Las Pascuas Navideñas
In Spanish, Christmas can be referred to in a couple of ways. We have all heard José Feliciano singing “Feliz Navidad.” But, it can also be referred to as “Las Pascuas Navideñas,” which can mean either Christmas Day or the Christmas Season or “La Pascua de Navidad” which is only Christmas Day. In fact, the word “Pascua” is used for several holy days. “La Pascua de los Judíos” is Passover. “La Pascua Florida” or “La Pascua de Resurrección” is Pascha, Easter Sunday. Less often it is used as “La Pascua de Pentecostés” or “La Pascua de Epifanía,” which refers to Pentecost and Epiphany. So what is “Pascua” and why do I bring this up?
The word “Pascua” comes from the Hebrew root “pesach,” the word we know in English as “Passover.” We get it from the Latin “pascha.” The “h” became an “u” because in Spanish the “ch” is pronounced very different from the way it is in Latin. But, that is a bit of trivia. The more important point is that Latinos see the events that took place on a Passover slightly over 2,000 years ago as being so important that we cannot understand other holy days of Our Lord unless we call them “Pascua.”
On that Passover day, “on the night in which He was betrayed He took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”
For Latinos, the Passover of Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the key to understand all of human history. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for us so that we might have life. His death (and resurrection) gave us eternal life. “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast … .” Jesus is not only our Passover, but also Passover is how we understand all of human history and all feasts of Our Lord. He was sacrificed for us, therefore, we can rejoice and celebrate, and the Eucharist is how we make that celebration real.
“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).
“We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his holy flesh and the precious blood of Christ the Savior of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his flesh, he made it also to be life-giving” (Session 1, Council of Ephesus, Letter of Cyril to Nestorius [A.D. 431]).
Christmas, the Nativity, is the feast of the one who would one day die for us and feed us his life. Epiphany is the feast of the revealing of the one who would one day die for us and feed us his life. Pentecost is the feast of the one who died for us and sent the Holy Spirit to actualize that life within us, to change us, to lead us into truth, and feed his life. When “pascuas” refers to a season, it is a season that explains why he chose to die for us, and feed us his life. Are you beginning to see a pattern?
This Christmas become a Latino. Choose to celebrate the season and the day as the day that we celebrate that the one who would die for us came into the world, that the one who would feed us his life chose to become one of us. Yes, in our modern sensibility, this can sound a little odd. But, if you read the Church Fathers, if you look at our theology, it is something we need to celebrate.