Life Of Christ:
Christ Announces To St. Peter His Supreme Pastoral Charge
Private Life Of Jesus During His Ministry
Sorrow Caused To Jesus And Mary By The Persecution Of The Jews
Jesus Triumphantly Enters Jerusalem
Jews Lay Plans To Put Jesus To Death
The Last Supper
Farewell Discourse And Prayer Of Jesus
Jesus In The Garden Of Gethsemani
Treason Of Judas, And The Apprehension Of Jesus
Read More Articles About: Life Of Christ
The Last Supper
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE Jewish Passover was a rite prescribed by the Mosaic Law in remembrance of the delivery of the Israelites from the power of Pharao. Each family, says the sacred text (Exod. xii.), shall take, on the tenth day of the first month, a lamb, and on the fourteenth day shall sacrifice it in the evening, and sprinkle the doors of their houses with the blood thereof; that night they shall eat the flesh roasted at the fire, with unleavened bread and wild lettuce. While they eat it they shall stand with their clothes girt up, with shoes on their feet, and staves in their hands, like travellers ready for their journey. The obedient Israelites punctually fulfilled every circumstance of the order. On the same night God sent His exterminating angel into every house in Egypt that was not sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, and slew every first-born, both of man and of beast. The consternation was universal, and Pharao, terror-stricken, bade the Israelites go. In commemoration of this event, the Jews were commanded to sacrifice and eat, every year, the paschal lamb, on the feast of Easter. Five days be-fore the feast they selected the lamb, washed it, and decked it with flowers. Toward three o'clock in the afternoon on Easter eve, they assembled, and the head of the household, dressed in holiday garb, killed the lamb and sprinkled the door-posts with the blood. Then the carcass was roasted whole on a spit, but the entrails were roasted by themselves. Now the members of the house-hold put on their best shoes, girded themselves, and took staves, made expressly for this purpose, into their hands. Then the lamb was brought in on a large dish, amid great ceremonies, and those present went around it, singing the 117th Psalm, which begins with the words : " Give praise to the Lord, for He is good : for His mercy endureth forever." Finally, the head of the household carved the lamb, taking great care not to break a bone, and helped all present. Adding wild lettuce and unleavened bread, they ate hastily, and were not permitted to lay aside their staves until the paschal lamb was entirely eaten. Then they seated themselves, and a regular meal was served, of which they joyfully partook, praising God. The ancient Jewish ceremonial prescribed that, before carving the paschal lamb, the head of the household should cut in two a loaf of unleavened bread, and place one-half of it beneath the tablecloth. After the meal was over, he took this latter half, and cut it up into as many pieces as there were guests at the table (and there were never to be less than ten), and gave each one a piece, saying: "This is the bread of tribulation which our fathers ate in Egypt." Then he took a cup and blessed it, saying: " Blessed art Thou, O God, for having created for us the fruit of the vine." After drinking, he gave the cup to his neighbor, saying: "This is the cup of tribulation which our fathers drank in Egypt." And each one successively drank of the cup. Then they rose, and sang what was called the great Alleluja, viz., six psalms, beginning with the 112th and ending with the 117th Psalm. Thus did the Jews praise God and thank Him for their deliverance from Egypt.
After this manner Our Lord, too, ate the paschal lamb, and fulfilled, as the Gospel observes, all the ceremonies. " Now on the first day of the unleavened bread when they sacrifice the Pasch, the disciples say to Him : Whither wilt Thou that we go and prepare for Thee to eat the Pasch? And He sendeth two of His disciples, and saith to them: Go ye into the city; and there shall meet you a man carrying a pitcher of water; follow him: and whithersoever he shall go in, say to the master of the house : The Master saith : Where is My refectory, where I may eat the Pasch with My disciples? And he will show you a large dining-room furnished: and there pre-pare ye for us. And His disciples went their way, and came into the city : and they found as He had told them, and they prepared the Pasch." (Mark xiv. 12-16.)
