Palm Sunday, the Triduum & Easter Sunday:
The Biblical Chronology of Holy Week

During the Lenten Season and especially when nearing Holy Week, you are likely to encounter multiple controversies and theories regarding the timing of important events that occurred during Jesus' last week before His crucifixion. I have personally encountered claims that:

  1. That Jesus was not crucified on Friday but on Wednesday or some other day.
  2. That Jesus celebrated the Passover on Wednesday or some other day.
  3. That Jesus was crucified at the same time that the Passover sacrifice was slain, and consequently, the Last Supper did not actually occur during the eating of the Passover sacrifice.
  4. Jesus did not rise from the dead on Sunday but on Saturday or Monday or some other day.

I imagine that if any of us were to dedicate just 15 minutes online searching the internet that we would discover multiple other theories and proposed timelines. However all of these theories are contrary to the testimony of the Gospels.

Much of the confusion regarding the timing of these events results from a lack of context when reading the Scriptures. The purpose of this article is provide the context necessary and to indicate with clarity using the Sacred Scriptures the chronological facts regarding our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection. When the proper context is provided and when the necessary passages of Sacred Scripture are properly examined, you will discover with extraordinary clarity that the traditional Holy Week schedule celebrated by the Catholic Church is 100% accurate:

  1. Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
  2. The Commemoration of the Last Supper during Holy Thursday
  3. The Commemoration of Our Lord's Passion on Good Friday
  4. Jesus in the tomb on Holy Saturday
  5. The Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday

Concerning the Primary Context of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) & Easter Sunday:

Let us begin to address this confusion by first providing some background. We will begin by examining primary context of Jesus' last week before His crucifixion which is the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were remembrance feasts ordered by God to be observed in remembrance of what God did for Israel back when they were slaves in Egypt: He freed them from Egyptian slavery and led them out of Egypt. You will see God's commands regarding these feasts in the following passages:

Exodus 12:1-20, 23:14-15; Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 28:16-25

The Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of the 1st month of the year in the Jewish calendar, the 14th of Abib/Nissan. That was the day that the Passover lambs and goats where sacrificed. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a 7 day feast that began on the 15th of Abib/Nissan. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was when Israel would eat the Passover sacrifice from the prior day. (Remember that for the Israelites, the day begins at sundown. So during the day, Nissan 14th, the Passover is sacrificed and that evening at sundown, Nissan 15th, the Passover sacrifice is consumed on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.) Again, all the details are described in the passages from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers cited above.

Concerning the Last Supper, the Crucifixion & death of our Lord, and the Resurrection:

Now let us examine the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death.

The Gospel of St.Matthew 26:18-19 records Jesus instructing the disciples to make preparations for the Passover. The Gospel of St.Mark 14:12-16 also records these instructions with one very important detail added: The day that the disciples made the preparations for the Passover was also the day of the Passover sacrifice. Therefore we know that Jesus was not crucified at the same time that the Passover was sacrificed because St. Mark testifies that Jesus was walking around as a free man and talking with His disciples on the day of the Passover sacrifice.

In addition, the Gospel of St. Luke 22:14-16 testifies that Jesus "took His place at table with the Apostles" and said to them, "I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer..." Notice that this scene occurs immediately after St. Luke 22:7-13 which describes the same preparation instructions for the Passover that St. >Matthew 26:18-19 and St. Mark 14:12-16 describe. St. Luke is telling us that Jesus sat with the Apostles to eat the Passover sacrifice with them before He suffered. Therfore the Passover sacrifice was already over and the Feast of Unleavened Bread had just begun. Thus according to the Gospels it is impossible that Jesus was crucified at the same time or even the same day as the Passover sacrifice.

So we know that Jesus was not crucified on the day of the Passover sacrifice, so what day was He crucified? And, what day did He rise from the dead? To answer those questions, let us begin in the Gospel of St. John.

