Recovering The Word Pascha

Themes: Christian Year, Easter, Scholar

More than a language lesson, this article challenges us to understand Easter in light of the rich Old Testament imagery of the Passover.

English is the unfortunate inheritor of the word Easter, a word that lacks the power and significance of the more accurate Pascha. Greek and Latin transmitted the Hebrew word pascha (passover), and so have other European languages (French: paques; Spanish: pascua; Dutch: pasen; Scottish: pask). In every case we can still hear the Old Testament meaning of liberation, wedded to the passion of Christ and the New Testament celebration of the Resurrection.

In many European traditions the Communion bread was also called pascha, as was the lamb of paschal sacrifice. Those language treasures of deliverance and sacrifice enable us to sense the richness of Paul’s phrase in 1 Corinthians 5:7: “Christ our pascha [Passover lamb] is sacrificed for us.” Christ, the lamb, the bread, the Passover.

In contrast we can see how utterly impoverished is the translation of pascha as “Easter.” “Christ our Easter is sacrificed for us” in a nonsensical statement. So is using the word Easter as a designation for the central celebration of the Paschal reality of the Christian tradition. If we primarily commemorate the Paschal mystery, we must recover the biblical usage with long and rich tradition and speak again of “Pascha.”

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