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Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings

HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER (Cycles ABC)

Readings:
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Theme of the Holy Thursday Readings: The Passover and the Institution of the Eucharist
On Holy Thursday night, we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist.  We begin by collecting the Lenten alms which we have been putting aside throughout our Lenten journey.  We will reenact Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet during the Old Covenant ritual meal that was a symbol of the disciples' ritual purification and their commissioning as Christ's humble emissaries to carry the news of His love and sacrifice to the world (Jn 13:4-9).  Then, in the liturgy of the Eucharist, we celebrate the first Eucharistic banquet that Jesus offered in the meal we call the Lord's Supper.  Celebrated on the night of the Jewish feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Old Covenant community ate the sacred meal of the Passover victims in groups throughout the city of Jerusalem, Jesus gave the Old Covenant memorial meal a new meaning.  From that point on He is "our paschal lamb, Christ" who "has been sacrificed" for us (1 Cor 5:7).  He is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29), as He offered to those assembled that night in the Upper Room His Body and Blood to be consumed in a New Covenant sacred meal (Lk 22:19-20; Jn 6:51-57).  The Lord's Supper is both a prefiguring and a prelude to the Passion of the Christ, symbolizing Jesus' death and resurrection.  

After the celebration of the Mass of our Lord's Supper, we withdraw and, as Jesus requested of His disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane, we keep watch with Christ in prayer (Mt 26:38, 40-41; Mk 14:34, 37-38; Lk 22:40, 46).  The three days which the Church calls the Paschal Triduum (the three days of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) have begun.  The Paschal Triduum lasts from sundown on Holy Thursday until sundown on Easter Sunday.  See the summary of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem at the end of the lesson.

The First Reading Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 ~ The First Passover and Sacred Meal
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 "This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year.  3 Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb [*a flock animal], one apiece for each household.  4 If a family is too small for a whole lamb [for a whole flock animal] it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb [take it] in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it.  5 The lamb [the flock animal] must be a year-old male and without blemish.  You may take it from either the sheep or the goats.  6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight [between the twilights (plural) = noon].  7 They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb.   8 That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs."
11 "This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight.  It is the Passover of the LORD.  12 For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt; I the LORD!  13 But the blood will mark the houses where you are.  Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.  14 This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all our generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution."
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 170.  *The sacrificial victim is never designated as a "lamb" in the Hebrew text but as an animal from the flock of sheep and goats.  As verse 5b makes clear, the animal could be a lamb or a goat-kid.

Exodus 12:1 ~ The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 "This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. 
The month is the spring month of Abib (Ex 13:4), March/April by our seasonal calendar.  Previous to this turning point in salvation history, the month of Ethanim, also known as Tishri, in our September/October seasonal time frame, was the beginning of the year for the Israelites.  The month of Tishri was believed to be the first month of the Creation event and was to remain the beginning of the civil calendar year.  However, from the event of the first Passover sacrifice, the liturgical calendar was to begin in the spring in the month of Abib/Aviv (Ex 13:4; 23:15; 34:18; Dt 16:1) which would be known as the month of Nisan after the Babylonian captivity (Est 3:7; Neh 2:1).  See the Israelite calendar of lunar months and feast days.

Exodus 12:3 ~ Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb [a flock animal], one apiece for each household.
The Hebrew word seh refers to a lamb or a kid as it does in Exodus 12:5 and Deuteronomy 14:4.
In Exodus 12:1-7 God gave Moses specific instructions concerning the selection of the sacrificial victim and in how it was to be offered in sacrifice:

  1. On the 10th day of the lunar month (Abib) a perfect, unblemished male kid or a lamb, not older than one year, must be selected from the flock.
  2. It was to be kept for five days (as the ancients counted without the concept of a 0-place value).
  3. The community was to participate in the sacrifice on the fifth day, the 14th day of the lunar month.
  4. The number of animals selected was according to the number of people in the household.
  5. After the animal was sacrificed, its blood was to be applied to the doorposts and lintel of the house of each household.