In the Gospel of St. John 19:12-22, we are told that it was the "Day of Preparation" that Jesus was arrested, tried by Pilot, sentenced to death, and crucified. In St. John 19:28-20:18, we are told that Joseph of Arimathaea, a disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus' body right after Jesus' side was pierced by a spear to confirm His death. Joseph took Jesus' body and prepared it for burial according to Jewish custom. St. John then tells us that the day that Joseph took and prepared Jesus' body was also the "Jewish Day of Preparation." Therefore we know that Jesus was crucified, that He died, and He was buried all on the same day. So the key to knowing what day all of this happened it to know what day the Jewish Day of Preparation is.

Some have claimed that the Jewish Day of Preparation was preparation for the Passover. However we know this cannot be true because we have already established that on the day of the Passover sacrifice Jesus was walking about freely with His disciples, and that He participated in the eating of the Passover sacrifice that following evening (AKA, the next day) with His Apostles. So what day was this Day of Preparation? Well, St. Mark 15:42tells us quite plainly:

"...and since it was Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, there came Joseph of Arimathaea..." " St. Mark 15:42

Preparation Day is a day of preparation for a Sabbath, which is a day of religious observance that God forbids servile and strenuous work. Since no servile and strenuous work can be done on a Sabbath, the day prior to a Sabbath was used to prepare in order to make sure that all work that might need to be done on a Sabbath was done the day prior so as to not violate religious observation.

During the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, according toLeviticus 23:7-8 and Numbers 28:16-25, the first and seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are Sabbath days. However we know that it cannot be the preparations days before the first or seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread to which St. Mark is referring. It cannot be the day before the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread because that was the day of the Passover sacrifice which the Gospels attest to Jesus walking around freely with His disciples. And it cannot be the day before the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread because Jesus would have had to been on the cross for a week in order for that to happen, and the Gospels say that Jesus was on the cross for the better part of a day. Indeed He was on the cross for a short time relative to most convicts as Pilate was surprised by the fact that Jesus had died so soon. (St. Mark 15:44) So for what Sabbath was this the Preparation Day?

Leviticus 23:3 states, "You will work for six days, but the seventh will be a day of complete rest, a day for the sacred assembly on which you will do no work at all. Wherever you live, this is a Sabbath for Yahweh." Therefore the seventh day of every week, Saturday, is a Sabbath day. That makes the day prior to Saturday, every Friday, the Day of Preparation. With this we can conclude with certainty that Jesus was crucified and died on Friday, the Day of Preparation, the day before the Saturday Sabbath, just as the Catholic Church has always taught. And since that Friday Day of Preparation was also the day after the Passover sacrifice, we can conclude that the Passover sacrifice prior to Jesus' crucifixion occurred on Thursday, just as the Catholic Church has always taught and as the Catholic Church's Holy Week remembers.

So when was the Resurrection of our Lord? Did He rise from the dead on the Sabbath Saturday like some claim or on Sunday like the Catholic Church teaches? Well, the Gospels are very clear on this matter:

St. Matthew 28:1, "After the Sabbath and towards dawn of the first day of the week..."
St. Mark 16:1-2, "When the Sabbath was over...and very early on the first day of the week..."
St. Luke 24:1, "On the first day of the week, at the first sight of dawn..."
St. John 20:1, "It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark..."

All four Gospels attest that it was in the morning of the first day of the week, Sunday, that the empty tomb was discovered and the Resurrected Christ was encountered.

Now compare the testimony of Sacred Scripture to the Catholic Holy Week:

Holy Thursday -> The evening celebration of the Last Supper where Jesus eats the Passover sacrifice (the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) with His Apostles and performs His third feeding miracle: Then first Consecration of the Eucharist.
Good Friday-> The Commemoration of our Lord's Passion when He was arrested, prosecuted by Pilate, tortured, carried His cross, crucified, died, and was buried.
Holy Saturday-> Jesus in the tomb while Christians in darkness and mourning await the Resurrection of the Lord.
Easter Sunday-> The Celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord!

Notice that they are in exact agreement!

Concerning the Three Days in the Tomb:

Now, there are some that will struggle reconciling these facts to Jesus' prophecy that He would be in the tomb for three days (St. Matthew 12:40, 17:22-23, 27:62-64; St. Mark9:31, St.John 2:19). They look at the situation and think:

Friday to Saturday = Day 1
Saturday to Sunday = Day 2
Or perhaps only 1.5 days depending on when Jesus died and when He rose from the dead.

