A DEVOTIONAL JOURNEY INTO THE EASTER MYSTERY
By Christopher Carstens
Sophia Institute Press, 2019
225 pages, $18.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com (800) 888-9344
The heart of the liturgical year is the Paschal Triduum, from the Holy Thursday evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper through Evening Prayer II of Easter Sunday. Lent is the lead-up, or, as German liturgist Adolf Adam put it, the “Easter preparatory period.”
The liturgies of the Paschal Triduum, and of Holy Week in general, are among the Church’s richest, most beautiful and most complex. Their coherence and sense, however, is not always immediately apparent: As a child, I remember reading about the “Mass of the Catechumens” and the “Mass of the Faithful,” without necessarily seeing how they fit together in the Sunday Mass I went to. Perhaps I’m dense, but I fear that many Catholics perhaps don’t “get” how the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum fit together.
If you’re one of them, fear not! Christopher Carstens has written a wonderful book to lead Catholics through Lent to the Paschal Mystery celebrated in the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum.
Carstens explains that his work is part of “the mystagogical method of teaching the liturgy.”
Don’t be daunted by the term: The Church has always taught that how we pray expresses what we believe. So Carstens is not just interested in explaining the liturgies to us. What he wants first and foremost is to explain them through the lens of what they express about what we believe, in this case, about the Paschal Mystery.
These liturgies express what Jesus has accomplished for us in his passion, death and resurrection. Carstens explains the various gestures and prayers — why we pray and do as we do — as expressions of Jesus’ saving paschal mystery. He also does this through helping us read the Scriptures “typologically,” i.e., the Old Testament as a type or prefiguring of Jesus.
The Paschal Mystery stands in close linkage with the Jewish Passover. Just as the Jews passed through the Red Sea from Egyptian slavery to Promised Land freedom, so Jesus as the Paschal Lamb leads us through baptism from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the children of God. It’s a dangerous journey, because it is not just some empty memory of the past but an application of Jesus’ salvation to our own souls, souls for which there is spiritual battle “against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Here’s how he puts our Lenten journey to Easter:
“Less than four months after the successful Allied D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy, Operation Market Garden drove ground forces through occupied Netherlands and … seized a number of bridges along the way — and ultimately battled for the Arnhem bridge over the Rhine into Germany. It was an ambitious plan, carried out bravely, with battles won and lives lost. But its goal, capturing the Rhine’s bridge into Germany, was unsuccessful. It was, as one British general feared, a ‘bridge too far.’”
“Lent’s battle for the paschal bridge appears equally ambitious,” Carstens continues. “We are in a life-and-death struggle. Our victory lies on the other side of an arduous climb (‘the Holy mountain of Easter’). We are bombarded at every moment with the deadly temptation to succumb, to wonder if we, too, are attempting a bridge too far. ... Yet we have a Captain leading our divisions against the opposing legions. … Ours is not a bridge too far — if we follow the plan laid out for us by the Church during Lent and especially during Holy Week.”
Carstens wants you to understand and appreciate that great plan, made real in the Church’s liturgies. It is a useful companion for Holy Week. It could have been improved with a little more about the Sundays of Lent (especially the Gospel texts for the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, Year A, which can be used every year on those Sundays and are especially fit for catechumens. And, while I understand what Carstens is getting at (divinization by the grace of adoption) when he entitles his chapter on Eastertide “How to Become God,” I worry some might misunderstand [Editor’s note: Carstens explicitly addresses the question of how we become (“like”) God thus: “The Devil was right about one thing: we were to be like gods, but not because of his diabolical say-so, nor because of man’s prideful willing so. Rather, it was due to God’s divine doing so — His becoming man and rising from the tomb — that we can now share in His divinity” (173)].
John M. Grondelski writes from Falls Church, Virginia.
All views are exclusively his.