The lamb or kid was to be not older than a year and not younger than 8 days (Ex 22:29; Lev 22:27).  According to first century AD priest-historian Flavius Josephus, a minimum 10 people and not more than 20 was defined as a "household" (Jewish Wars, 6.9.3).  The same instructions are given for the Passover sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple in the Mishnah (Mishnah: Pesahim, 64b).  It is significant that the Passover sacrificial victim was to be chosen on the 10th of the month (Ex 12:3).   Jesus, the "Lamb of God" (Jn 1:29) rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the 10th of Abib/Nisan in 30 AD (Jn 12:1-15).  Saint Bede (672-735 AD) spoke about the link between the Pascal victim being chosen on the 10th of Abib/Nisan, five days before the Passover sacrifice, and Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the 10th of Abib/Nisan in a homily on Palm Sunday: It was commanded that the paschal lamb, by whose immolation the people of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, should be selected five days before the Passover, that is, on the tenth day of the month, and immolated on the fourteenth day of the month.  This signified the one who was going to redeem us by his blood, since five days before the Passover (that is today), accompanied by the great joy and praise of people going ahead and following, he came into God's temple and he was there teaching daily.  At last, after five days, having observed up to that point the sacraments of the old Passover, he brought them to perfect fulfillment, and he handed over the new sacraments to his disciples to be observed henceforth.  [Then], having gone out to the Mt. of Olives, he was seized by the Jews and crucified [the next] morning.  He redeemed us from the sway of the devil on the very day when the ancient people of the Hebrews cast aside the yoke of slavery under the Egyptians by the immolation of the lamb (Homilies on the Gospels, 2.3). 

In this passage from the Bede's homily, he referred to the victim of the first Passover being chosen five days before the Passover sacrifice just as Jesus presented Himself to the people on the 10th of Nisan (the name of the month in the 1st century AD) five days before the sacrifice of the Passover victims on the 14th day of Nisan (in the significance of numbers in Scripture five is the number symbolizing grace).  The Bede taught that Jesus brought the old sacraments of the first Passover to fulfillment at the Lord's Supper (Lk 22:14-20), establishing the new sacrament of the Eucharist which was to be celebrated from that time forward.  He also pointed out that Jesus was crucified on the very day the Israelites were freed from Egyptian bondage, the 15th of Nisan, the morning after the Last Supper, with His sacrifice making possible our liberation from sin and death.  Please notice that the Bede used the ancient method of counting a series of days with the first day in the series being day #1.  What an amazing continuity in salvation history that the first and last Passover victims were selected on the 10th of Abib/Nisan.  It was a connection St. Paul made when he called Jesus our Passover sacrifice in 1 Corinthians 5:7b ~  For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

The instructions God gave Moses for the protection of the children of Israel included the commands:

  1. The community was to eat a sacred meal that night in each of their homes that was marked by the "sign" of the blood of the sacrifice (Ex 12:7, 13).
  2. The animal was to be roasted whole with no bones broken and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Ex 12:8-9, 43).
  3. No part of the victim was to be left over and any remaining parts had to be burned in the morning (Ex 12:10).
  4. They were to eat the sacrifice hurriedly, fully dressed and prepared for a journey (Ex 12:11).

While the families were eating the sacred meal of the sacrifice, those who were not obedient to God's commands throughout Goshen and Egypt and who were not protected under the "sign" of the blood sacrifice of the spotless victim would be struck down, every firstborn male and all firstborn male cattle (Ex 12:12).

Exodus 12:12 ~ The Passover Judgment
12 For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt; I the LORD!
The intent of the tenth Egyptian plague was to execute God's divine judgment on the false gods of Egypt (Ex 12:12).  In that plague judgment, the Egyptians would offer up the unwilling sacrifice of their firstborn sons and male animals while the Israelites offered up the willing substitute sacrifice of the unblemished male lambs and goat-kids. 

In the spring of 30 AD, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the very day the Passover victims were commanded to be selected in Exodus 12:3.  From Sunday to Thursday (for five days as the ancients counted), Jesus was present in Jerusalem for everyone to view His perfection as the unblemished Lamb of God, just as the first Passover victims were selected and kept in public view before their sacrifice for five days (as the ancients counted) from the 10th to the 14th.  On the night of the same day the sacrifice took place, which at sundown became the 15th, Jesus fulfilled the Sinai Covenant obligation to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread with His disciples in an upper banquet room in Jerusalem (Ex 12:14; 13:10).  It was during that Old Covenant sacred meal that He offered Himself: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the first Eucharistic banquet (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:14-20; Jn 13:4).  It was the beginning of His walk to the altar of the Cross.  He was the Passover victim which all previous Passover victims prefigured.

Exodus 12:13 ~ The Blood Sign
13 But the blood will mark the houses where you are.  Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.
In the first Passover, the blood of the sacrificial victim was smeared on the doorposts and lintels of the houses, representing the safe entry and protection of those under the "sign" of the blood (Ex 12:7).  It was also a "sign" that visually illustrated the price of redemption and salvation and symbolically pointed forward in salvation history to the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Lamb of God (see 1 Pt 1:2; Rom 5:8-9; Heb 9:13-14; 13:12).  Jesus' precious blood was smeared on the cross beams and upright support of the Cross, becoming a "sign" of salvation and redemption, just as the blood of the first Passover victims was smeared on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite houses as a "sign" of salvation and redemption from the tenth plague.  The entire event of the first Passover and the salvation of the Israelites prefigured the Passion of our Lord and the salvation of humanity.