According to an ancient tradition, the house in which our blessed Lord celebrated the Last Supper belonged to St. Mark. It was in this same room that the apostles were assembled after their divine Master's death; and here, too, He appeared to them on the evening of His resurrection. Here He instituted the great sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Penance; here, on Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descended on the apostles. This highly privileged house, in which so many mysteries of faith were accomplished, was afterward converted into a church, and called the Chapel of Sion.
To this house, then, Our Lord came with the apostles, in the evening, when it was time to eat the paschal lamb. The master of the house came to meet Him, and greeted Him, saying: "Welcome, dear Master! I rejoice at the honor Thou dost bestow upon me by selecting my house for the feast of the Pasch." And Jesus replied: "This day is salvation come to this house, for it shall be honored throughout all times."
Then the paschal lamb, washed and decked with flowers, was brought in. The divines say that, as Christ was the Master of the apostles and the head of this family, it devolved upon Him to sacrifice the lamb. This having been done, and the blood caught in a basin, Our Lord sprinkled the door-posts, according to law. Whilst the lamb was skinned and roasted, He was reminded of the scourging He was to undergo on the morrow, and of His crucifixion.
The paschal lamb was brought in on a costly salver, fashioned out of a smaragd, and preserved to this day in the city of Genoa, in Italy. Christ then performed all the ceremonies of the ritual, and said: With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with you before I suffer." (Luke xxii. 15.) Imagine the sorrow of the apostles at these words, indicating to them, as they did, that this was the last meal they were to take in His company. But Our Lord rejoiced; for He was about to suppress forever the well-nigh insupportable yoke of the old dis pensation, and to replace it by the new and sweet yoke o; the law of grace. Because this was a great work, and the principal reason why He had come from heaven, and foreseeing that all Christendom would give thanks to Him for it until the end of time, therefore He now rejoiced with all His heart.
Having eaten the paschal lamb, they all set aside their staves, removed their shoes, and took off their girdles, and seated themselves at the table for the customary meal, prepared for them, no doubt, by the master of the house. St. Bonaventure says, that not only the twelve apostles, but also many of the seventy-two disciples and other friends of Christ were present, waiting at the table and serving Christ. His countenance beamed with joy, and the apostles were glad to see their Master so cheerful.
"And when the supper was done, the devil having now put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God and goeth to God : He riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments, and having taken a towel, girded Himself. After that He putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded." (John xiii. 2-5.)
O stupendous humility! Is this the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, to whom the Father hath given all things, and who cometh from God and goeth to God? If, then, He humbled Himself so far as to do for His creatures what many a servant would refuse to perform for his master, we ought not to shrink from a little humiliation for His sake, who so deeply humbled Himself for us. But in addition to humility, there is another lesson, and perhaps a still more important one, which this act of Our Lord teaches us.
He was about to give His apostles His own body and blood. It was, therefore, necessary that they should be spotlessly pure, in order that the sanctity of God might find in them nothing defiled. This was what Our Lord desired to intimate to them by this extraordinary act. " He cometh therefore to Simon Peter; and Peter saith to Him: Lord, dost Thou wash my feet? Jesus answered, and said to him: What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith to Him : Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him: If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part in Me. Simon Peter saith to Him: Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him: He that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet, and is clean wholly." (John xiii. 6-10.)
In order to understand the answer of Our Lord, we must remember that among the Jews it was customary for all invited guests to bathe before coming to a banquet, and just before going to table to wash their feet, even in the house of their host, in order not to soil the cushions on which, according to the fashion of those days, they used to recline when at table. It is to this custom that Jesus alludes in His reply to St. Peter: "He that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet." As if He wished to say: "You have already been washed from the iniquities of your past life in the waters of regeneration, and you need now be cleansed only from the dust on your feet, that is, from venial sins and imperfections, so as to be prepared to partake of the heavenly manna which I am about to give you."
