. It is possible that the author was influenced by Tricentius.

The solemn commemoration of the Passion on Good Friday, together with the resurrection on Easter Vigil, transformed Easter from a feast of redemption into a historical commemoration. The idea of Christ’s sacrifice in connection with his acceptance by the Father was seriously weakened. This had consequences in history, especially in the Nominalist tradition that the Reformers of the sixteenth century inherited.

The Passover considered as a memorial of the resurrection is rather late in the patristic era. In the seventh century Chronicon Paschale, we find: The Church of God… gives the name of Easter to the venerable feast of the fiftieth resurrection from the dead of Christ our God. This theme became promising as early as the fifth century. Rupert de Deutz develops the theme of Passover as a commemoration of the resurrection: For many see only one thing in it: that the Lord rose on the first day of the week, and for this reason it is called the day of the Lord’s resurrection. It was the basis of the meaning of Passover that the day was decided: Friday or Sunday.

There was another way of looking at Passover: the commemoration of the passion and the resurrection at the same time. It is well connected to Augustine’s tradition of transitus per passionem, as we shall see later. This dimension of passion and resurrection was the passage from death to life. Theodoret of Cyr unites the passion and resurrection of Christ, even though he uses the term passion day, literally translated from the Greek: It is the very day of the Saviour’s passion, the day in which we celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection… The Easter Chronicon says what the Church of God calls Easter is not only the passion of the Lord, but also his resurrection. The Exultet celebrates this double event of passion and resurrection: …the feast of the Passover in which the true Lamb is slain… O night of true happiness: only you could know this hour when Christ arose from hell.

With St. Augustine a balance between passion and resurrection is achieved in the definition of the Paschal Mystery: So we celebrate Passover not only by remembering the event, i.e. the death and resurrection of Christ…

Easter commemorates the transitus Domini, the passage from death to life, and his return to his Father in heaven. The passion and resurrection of Christ are inseparable, as St. Paul testifies (I Cor 15, 17). John speaks in his Gospel of passage to the Father (Jn 13, 1): Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, that is, his passion and resurrection, and shortly afterwards, the ascension. A sermon attributed to Augustine calls the feast of Easter because in it the sons of Israel passed from Egypt, and in it the Son of God passed from this world to the Father. Another text attributed to Augustine says: That passage by which our Lord and Saviour, in rising from his passion, passed from death to life, from hell to heaven. This author is one of the few who explicitly links pascha – transitus to the resurrection of Christ and his passage to heaven. Augustine completes the exegesis of John’s verse by interpreting its meaning of the Passover. Augustine sees here the true meaning of the Passover, the commemoration of Christ’s passage to the Father.

Concerning the unity of both Testaments, Tertullian having spoken of the Jewish Passover and the one Jesus so much desired to eat with his disciples, continues He who came to destroy the law desired to keep the Passover. And certainly the flesh of the lamb of the Jews could please him! But was it not rather that, having to be led like a lamb to the slaughter and, like a sheep, let himself be sheared without opening its mouth, he wanted to fulfil the figure of bloodshed fully to save us? Passover is a demonstration of the unity between the two Testaments.

Passover is not a commemoration of fragmented events; it is the recapitulation of the whole history of salvation. Melito of Sardis speaks at length about this story, and shows its structure to his audience. This plan begins with the disobedience of our first parents, its consequences and all the events of the Old Testament, with regard to the redemption of men. The Passover is the recapitulation of creation, as Cyril of Jerusalem shows us: This is the time – the first month for the Hebrews – in which the Passover festival is celebrated, once in figure, now in reality. It is the time of the creation of the world… Salvation came about at the very time when the ruin was consummated. Easter is a return to the origins, a re-creation of the man who had fallen. This theme dominates a homily attributed to John Chrysostom: Thus the equinox is observed in the Passion because of the recapitulation of the early times, and so is the equinox on Friday, since the first man was formed on that day, and he had to be taken up on the very day he was formed and fell…” The three days of the Triduum (Friday, Saturday, Sunday – later to become Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) represent the days of creation, God’s Sabbath, and the First Day. Gaudence of Brescia develops the theme, supported by St. Paul (Eph 1, 10), and he puts more weight on the first day, being the day of the new creation. It mentions how Christ fulfilled all the other events of the Old Testament.

At the same time as being the recapitulation of salvation history, Easter is also a recapitulation of the mystery of Christ. The mystery of Christ’s salvific work began with the Incarnation, is fulfilled by his passion and death, and ends with his exaltation: resurrection, ascension and session at the right hand of the Father, continues with the sending of the gift of the Spirit, and will end in the Parousia. All this is but one mystery of the whole Christ. Leo the Great insists on this unity of the mystery of Christ; Easter is truly the celebration of the entire work of the Redeemer.