Exodus 12:14 ~ This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all our generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution."
It was God's command that this event and the sacred meal of the Passover victim was to be commemorated for all generations and for all time.  The Hebrew word zikkaron means more than to "commemorate" or to "remember"; it requires action to memorialize by re-living the event (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 57).  The Israelites were commanded to relive and experience the event of the Passover redemption in every generation.  Jesus' command at the Last Supper of the Jewish Passover, which became the Christian Eucharist, was the same command; the experience had to be re-lived and re-enacted by the faithful until the end of time.  His command wasn't just to "remember" it was "to do this in memory/remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25).

As Catholic Christians we are faithful to the command to relive the events of the Old Covenant Passover sacrifice in the transformed sacred meal of the New Covenant Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is both a sacrifice and sacred meal.  It is what the first Passover prefigured.  When New Covenant believers receive Christ in the Eucharist the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is present before us on the altar, and we relive what the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room in Jerusalem in the spring of 30 AD.  In obedience the Church keeps this sacred feast of Jesus, our Passover sacrifice, and offers in thanksgiving His sacrificial sacred meal of the Eucharist to all generations of New Covenant believers until the end of time as we know it.  Some but not all professing Christians are faithful to this divine command.  The Old Covenant Passover has been fulfilled according to Jesus' words from the Cross: tel te lestai "it is fulfilled" (Jn 19:30).  It is now the Eucharistic banquet that we memorialize and keep as a living and active sacrificial feast of the Lamb of God whose precious Blood protects us from God's judgment by forgiving our sins.

In the first Passover, the Israelites could only be spared the death judgment of the tenth plague if they followed the one plan of salvation that God gave Moses: being protected under the "sign" of the blood and eating the sacred meal.  To make the sacrifice without eating the sacred meal was not enough to avoid the plague judgment and ensure their salvation.  The question each of us must face is this: Is there a way for each of us to avoid the judgment of eternal death and to receive the gift of salvation?   Have we received a warning and a plan for our salvation?  The answer to both questions is "Yes."  Jesus and the writers of the New Testament letters warned both Old and New Covenant believers many times about the judgment that would decide a person's destiny for eternity.  There is a way to avoid the judgment of eternal death but only if we follow the plan of salvation that God gave mankind through Christ Jesus.  There is one plan; there are not many different roads to salvation.  Jesus called the plan of salvation the "Narrow Gate and the Narrow Road/Path when He said: "Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mt 7:14).  Jesus also said: I am the gate.  Anyone who enters through me will be safe: such a one will go in and out and will find pasture (Jn 10:9).  On Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection, St. Peter told the Jews who asked him how could they be saved: ...every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  He also told the Jewish Law Court (Sanhedrin): Only in him [Jesus] is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved (Acts 4:11b-12, emphasis added).  See the chart on the typology between the Passover in the Redeeming Work of Jesus Christ at the end of this lesson.

Responsorial Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18 ~ Sacrifice and Thanksgiving
The response is: "Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ."
12 How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?  13 The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
Response
15 Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.  16 I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds.
Response
17 To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.  18 My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people.
Response

Psalm 116 is part of the Hallel Psalms ("Praise God" Psalms 113-118; also called the "Egyptian Psalms because these psalms recount Israel's Exodus experience).  These psalms were sung by the covenant people in the Temple liturgy during the eight days of the celebration of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread.  You will recall it was Psalm 118:25-26a that the crowd sang as Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:9; Mk 11:9; 19:38; Jn 12:13). 

In Psalm 116:12-13, the psalmist expresses his desire to thank Yahweh by offering sacrifices in the Temple.  He is the Lord's servant who willingly makes his offerings to the Lord in the liturgy of worship (verses 15-16).  In verse 17 the psalmist, to express his gratitude, resolves to offer God a "sacrifice of thanksgiving" that is the communion sacrifice and sacred meal, called in Hebrew the Todah ("thanksgiving" or in Greek "eucharistia"; see Lev 7:11-21) in Yahweh's Temple.  The "cup of salvation" in verse 13 could refer to the blood ritual when the blood of the sacrificial victim that was collected in a chalice is poured out in front of the altar of sacrifice or, since the psalmist "will take it up" is more likely the red wine that was consumed by the offerer and those with him in the sacred meal of the Todah communion sacrifice of peace and thanksgiving that is eaten in the presence of God in the Sanctuary.  For Christians, our "cup of salvation" is the Blood of Christ that is "poured out" before our altars to the faithful who receive the chalice of Christ's Blood in the Eucharist. 

