On the night before he died, in referring to himself as the “true vine” Jesus was using a potent image. Vines were familiar to the apostles as part of their lives but they had also learned in scripture about the false vines of the past. The Old Testament recounts tales of Israel like a vine that had been planted and looked after by God but due to the people’s infidelity, the vine failed to deliver its fruit and became corrupt. Now the true vine, the Redeemer, was showing himself as the source of life to all who would be united to him. At the Last Supper Jesus identifies himself as the One the chosen people had waited for throughout the centuries.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus says we must remain connected to him so we can have life, just as the sap rises from the source and flows to all the branches of the tree, nourishing every part and providing the fruit which is its fulfilment.
Many Christians testify to the centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus but how does that happen? We can assume that like any relationship it depends on communication. This is the result of prayer and a sense of being bonded to the other which when it means the Lord,includes a sense of dependence and awareness of the infinite love and mercy of the Almighty.
For Catholics it is more. Remaining in Jesus has to be understood in a physical as well as a supernatural sense. In common with all Christians, our connection is primarily by means of Baptism. By this means we are bonded to Jesus Christ and the bonding continues throughout our lives by our participation in sacramental life. The only way that can happen is through the Church. When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we are physically connected to him. During Mass the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come and transubstantiate the offerings of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus This is the same Holy Spirit which descended on Our Blessed Mother and the apostles at Pentecost. It is the miracle of Pentecost, the fulfilment of the Paschal Mystery. The Holy Spirit promised by Jesus before he ascended to Heaven is the spirit of love and the agent of the Church’s mission to the world. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gave the great commission to His apostles: “Go therefore,make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. Peter, already assigned by Jesus as the leader, is no longer fearful. In his first public preaching, he converts thousands who are now believers. Soon, the apostles and the new converts become united with a common zeal and purpose to go and preach the Gospel. They are animated by the Holy Spirit which flows through them.
In our own time what we need to recover is a more supernatural way of talking about the Church, avoidinganything that makes her sound like an institution. In the waythat everyone understands how the human body is made up of parts, possibly the understanding of the Holy Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is the most illuminating. Through the image of the vine we can see the principle of how the body is alive by its being connected to its source – the life principle of Jesus, the Redeemer.
In 1943 Pope Pius XII wrote:
If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ which is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Roman Church – we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the phrase which calls it
“The Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.”
The event of the Resurrection is central to the Church’s liturgy. It is the axis around which everything else revolves. Learning how the early Church viewed this mystery helps to enrich our understanding of Paschaltide. Ultimately we must focus on the continued presence of Christ in the Church. On his final appearance on earth, just before he ascended to the Father, Jesus told his apostles:
Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And behold, I am with you always, yes, to the end of time. (Mt.28: 18-20)
In the Gospel of Luke, the Church as the Bride of Christ,rejoices to be united with the Bridegroom. In the Acts of the Apostles the forty days between Easter Sunday and the Ascension into heaven are recorded as the time when the Lord was visibly present to his Church. This real and tangible presence of the Lord is the same presence we encounter in the sacred liturgy at every Mass. We have to fully realise that during Mass a mysterious veil covers this awesome truth. Despite all the changes recent years have experienced, nothing in fact has essentially changed since the Council of Trent, in the sixteenth century laid down its laws for all time.
Paschaltide is a sacred period of fifty days concluding with Pentecost Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Spirit and birthday of the Church. It marks the beginning of the Church’s mission to follow the Lord’s command to go and teach all nations.
As we know, the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Holy Saturday are not three separate ceremonies but one. This is why the priest does not give a dismissal or final blessing until the Triduum is complete with the first Mass of Easter. In a similar way, the celebration for which we have prepared during the forty days of Lent is not for Easter Sunday alone. It is the entire period of fifty days from the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – the great season of Paschaltide.
Earlier in the Gospel of John we encounter other statements where Jesus identifies himself in different ways to show his obvious relationship with humanity. He does not simply describe himself as “the Bread of Life” or “the Good Shepherd” or “the Resurrection and the Life.” He says he actually is all of these. “The True Vine” is the final declaration and part of the discourse at the Last Supper. The apostles very probably were unable to comprehend these terms but as Jesus told them, when the Advocate or the Holy Spirit would come, all would become clear.
We know from the beginning of John’s Gospel that every life in the created order came through Jesus (John 1:3) On account of the Paschal mystery, the new life of the Kingdom now flows out of Jesus, reaching us and coming to us through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
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