St. Augustine makes a synthesis of Easter like the Sollemnitas Paschae: history, presence and expectation. The entire mystery is present in the liturgy. We await the Lord through our annual solemnity. In another sermon, he insists that uninterrupted meditation on the mystery must be the daily celebration of Passover. The Church’s Passover  is fulfilled essentially in the Eucharist and the other sacraments of initiation; this is precisely why the entire mystery of Christ is commemorated in the anamnesis of the Mass.

From the earliest days, Passover as a feast of redemption was seen as the most suitable occasion for conferring the sacraments, by which redemption is applied to the Church community and to each individual Christian. He is baptised, confirmed and nourished by the Eucharist. Redemption is through a man’s entry into Christ, i.e. the Church, because Christ and the Church identify with each other. If Christ passed from death to life, the Church and each of its members do the same, thus the relationship between the divine and human concepts of passage. The meaning of Passover cannot be only historical, but also sacramental, moral and eschatological.

The catechumen is initiated in the Church (i.e. in Christ through Baptism). According to Origen, those who are baptised are buried in the death of Christ, and they rise with him. Hippolytus of Rome makes the first explicit mention of a link between Passover and Baptism. Basil of Caesarea considers Easter Day to be the most suitable day for Baptism, because it derives its meaning from the resurrection. According to Tertullian, we are baptised into the passion of Christ through the sign of water. The Red Sea is the antetype of baptismal water, a sign of passage, that whoever passes through this sign will not die, but will rise with Christ.

The symbolism of baptismal water is very rich, mentioned in several contexts in the Gospels. Water is a sign of grace, of healing. It is linked to the rebirth of Nicodemus. The water symbolises Christ himself who gives life, telling the Samaritan woman that he is the living water that quenches every thirst. Revelation speaks of a river of paradise, the source of all life. We are dead and buried in water and we rise in the resurrection with Christ. We are baptised in the Paschal Mystery of the passage from death to life.

Paul calls Baptism (Titus 3, 5) the bath of regeneration and likens it to a new birth from John. We are grafted to Christ, losing our old humanity and putting on the new. Water cleanses us from all that is impure, and the newly-baptised is transformed into a new creation. What is born of the Spirit is Spirit (Jn 3, 6). We are regenerated to our old innocence. By drinking the water of Christ, we quench our thirst for eternal life.

In the early Church, as today in the Byzantine Church, the newly baptised were immediately anointed with oil and the seal of the Holy Spirit. The oil, today blessed by the Bishop on Holy Thursday, was blessed in the early hours of the Holy Night of Easter. Hippolytus is witness to the use of oil after the bath of baptism. The patristic references to the post-baptismal anointing are ambiguous – did it start from the baptismal rite, or the sacrament of confirmation? In the ancient Roman liturgy, the Pontiff, having baptised the catechumens, invoked the Holy Spirit upon them and confirmed them with the Chrism immediately.

The Eucharist is the supreme anamnesis of the Mystery of Christ. Just as on the eve of his Passion the Lord instituted the Eucharist in eternal memory of his saving death, so the Church redeemed by his resurrection is now celebrating this new mystery of the new and eternal Covenant.

Considering the Eucharist as a mystical sacrifice, it is a mystical Passover, an ‘imitation’ of Christ’s historical Passover. In a text attributed to St. John Chysostom, the pascha – suffering theology is implicit. He talks about the Eucharist in this way: Imitation of the sacrifice par excellence, fulfilling by ineffable epicleses his own body, and also his own blood, and commanding us to keep the Passover in these figures. John Chysostom takes up the theology of St. Paul when he speaks of announcing the death of the Lord when his Body and Blood are eaten. The belief among the Syrians that Christ had eaten the Eucharist was well answered. It is an interpretation of Passover as passion, which was to influence the Church’s teaching on the Mass as a sacrifice.

Easter is the time of reconciliation between God and man, the great marriage of the Lamb, when heaven and earth meet. There was always a connection between youth and sadness-and the absence of the Lamb, when sin and death triumph. But when the body of sin assumed by the Logos dies on the cross, life triumphs. The Bridegroom is present, triumphing over death, exalted and glorified; he takes the Church as his Bride for the celebration of the marriage of the Lamb. We are adopted as sons of God and deified by his presence in the Holy Species, and we await his coming, when all our history will be consummated in a moment.