Teaching on this verse, early Church Father St. Augustine wrote: "Who gave you the cup of salvation, so that by taking it and calling on the name of the Lord, you might repay him for all that he has given to you?  Who, if not the one who says: 'Can you drink the cup of which I must drink' [Mt 20:22; Mk 10:38; Jn 18:11]?  Who has bidden you to imitate his sufferings if not He who has already suffered for you?  Moreover, 'precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones' [Ps 116:15 = Psalm Reading].  He paid the price with his blood, which he poured out for the salvation of his servants, so that they would not hesitate to give their lives for the name of the Lord" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 115.5).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ~ The Tradition of the Eucharist
23 I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."  26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

St. Paul is writing to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece.  It has been only twenty-seven years since Jesus instituted the Eucharistic on the first night of the Jewish feast of Unleavened Bread in 30 AD.  The word "Eucharist" is from the Greek word eucharistia and means "thanksgiving" or "thankfulness."  It is called Eucharist because at its institution at the Last Supper Jesus "gave thanks," and it is by this fact that it is the supreme object and act of Christian gratitude to God (1 Cor 11:24).  In this passage, St. Paul is reminding the community of the tradition of the Eucharist that he had "received from the Lord" and which he "also handed on" to them as part of the apostolic Tradition (verse 23).  This is the fourth account of the institution of the Eucharist in the New Testament (see Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:16-20).  In this review of the celebration of the Eucharist, Paul lists the fundamental elements of the mystery:

  1. The Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus (verse 23).
  2. The reality of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (verse 24).
  3. The Eucharist as the true and on-going sacrifice of the New Covenant until Christ returns (verses 25-26).

The phrase "do this in remembrance of me" (verses 24 and 25) is Christ's command to reenact the event of the Eucharist until the end of time when Jesus will return (also see Lk 22:19).  The word "remembrance" in the Hebrew sense is charged with meaning.  It is associated with God's command to the Israelites in Egypt on the night of the tenth plague and the first sacred meal of the Passover victim.  The Israelites were commanded to "remember/memorialize" the events of the Exodus liberation by reenacting them year after year and generation after generation as though each member of the covenant experienced a personal redemption and liberation: This day shall be a memorial feast for you which all your generations shall celebrate with a pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution (Ex 12:14 and repeated in 12:17, 24-25 and 13:3).  It was God's command that every father of every generation must tell his children: This is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt, and for with a mighty hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt (Ex 13:8 emphasis added; see CCC 1363).

It is Jesus' command for us to continue to celebrate the Eucharist in the same way as a personal act of redemption, and it is for this reason that Jesus instituted the ministerial priesthood.  The Council of Trent teaches that at the Last Supper, Jesus "ordered the apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer this sacrament when he said, 'Do this in remembrance of me,' as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught" (De SS. Missae sacrificio, chap. 1; cf. can. 2).  Pope John Paul II also wrote that the Eucharist is "the principal and central reason-of-being of the sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist, and together with it" (Letter to all Bishops, 24 February 1980).  When we celebrate the sacrifice of our Lord in the Eucharist, we acknowledge that the Christ who died for us also lives in us and will come again in glory!

The Gospel of John 13:1-15 ~ The Ordination of the Ministerial Priesthood at the Lord's Supper
1 Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.  2 The devil had already induced Judas son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.  So, during the supper, 3 fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4 he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.  He took a towel and tied it around his waist.  5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.  6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?"  7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later."  8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."  Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."  Simon Peter said to him, 9 "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!"  10 Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean [katharos] all over; so you are clean [katharoi], but not all."  11 For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean [katharoi]."
12 So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?  13 You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.  14 If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.  15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

St. John Chrysostom, the great 4th century AD Archbishop of Constantinople, admonished his congregation in a homily delivered on Holy Thursday, saying: "Christ is present.  The One who prepared that Holy Thursday table is the very One who now prepares this altar table.  For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself.  The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and the grace is of God.  'This is My Body,' he says.  This statement transforms the gifts" (Homilies on the Treachery of Judas circa 380 AD).

The Gospel of John chapter 12 begins with the warning that it is only 6 days until the Passover sacrifice.  Since that is the day before Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday we can identify the day of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and kids as Thursday, Nisan the 14th, as the ancients counted.  You may recall that with no concept of a 0-place value, the first in any series is always designated as #1; if the next day was Palm Sunday then day #1 of the 6 days is Saturday and #6 would be our Thursday; which agrees with the Synoptic Gospels (Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph Novak, page 282).   See the summary of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem at the end of the lesson.

