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Meaning of the Word ‘Paschal’

Q. I know that words often have a root meaning. For example, our word sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentum, which I know St. Augustine described as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” In preparing for a seventh-grade religious education class about the paschal mystery, I would like to know where we get the word paschal.

A. The Hebrew word pesach (Passover) became the Greek word pascha. Father John L. McKenzie, SJ, wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible that pesach designated both this spring feast and the animal eaten then (lamb or goat) as described in Exodus 12:1-28.

In fact, what we now know as Passover was originally two feasts: pesach and mazzoth (unleavened bread as described in Exodus 34:18). Because Jesus’ death happened at the time of Passover, the term paschal mystery refers to his suffering, death, and resurrection. The candle lit at the Easter Vigil and used throughout the Easter season is called the paschal candle.

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