There is also a moral and spiritual dimension of the Paschal Mystery, which is related to the pascha – transitus theology, especially in the Alexandrian neo-Platonist school.

The blood of Christ delivers us from all evil, just as the blood of the paschal lamb of Exodus 12 saved the Israelites from the exterminator who passed over Egypt. Every day we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for deliverance from evil (sed libera nos a malo).

As already mentioned, this anthropological meaning of Easter derives from Philo’s understanding of the Exodus as the passage of man guided by the God of Israel. Origen compares progress in the spiritual life with the rise of man with the Lord. Didymus of Alexandria refers to Paul’s teaching on the celebration of the feast of unleavened bread in a spirit of purity and sincerity. Ambrose takes up the same theme, adding the demands of faith and devotion, to get rid of sinful passions – compassion with Christ.

We have already spoken of the neo-Platonic concept found in the Alexandrian school, which is also found in the Latin West, of the exodus of the body to a future world. The element of passing over, applied to humans, is introduced here. Augustine, for whom the concept of transitus is very rare, refers to man’s passage from death to life.

The eschatological content of Passover was stronger before the historicisation of the fourth century. Eschatology was above all the expectation of the final Parousia, the coming of the Lord at the end of time, which gradually became the spiritualising of the school of Alexandria, and finally the historicising of Cyril of Jerusalem.

The original meaning of the Easter Vigil is preparing for the final Parousia. The Easter night has been known as the image of the Kingdom. Jerome’s teaching is the most characteristic: In the middle of the night a clamour resounds: Here comes the Bridegroom, go before him. Unexpected, in the middle of the night, when everyone feels safe and sleeps a deep sleep, the clamour of the angels and the trumpets of the forces that precede him will announce the coming of Christ. A Jewish tradition assures that Christ will come in the middle of the night as in the time of Egypt when, on the Passover, the exterminating angel approached and the Lord passed over the houses and our foreheads were consecrated by the blood of the Lamb. This seems to be the origin of the apostolic tradition, which is still observed today, that it is not appropriate to send the crowds away on the Easter vigil before midnight to wait for the coming of Christ, but when that time has passed, then everyone can celebrate the feast in complete safety. The Easter night was dominated by eschatology, and this belief was still alive, since apostolic times.

During the spiritualization of eschatology, the idea of a sacramental Parousia was introduced, a cultic anticipation of the presence of Christ among his people. The sacraments are situated in the fulfilment of the events of salvation – also of the future event of the Parousia. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (I Cor 11, 26). The Parousia is related to the Eucharist, and it is already fulfilled in the Eucharist. In the Epistula Apostolorum, the Apostles ask Christ: Lord, is it really necessary for us to take the chalice and drink it again? And Christ answers: Yes, it is necessary until the day I return with those who were put to death for my sake. The coming of Christ was thought to be immanent, and when it was not, the importance of the sacramental Parousia was emphasised. As the centuries passed, the liturgy became less and less eschatological and more historical, culminating in its decadence.

The Alexandrians over-spiritualised Christian feasts, exaggerating the moral and individual character. There is a great desire to live an eternal Passover which is expressed in a continual passing of the things of God’s life, in haste to reach his city. Origen often spoke of a third Passover, a celestial feast, a typology with three levels (shadow – image – truth); the truest Passover is perfectly spiritual. Here we see the Gnostic influence in Origen. Is Christ just an image, an outmoded image? Origen would have been seriously mistaken. He speaks of a third Passover to be celebrated in heaven. This is the heavenly liturgy, but is it the same as Christ, or is Christ Himself a type? Athanasius, Origen’s famous pupil, continues the same theme: And when we leave this earth, then we will fulfil the perfect feast with Christ.

We can consider Easter as an expectation of the final Parousia, our encounter with Christ in the sacraments and in the liturgy of heaven. Easter eschatology is all of this. Thus, Easter is the symbol and pledge of eternal life. For the Greeks, a cycle was always the sign of eternity, and Easter is repeated annually, weekly and daily.

  1. Easter: a cosmic and continuing feast

Easter is not only for man. It is a cosmic feast that encompasses the entire universe. The date of Easter depends on the universe: the position of the moon in relation to the earth. Eternity, for the Greeks, is symbolized by the cycle – and the world is governed by a mysterious series of cycles. The Greek authors had a great vision of Easter renovatio mundi and renovatio in pristinum. Augustine substitutes a more dramatic and human vision of Easter as renovatio vitae or renovatio in melius, the basis of the O felix culpa theology. By way of an excursus, I would mention a more profound understanding of the light coming from the Ungrund in Jakob Böhme’s theology. The darkness was necessary for the light to come forth. The cosmic dimension becomes in the Latin tradition a moral tradition.