John 13:1 ~ Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
Jesus first spoke of His "hour" to His blessed mother at the Wedding at Canna at the inauguration of His three year ministry when He told the Virgin Mary, "My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2:4b), referring to the "hour" of His Passion and glorification.  He announced that His "hour" had finally come in the third year of His ministry the Wednesday after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on His last day of teaching in the holy city, saying: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (Jn 12:23).  It was then two days before the Passover sacrifice as the ancients counted with Wednesday, Nisan the 13th, being day #1 and Thursday, the day of the Passover sacrifice, Nisan the 14th, being day #2 (Mt 26:1-2; Mk 14:1). 

2 The devil had already induced Judas son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
It was two days before the Passover on Wednesday (two days as the ancients counted with Wednesday counting as day #1; see Mk 14:1), after dinner with friends in Bethany at the home of Simon the [former] Leper (Mt 26:6-13 and Mk 14:3-9), that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot to the chief priests (Mt 26:14-16; Mk 14:10-11).

The Passover lambs and kids from each family group were sacrificed at the Temple service that began at noon that Thursday on the 14th of Nisan (Ex 12:6; Lev 23:5).  Philo of Alexandria, the first century AD Jewish theologian, lists the Jewish feasts in Special Laws II and in comments on the Feast of Passover in # 145-149: And after the feast of the new moon comes the fourth festival, that of the Passover, which the Hebrews call pascha, on which the whole people offer sacrifice, beginning at noonday and continuing till evening (late afternoon).  [..].  And this universal sacrifice of the whole people is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month, which consists of two periods of seven, in order that nothing which is accounted worthy of honor may be separated from the number seven.  But this number is the beginning of brilliancy and dignity to everything.

After the Temple service, the skinned body of the animal was brought back to where the pilgrims and local people of the city were staying to be roasted by fire for the sacred meal.  The night of the Passover feast was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began at sundown (Ex 12:8-10, 15-20; 13:3-10; 23:15; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16; Lev 23:6-8).  According to the Law in Exodus 12:15-20 ~ For seven days you must eat unleavened bread.  On the first day you must clean the leaven out of your houses, for anyone who eats leavened bread from the first to the seventh day must be outlawed from Israel.  [...]  You must keep the feast of Unleavened Bread because it was on that same day that I brought your armies out of Egypt.  You will keep that day, generation after generation: this is a decree for all time.  In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you must eat unleavened bread. 

Commenting on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, first century AD Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria wrote concerning the necessity of this feast being celebrated at the time of the full moon: And there is another festival combined with the feast of the Passover, having a use of food different from the usual one, and not customary; the use, namely, of unleavened bread, from which it derives its name.  [..]. And this feast is begun on the fifteenth day of the month, in the middle of the month, on the day on which the moon is full of light, in consequence of the providence of God taking care that there shall be no darkness on that day (Special Laws II, 150-155).

John 13:3-5 ~ So, during the supper, 3 fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4 he rose from supper and took off his outer garment.  He took a towel and tied it around his waist.  5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.
At sundown, the guests invited to attend the sacred meal at which Jesus acted as host, arrived at an Upper Room in the city of Jerusalem.  All Passover participants were expected to wash and dress in their best clothes for the meal.  When the guests arrived at a house where the sacrificial meal was being celebrated, they removed their sandals at the door and washed the street dirt from their feet with a basin of water that was kept by the door for that purpose.  They would have entered a room with a large, low U shaped table called a triclinium.  Originally the covenant people ate this feast standing up (Exodus 12:11), but since to eat standing or sitting marked one as a slave, it had become the custom to eat a sacred feast Greek style, reclining on low couches as only freeborn men and women ate. 

We do not know how many people were present at this meal.  The Gospel writers only mention the guests of honor, the Apostles, but according to the Law this was meant to be a family event.  It was important to include children at the feast since the adults were commanded as a covenant obligated: You will observe this as a decree binding you and your children for all time, and when you have entered the country which Yahweh will give you, as he has promised, you will observe this ritual.  And when your children ask you, "What does this ritual mean?"  You will tell them, "It is the Passover sacrifice in honor of Yahweh who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, and struck Egypt but spared our houses" (Ex 12:24-27 NJB).  As part of the ritual order of the meal, in obedience to Exodus 13:8, three questions were asked by a boy during the meal (four questions are now asked in the modern Seder of the Passover).  Jews rightly point out to Christians that if women and children were not present then Jesus and His disciples did not celebrate a Passover feast.  How could Jesus travel all the way to Jerusalem with His mother for this sacred feast and not invite her?  In each of the Gospel accounts the inspired writers do not describe to us the order of the sacrificial meal, they only tell us the parts that Jesus changed.

