Question: What did Jesus’ death achieve?
—Name withheld, Holladay, Utah
Answer: I will give a seven-part answer to this question — and admit that I am gleaning the elements of the answer from two sources: “The Mind of Jesus,”by Scottish Presbyterian William Barclay, and Chapter 8 of the “U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.”
First, Jesus’ death “manifested” the Resurrection, to use the new words of the second Eucharist Prayer. We would not have known about the resurrection of Jesus without its being dramatized for us.
Second, Jesus’ death actualized the Lord’s acceptance of human nature and the world on suffering within which humankind had been mired since the fall. Jesus is the Second Adam, to use the words of St. Paul.
Third, Jesus’ death was a sacrifice. It represented a passing over (passover) on his part through sin, death, and suffering. The shedding of his blood caused the angel of death to pass over us and leave us alone. This is why the Passover story is so essential to Christian understanding, and why the theology of the Lamb is central to Christian symbolism and speech.
Fourth, Jesus’ death was an act of atonement. He made humankind “at one” with the Father. His death and resurrection united the human and the divine.
Fifth, Jesus’ death was an act of satisfaction. This does not mean that the Father required the death of Jesus — as some early medieval theologians like St. Anselm of Canterbury suggested (though some moderns have sought with some success to rehabilitate Anselm’s theory).
Sixth, Jesus death was an act of reparation. It repaired the broken relationship between God and humankind.
Seventh, Jesus death was an act of expiation. This means a pouring out of his life as an act of love.
In all this, we have to remember that Jesus’ death achieved nothing apart from the Resurrection. And, by the same token, the Resurrection would have achieved nothing for humanity had Jesus not assumed human nature and died “within it,” so to speak. That is why the Church and the liturgy nowadays speak of the “paschal mystery,” one unified reality of suffering, death, resurrection and exaltation.
Prayer and hell
Question: If someone is in hell, are our prayers wasted on him or her? Our prayers cannot get someone out of hell, but they can lighten the punishment of God in hell?!
— Name withheld, Salmon, Idaho
Answer: Actually, prayers for those in hell are a total waste of time. The damned do not want your prayers or your attempts at communion with them. That is the nature of hell. And prayers do not lighten the punishment of hell because God does not send the punishment. God does not send people to hell. They have so locked themselves into a hellish way of life that they would not want to be anywhere else.
Keep this thought in mind, however: If you now pray for anyone in this life they will never go to hell. What a great thought! If anyone is lovable enough to merit the prayers of others, then they are redeemable. So the best way to keep people out of hell is to be in prayerful communion with them — now. I got this idea from a retreat given in our seminary in 1970 by a Galway priest, and it struck me as completely revolutionary.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.