Such a difficulty comes from a failure to take into account how the Jews of Jesus' time would have counted the days versus how modern cultures would count the days. The difference has to do with the relatively modern concept of zero-place-holder. In the article, "The History of Zero: How was zero discovered?" by Nils-Bertil Wallin, Wallin recounts how the use of zero was not formalized until 650 AD, and that it did not spread to the Middle East until 773 AD.[i] It was even later that the concept of zero-place-holder became common in the minds of men. Therefore, in the time of Jesus, the Jews did not have the concept of zero-place-holder when counting time. Consequently, from the moment that they would start counting hours or days, they would start with the number one instead of the number zero. This, of course, is unlike the modern mind that would start with the number zero and not the number one. So let us count the days Jesus was in the tomb the same way that His first century Jewish contemporaries (and Gospel writers) would have counted the days:

Friday = Day 1
Saturday = Day 2
Sunday = Day 3

And now we see that the 4 Gospels are in complete agreement in regard to how long Jesus was in the tomb, what days the different events surrounding His death and resurrection occurred, as well as what the Church has taught and celebrated in Her liturgies from the earliest centuries of Christianity to today.

Concerning Palm Sunday:

Since we know with certainty that the Passover of Jesus' Last Supper and Passion was on a Thursday, it is also possible to discern that Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem (when He rode on the back of a donkey and the people greeted Him by laying palm branches before Him and crying out "hosana" [St.Mark 10:1-11]) occurred on a Sunday, hence why the Catholic Church celebrates this event on a Sunday and calls it "Palm Sunday". In Michal E. Hunt's 8th Bible study lesson on the Gospel of St. Mark, she points out the following (following 5 paragraphs are directly taken from her study, see footnotes for further information):

St. John's Gospel gives the countdown to the Passover sacrifice on Jesus' last week in Jerusalem: 12:1 Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him .... 12:12 On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel." 14 Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written: 15 "Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon an ass's colt" (Jn 12:1-2, 12-15; underlining added for emphasis and quotation fromZech 9:9 LXX).

On the day before Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, He had dinner at the home of His dear friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Six days later was the Passover sacrifice on the prescribed day of the 14th of Nisan, as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value ( Ex 12:1-6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16).

Question: If Passover was six days from the dinner at Bethany and if the day of His entry into Jerusalem was on the day the Church celebrates as Palm Sunday, what day of the week was the dinner at Bethany and the Passover sacrifice six days later on the 14th of Nisan? Remember to count the days like the ancients with the first day in the cycle starting as day #1. The month was original called Abib (Ex 13:4; 23:15; 34:18) but the name was changed to Nisan during the Babylonian captivity (Neh 2:1; Est 3:7).
Day #1 Saturday, Nisan 9th: Jesus ate the Sabbath dinner with His friends in Bethany
Day #2 Sunday, Nisan 10th: Jesus made His triumphal ride into the city of Jerusalem
Day #3 Monday, Nisan 11th
Day #4 Tuesday, Nisan 12th
Day #5 Wednesday Nisan 13th
Day #6 Thursday, Nisan 14th: The day of the Passover sacrifice

All the Gospels and two thousand years of Christian tradition agree that the Passover sacrifice was on a Thursday, the day before Jesus' crucifixion on Friday which was "Preparation Day" for the Jewish Sabbath (Jn 19:31).[ii]
[End of citation]

Again, this illustrates the Catholic liturgical calendar celebrating Jesus' last week in Jerusalem including Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the arrest, the Crucifixion, the death of Jesus, the burial of Jesus, and His glorious Resurrection are all commemorated by the Catholic Church on exactly the same days that all four Gospels testify that those events happened.

[i] "The History of Zero: How was zero discovered?" by Nils-Bertil Wallin, YaleGlobalOnline
[ii] "The Gospel of Mark: Lesson 8" by Michal E. Hunt, Agape Bible Study, Agape Bible Study, Mark Lesson 8

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