In John 13:4 Jesus removes His outer garment, wraps Himself in a linen cloth (linteum is a Latin word for linen used only here and in verse 5), and He prepares to wash the Apostle's feet. According to tradition, there were three ritual hand washings during the sacred meal of the Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The ritual of washing hands and feet had been an important Jewish symbol for generations.  In Genesis 18:4 Abraham washed the feet of the three men who visited him at his tent at Mamre.  He washed their feet as act of hospitality and as a token of his esteem.  There was also a daily mitzvah (commandment) to wash one's hands in the morning and before eating; symbolizing the removal of impurity and the renewal of spiritual integrity (the Pharisees criticized Jesus' disciples for this failure in Mt 15:2).  But once again, Jesus did something which was unexpected.  Instead of the ritual of washing of hands, He washed the disciples' feet.

Jesus probably removed His outer cloak (in Hebrew the tallit) with the four required tassels according to the Law (Num 15:37).  It is unlikely that Jesus removed the tunic He was wearing under the cloak; such a display of nakedness would have been unseemly.  It was a seamless white linen garment; it was the required tunic of a priest (Ex 28:39; 39:27-29; Lev 6:3; Jn 19:23-24).  Since it was woven all of one piece, it was very valuable.  Jesus had come to the sacred feast dressed in the garment of a priest which identified this meal as a liturgical event.  Priests could not wear their liturgical garment outside of the Temple services (Ez 42:14).

John 13:6-9 ~ He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?"  7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later."  8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."  Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."  Simon Peter said to him, 9 "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!" 
St. Peter was shocked by Jesus' actions.  Jesus was taking the humble position of an inferior to a superior.  The role reversal was incomprehensible to Peter who knew Jesus not just as his teacher but as his God (see Phil 2:6-7).

This ritual washing may have taken the place of one of the three ritual hand washings that, according to the Mishnah, were required during the sacrificial meal of the Passover victim.  Hands were ritually washed:

  1. Before drinking from the second ritual cup of wine just before food was brought in and placed on the table
  2. Before touching the unleavened bread
  3. After eating the roasted lamb that had been sacrificed earlier at the Temple that day. 

To take the place of one of the ritual hand washings during the meal (Jn 13:2b ~ So, during supper...) gives the foot washing an aspect of ritual purification and for Christians it symbolizes an act of ordination.  Jesus washes the feet of His Apostles in this significant ritual and later during the meal, their hands will also be ritually washed.  In the ritual of purification before entering the Sanctuary, Yahweh commanded that the priests ritually cleanse their hands and feet.  This ritual of purification was commanded by Yahweh for the first High Priest Aaron, the brother of Moses and for Aaron sons.  Whenever the priests came near the sacrificial altar to minister the sacrifice offered to Yahweh or when they entered the Holy Place, they were commanded to wash their hands and feet, even though they were already clean (see Ex 30:20 and Lev 8:6). 

In the foot washing ritual Jesus was not only instructing His ministers to preach the Gospel of salvation in humility, but His actions can also be seen as the anointing of the new priesthood of the New Covenant Church.  It is therefore for this reason that Catholics see this action signifying the establishment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the ordination of the New Covenant priesthood.  Jesus' symbolic purification of the Apostles takes place before the celebration of the first Eucharistic sacrifice. You see this same act of ritual purification in the Mass as the priest washes his hands before offering the bread that will become the Body of Christ. 

In any event, it is the role reversal that so shocks Simon-Peter that he protests that he cannot allow his Lord to perform this menial and degrading task.  Jesus' response to Peter is that if Peter does not let Jesus wash his feet then he can have no inheritance with me (Jesus' words to Peter).  This is a Semitic expression indicating that Peter will be cutting himself off from his Lord and from his share in the glory of Christ.

In John 13:9 Peter declares: "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!" 
Some believe Peter's response shows his lack of understanding while others find humor in Peter's heartfelt declaration.  But Peter surely understood what Jesus said in regards to the necessity of this ritual in order for Peter to have a share in Christ and His future glory, even if he didn't fully understand every aspect of what that share will contain or even Jesus' reason for washing his feet, which Jesus will explain in the next several verses.  It is significant that Jesus doesn't chastise Peter as He often does when Peter shows lack of understanding.  Perhaps Peter's answer may be a humorous response, but it shows his willingness to submit completely in offering all of himself.  Perhaps his declaration can be understood to mean: "As You said Lord, I may not fully understand but I trust You and I yield to You so completely that I give you my entire self: from my head to my feet!"  Jesus must have smiled at Peter's response; He knew what Peter wanted to say.

St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage: "You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  That is: You are clean only to that extent.  You have already received the Light; [...] The Prophet [Jesus] asserted: 'Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil from your souls' [Isaiah 1:16] [...] Therefore, since they had rooted out all evil from their souls and were following him with complete sincerity, he declared, in accordance with the Prophet's words: 'He who has bathed is clean all over' (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, 70.3).