St. Peter then sat down and permitted Jesus to wash his feet. But who can conceive the feelings of embarrassment under which he labored? He was the one to whom "not flesh and blood, but the heavenly Father had revealed " that Christ is the Son of the living God. This clear and exalted knowledge of the divinity of Christ was incomparably superior to the knowledge that we possess through ordinary faith. Hence the humble man was frightened when he saw his Lord and God kneeling be-fore him and preparing to wash his feet. Tears streamed from his eyes and coursed rapidly down his cheeks. When Jesus, after having carefully dried Peter's feet with the towel, bent over them and kissed them with His sacred lips, St. Peter's heart was ready to burst with excessive love, and he would at that moment have shed every drop of his blood, if necessary, for the sake of his blessed Redeemer.
Having finished with St. Peter, Our Lord then proceeded to render the same service to St. John, then to St. Andrew, St. James, and so on through all to the last. By this washing these privileged men were cleansed not only in body, but also purified in soul. For then was infused into their inner being such a true and vivid knowledge of their unworthiness, and such a heartfelt contrition for their past sins, that these sentiments of contrition were enough to obtain forgiveness. He also infused into them an inward light, by means of which they were enabled to understand clearly and appreciate fully their Saviour's infinite love and humility, as well as their own unworthiness to receive such an honor at His divine hands.
Lastly, Jesus approached the traitor Judas, and knelt humbly before him. You have good reason, Christian soul, to look upon this part of the scene with sentiments of wonder, and to be vastly astonished at the humility and self-abasement of Jesus. The devil sits enthroned in the heart of Judas, and yet Christ, the Son of the living God, is on His knees before the disloyal disciple, before His treacherous enemy, offering him, by this manifestation of tenderest love, one more chance to repent and abandon his diabolical project. Jesus places His blessed hands under the traitor's feet, kisses them, and then looks up into his evil face with a tender expression of friendship; but all in vain, the hard and flinty heart will not be softened, and the germ of malice will develop to the full in this darkened soul.
"Then, after He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, being set down again, He said to them : Know you what I have done to you? You call Me Master and Lord, and you say well, for I am. If then I, being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet: you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an ex-ample, that as I have done to you, so do you also." (John xiii. 12-15.)
Now the hour had come for that mystery of love, without accomplishing which Jesus would not leave the world, for " having loved His own in the world, He loved them unto the end." (John xiii. 1.)
" And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke, and gave to His disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat: This is My body. And taking the chalice, He gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this: for this is My blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins." (Matt. xxvi. 26-28.) After all had received the body and blood of Our Lord, Christ entrusted to them the mysterious power of consecrating His body and blood, as He had just done. For He said to them :" Do this for a commemoration of Me." (Luke xxii. 19.)
Then Christ again tried to impress the heart of the traitor. " When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and He testified and said : Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you shall betray Me." (John xiii. 21.) Consider how these words of Jesus are an expression of His sadness at the traitor's atrocious deed.. He was troubled in spirit that this soul should go to perdition, therefore " He testified" that He had done His utmost to save the unhappy disciple. He said : " The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him if that man had not been born." (Mark xiv. 21.)
Imagine the consternation of the apostles when they heard that one of their number contemplated such treachery. " The disciples therefore looked upon one another, doubting of whom He spoke. Now there was leaning upon Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, and said to him: Who is it of whom He speaketh? He therefore leaning on the breast of Jesus saith to Him: Lord, who is it? Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew to what purpose He said this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus had said to him : Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day, or that he should give something to the poor. He therefore having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night." (John xiii. 22-30.)
Yes, it was night, a dark and gloomy night in the soul of the unfortunate, evil-minded Judas. The light of faith had gone out, the last spark of love was extinguished, and a dark, impenetrable night of spiritual blindness and obstinacy had settled down upon the soul of the most unhappy of men.
When Judas was gone, Our Lord said: "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." (John xiii. 31.) By these words He intended to say. " Now the traitor who shall deliver Me to death is gone, and divine justice and mercy, and My love toward man-kind shall be made manifest." Therefore He began to address them in words of kindness, saying: "Little children, yet a while I am with you. You shall seek Me; and as I said to the Jews: Whither I go, you cannot come; so I say to you now. A new commandment I give Unto You : That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John xiii. 33-35.)