In celebrating the anniversary of creation and re-creation, a text attributed to Hippolitus speaks of the month of Nisan as the first month, when God created the universe . In this way, the festival is united with all creation. Athanasius considers the Passover as a recapitulation of creation. Gregory of Nyssa introduces the theme of the new creation. All things are restored through Christ, for all things are with him, in him and through him. The Roman Canon says Per quem haec omnia, Domine, semper bona creas, sanctificas, vivificas, benedicis, et praestas nobis, per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso. Creation, through Easter, is continually renewed by Christ, through the daily Easter, the action of the Holy Mass.

As the entire cosmos participates in the Passover of renewal, so the seasons are included. This theme gives rise to lyrical developments on Spring in relation to Passover. Eusebius of Caesarea expressed himself thus: That time of the feast which brought ruin to the Egyptians, friends of the demons, but to the Hebrews who celebrated it for God the liberation from their miseries, that time is the same one which was chosen for the first formation of the cosmos, when the earth began to germinate, when the lights appeared, and heaven and earth with all that they contain were produced. Aponius transposes this theme from a lyrical-naturalist to an ecclesiastical level: Christ our Lord, after the bitter winter of idolatry and philosophical doctrines, in the time of spring, decorated the face of the world with the flowers of the martyrs and the deeds of the saints, with his passion which is our Passover, that is, the passage from death to life.

The symbolism of the sun is very strong in relation to the Passover (or simply Christ in patristic literature, a) historically, the death and resurrection of Christ; b) mystically, the immersion and rising of a newly baptised person; c) eschatologically, the future resurrection. Christians have always prayed towards the rising sun, remembering this cosmic element in the Easter liturgy. This solar symbolism is very old, and is mentioned in connection with the Messiah in the Old Testament (Malachi 3, 20; Isaiah 41, 2). Pagan cults worshipped the sun, and it was without difficulty that Christ became the true sol salutis or sol iustitiae. Gregory of Elvira shows us an example of this symbolism: This is the venerable and saving mystery of Easter. In him, Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, killed the law of death and showed us, in rising again, a day brighter than the sun; in him, the merciless hell trembled and heaven opened to the resurrection of Christ. Several other Fathers follow the same symbolism, and make it a powerful element in their theology.

The continuing Easter is celebrated in the spring of each year, but the action of the Holy Liturgy, which is offered every Sunday and every day of the week, is also celebrated each time. Passover is not only historical or heavenly, but also continuous. Historical events are spiritualised and internalised: so that whoever eats the flesh and drinks the Blood of Christ may be nourished by the Word of God. This concept was known to Origen and Eusebius acknowledges that we renew (the Passover) for an unlimited time.

The practice of celebrating Passover (Eucharist) on Sundays has a disputed origin. Some maintain that this practice dates back to apostolic times, while others say that the Sunday Passover dates back to 135 A.D. in Jerusalem. Eusebius of Caesarea, insists that this practice is of apostolic origin and is opposed to the daily Passover. He mentions that many bishops were in agreement on this point, thus making the thesis that Sunday Easter was a late innovation unlikely. This Alexandrian suspected the annual Syrian Passover only of being Judaised. Did the weekly Eucharist compromise the meaning of the Sollemnitas Pascha? Augustine makes a synthesis of the Passover over two rhythms: annual and weekly, and even daily, marked by the celebration of the Eucharist.

John Chysostom attests to the daily celebration of the Eucharist. He comments on the perpetuity of the sacrifice and its unity, even though it is celebrated very often. However, must Easter be reduced to the Eucharist? That is an interesting question to ask. Paulinus of Nole also attests to the daily celebration as St. Augustine.

A few standard works

A search on Google might bring up English translations of these works.

BOUYER Louis, Le mystère Pascal, Paris 1967.

CANTALAMESSA Raniero, La Pâque dans l’Eglise ancienne, Berne 1980.

CASEL Odo, La fête de Pâques dans l’Eglise des Pères, Paris 1963.

CASEL Odo, Das Christliche Kultmysterium, Regensburg 1932.

DIX Gregory, The Shape of the Liturgy, London 1945.

MELITON DE SARDES, Sur la Pâque (Sources Chrétiennes 123), Paris 1966.

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2 Responses to Transitus Domini

  1. John Coombs says:

    As Pentecostalism seems to be the most flourishing form of Christianity now, I wonder if the future of Christianity is non-liturgical?

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