John 13:10-11 ~ Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean [katharos] all over; so you are clean [katharoi], but not all."  11 For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean [katharoi]."
Notice the emphasis in the triple use of the Greek word katharos (katharoi in the plural), which can mean "clean" or "pure" (see John 15:2-3).  Peter is not only outwardly clean but inwardly "clean."  Peter is clean not just because he bathed before coming to the supper, but he has also been bathed spiritually when he accepted John the Baptist's baptism of repentance, and he has yielded himself completely to the Living Word of God as is illustrated by Peter's request that Jesus bathe/purify not just his feet but also his head and hands in 13:9.  Jesus will speak of purity of the spirit during His discourse after the supper in John 15:3-4a.  In His talk, after speaking of "pruning" that which does not bear the fruit of obedience, He will tell the Apostles: You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.  Remain [abide] in me, as I in you. 

"so you are clean [katharoi], but not all."  Peter is pure but Jesus says one of them is not clean/pure.  One of them is spiritually impure/unclean.  It is Judas Iscariot who Jesus knows has already betrayed Him and is betraying Him again now in Judas' unyielding heart (see Mt 26:14-14; Mk 14:10-11; Lk 22:3-6; and Jn 6:70-71; 13:2).   For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean [katharoi]."  Jesus knows it is Judas who betrays Him.

John 13:12-15 ~ Jesus' Explanation of the water purification of the Apostles' feet
12 So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?  13 You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.  14 If I, therefore, the master [kyrios = master or lord]and teacher [didaskalos = teacher], have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.  15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
In John 13:4 when Jesus proceeded to wash all the disciples' feet, He even washed Judas' feet.  After performing this symbolic act, Jesus put on His outer garment and again took His place at the table; Jesus is taking the father's role as host of the meal.

Jesus' disciples call Him "Teacher" and "Lord."  The words in Greek which are literally "Teacher" [didaskalos] and "lord" [kyrios] correspond to the traditional Jewish titles of Rabbi and Mar.  These are the typical ways that disciples or servants of a Rabbi would address their Master.  Jesus then gives the reason for His actions in washing their feet in verses 14-15.  He has shown His Apostles by an example how they are to serve Him and His Church.  They must serve one another lovingly, in complete humility, as He has served them in washing their feet.  In His homily after the sacred meal He will tell them: this is my commandment: love one another as I love you (Jn 15:12). What a contrast to what the Old Covenant priesthood had become!  God is love and it was for love that Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end (Jn 13:1b). 

Toward the end of the Passover meal, just prior to offering the third ritual cup, called the "Cup of Blessing," Jesus instituted the Eucharist on the last night of His life.  We know the timing because St. Paul identifies the Cup of Christ's Blood as the "Cup of Blessing" in 1 Corinthians 10:16.  It was His first step in demonstrating the depth His great love on His walk to the altar of the Cross.  First Jesus instituted the New Covenant priesthood that was necessary to continue His sacred offering in the ritual washing of His disciples' feet.  Then He transformed the Old Covenant Passover sacred meal into the New Covenant sacred meal of His Body and Blood that became the principal source of sustenance of the supernatural life that was His gift to the world.  The Lord's Supper became the prelude to His work of redemption to save mankind from sin and death and to bring humanity to forgiveness and spiritual restoration through the offering of His life and His glorious Resurrection that would merit graces for mankind that only God the Son can merit before God!  Therefore, on this night, as you memorialize the Lord's Supper in receiving the Eucharist, truly relive the experience of the miracle just as the disciples received the first miracle of Jesus' sacred meal.  Apply the Sacrament to your life as Jesus commanded, because He is truly present to you as He was to His disciples in the spring of 30 AD.

The sacrifice of the Passover victim and the eating of the Passover victim in a sacred meal on the feast of Unleavened Bread is a "type" of Jesus Christ and His work of redemption in saving mankind from bondage to sin and death. 

Typology of the Passover in the Redeeming Work of Jesus Christ
Passover and Unleavened Bread Jesus of Nazareth
The Passover victim was selected for sacrifice on the 10th of Abib/Nisan (Ex 12:3). Jesus rode into Jerusalem to keep the Passover on the 10th of Nisan; He was the Lamb selected for sacrifice (Jn 1:29; 12:1-2, 12-14).
The Passover victims were to be kept in the community for five days (Ex 12:3, 6).* For five days Jesus taught the community of Israel at the Temple (Mt 21-26:2).*
The blood of the Passover victim that was spread from the threshold of the doorways to the doorposts and lintel was a cross-shaped "sign" of the Israelites' firstborn redemption from death (Ex 12:13, 21-23). Jesus' blood on the Cross was the sign of man's redemption from sin and death (Acts 3:17-26).
Hyssop was used to put the blood on the door posts and lintels (Ex 12:22). Hyssop was used to give Jesus His last drink on the Cross (Jn 19:29).
No bones of the victim were to be broken (Ex 12:46). Jesus' bones were not broken like the men crucified with Him (Jn 19:32-36).
The Israelites were redeemed from slavery when they fled out of Egypt on the 15th of Abib/Nisan (Ex 12:29-42). Jesus gave up His life on the Cross, redeeming mankind from sin and death on the 15th of Nisan (18:28, 17-18).
Each Passover victim died so that the Israelites might live temporally. Jesus was the Passover victim who died so that mankind might live eternally.
The Passover victims were the food of the sacred feast which the Israelites ate so that they might live (Ex 12:8, 13). St. Paul identified Jesus as our Passover Lamb that we might "celebrate the feast" of the Eucharist (1 Cor 5:7-8) and eat Jesus' flesh that we might live (Jn 6:50-58).
As part of the covenant obligations, the first Passover and sacred meal of the Passover victim was to be remembered and relived by every generation (Ex 12:14, 42). Jesus told the disciples to eat His Body and Blood and to "do this in remembrance of me," a command every generation of New Covenant believers must obey (Lk 22:19-20).
The sacrifice of the Passover victim was God's plan for the salvation of Israel (Ex 12:13). The sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was God's plan for the salvation of mankind (Jn 3:1-16; 1 Jn 4:9).
M. Hunt © copyright 2009

* as the ancients counted. 

Summary of Jesus' Last Week in Jerusalem: the Countdown to the Passion

Day #1: Saturday, the 9th of Nisan ~ Six days before the Passover Jesus attends a dinner in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and is anointed by Mary of Bethany (Jn 12:1-8).

Day #2: Sunday, the 10th of Nisan ~ The next day Jesus rode into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 19:28-40; Jn 12:12-15).  He cleansed the Temple a second time and healed the blind and the lame (Mt 21:10-17; Lk 19:45-46).

Day #3: Monday, the 11th of Nisan ~ Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mt 21:18-19; Mk 11:12-14), cleansed the Temple a third time (Mk 11:15-19) and taught in the Temple (Mt 21:23).

Day #4: Tuesday, the 12th of Nisan ~ The disciples comment on the withered fig tree (Mk 11:20) and Jesus teaches at the Temple (Mk 11:27; 12:1).

Day #5: Wednesday, the 13th of Nisan ~ Jesus' last day teaching at the Temple (Mk 13:1) in which He declares the "hour" of His glory has come (Jn 12:22).  Wednesday is two days before the Passover on Thursday (counting as the ancients counted = Wednesday is day #1 and Thursday is day #2), and the religious authorities plan Jesus' death (Mt 26:1-5).  Jesus has dinner in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper where He is anointed a third time (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:1, 3-9).  Judas betrays Jesus (Mt 26:14-16; Mk 14:10-11; Lk 22:3-6).

Day #6: Thursday, the 14th of Nisan ~ It is the day of the Passover sacrifice that will take place at the Temple at noon.  Jesus sends Peter and John into the city to make sure that the preparations for the sacred meal at sundown (the beginning of the 15th of Nisan) are made (Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13).

Day # 7: The beginning of the Jewish Friday, the 15th of Nisan (our Thursday night) ~ The next day began at sundown of the day the Passover victims were sacrificed; it was the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:6-9; Num 28:16-25; Mk 14:17).  That night was both the prelude and prefiguring of the Lord's Passion enacted in the sacred meal of the Lord's Supper that symbolized His death and resurrection.  After eating the Passover victim according to the Old covenant tradition, Jesus transformed the Old Covenant sacred meal by offering His disciples His Body and Blood in a New Covenant sacred meal (Jn 6:54-56; Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20).  It was a sacred meal that He commanded was to be memorialized until the end of time (Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-26).  Later, Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives (Mt 26:50; Lk 22:39, 54).  He was tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt 26:57-66; Lk 22:66-71) and then taken to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate at dawn (Mt 27:1-2; Mk 15:1).

Catechism References:

Exodus 12:3-14 (CCC 608)

Psalm 116:12-13 (CCC 224, 1330); 12:17 (CCC 1330)

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (CCC 1339), 11:23 (CCC 610, 1366); 11:24-25 (CCC 1356); 11:24 (CCC 1328, 1329); 11:25 (CCC 611, 613); 11:26 (CCC 671, 1076, 1130, 1344, 1393, 2772, 2776)

John 13:1-15 (CCC 1337); 13:1 (CCC 557, 609, 616, 622, 730, 1085, 1380, 1524, 1823, 2843); 13:3 (CCC 423); 13:12-15 (CCC 1269); 13:13 (CCC 447); 13:15 (CCC 520)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014