by Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
This is the first day of the Azymes, or Feast of the Unleavened Bread. At sunset, the Jews must eat the Pasch in Jerusalem. Jesus is still in Bethania; but He will return to the City before the hour for the Paschal supper. The Law commands this; and, until He has abrogated the Law by the shedding of His Blood, He wishes to observe its ordinances. He therefore sends two of His Disciples to get everything ready for the Pasch, without, however, telling them the great Mystery, wherewith it is to terminate. We who know it, and that it was at this Last Supper that was instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we can understand why He sends Peter and John, in preference to any of the other Disciples, to prepare what is needed (St. Luke, xxii. 8.). Peter, who was the first to confess the Divinity of Jesus, represents Faith: and John, who leaned upon the breast of the Man-God, represents Love. The mystery, which is to be instituted at tonight’s Supper, is revealed to Love by Faith. It is this that Jesus would have us learn from His choice of the two Apostles; but they themselves see not the intention of their Master.
Jesus, Who knew all things, tells them by what sign they are to know the house, which He intends to honour with His presence: they have but to follow a man, whom they will see carrying a pitcher of water. The house to which this man is going, belongs to a rich Jew, who recognises Jesus as the Messias. The two Apostles apprise him of their Master’s wishes; and immediately he puts at their disposal a large and richly furnished room. It was fitting, that the place, where the most august Mystery was to be instituted, should be something above common. This Room, where the reality was to be substituted for all the ancient figures, was far superior to the Temple of Jerusalem. In it was to be erected the first Altar for the offering up of the clean oblation, foretold by the Prophet (Malach. i. 11): in it was to commence the Christian Priesthood: in it, finally, fifty days later on, the Church of Christ, collected together and visited by the Holy Ghost, was to make herself known to the world, and promulgate the new and universal Covenant of God with men. This favoured sanctuary of our Faith, is still venerated on Mount Sion. The Infidels have profaned it by their false worship, for even they look on it as a sacred place; but as though Divine Providence, which has mercifully preserved unto us so many traces of our Redeemer, would give us an earnest of better days to come, this venerable sanctuary has been recently thrown open to several Priests of the Church, and they have even been permitted to offer up the Holy Sacrifice in the very place where the Eucharist was instituted.
During the course of the day, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, with the rest of his Disciples: He has found all things prepared.
The Paschal Lamb, after being first presented in the Temple, has been brought to the house, where Jesus is to celebrate the Supper: it is prepared, together with the wild lettuce and the unleavened bread. In a few hours, the Divine Master and His Disciples will be standing round the table, their loins girt, and staves in their hands; and, for the last time, they will observe the solemn rite prescribed by God to his people, when they first went forth from Egypt.
But let us wait for the hour of Mass, before going further into the details of this Last Supper. Meanwhile, let us seek edification and instruction in two holy functions, which belong to this great day. The first is the Reconciliation of Penitents, which, although not now in use, needs to be described, in order that our readers may have a proper idea of the Lenten Liturgy. The second is the Consecration of the Holy Oils, which is a ceremony confined to Cathedral Churches, but so interesting to the Faithful, that we should have scrupled to have excluded it from our volume. After having briefly described these, we will return to the history of the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and assist at Mass. Then we shall have to speak of the preparation for the Mass of the Presanctified for tomorrow’s service, of the Stripping the Altars, and of the Mandatum, or Washing of the Feet. We proceed, therefore, to explain these several ceremonies, which make Maundy Thursday to be one of the most sacred days of the Liturgical Year.
THE RECONCILIATION OF PENITENTS.
Three solemn Masses were anciently celebrated on this day; and the first was preceded by the absolution of the public Penitents, and their re-admission into the Church. The following was the order of the service for the Reconciliation of Penitents. They presented themselves at the Church-door, clad in penitential garb, and bare-footed. The hair of both head and beard had been allowed to grow from Ash Wednesday, the day on which they had received their penance. The Bishop recited, in the sanctuary, the seven Psalms, in which David expresses his sorrow for having offended God. These were followed by the Litany of the Saints.
During these prayers, the Penitents were prostrate in the porch, for entrance into the Church was forbidden them. Thrice during the Litany, the Bishop deputed some of the clergy to go and visit them, in his name, and bear them words of hope and consolation. The first time, two Sub-Deacons went to them and said: As I live, saith the Lord, I will not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live. The second time, two other Sub-Deacons were sent, with this message: Thus saith the Lord: Do penance; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Finally, a Deacon was coinmissioned to go to them, and say: Lift up your heads; lo! your redemption is nigh.
After these announcements of approaching pardon, the Bishop left the Sanctuary and went towards the Penitents, as far as half way down the centre nave, where was prepared a seat, turned towards the door which led into the porch, where the Penitents were still lying prostrate. The Pontiff being seated the Archdeacon addressed him in these words:
Venerable Pontiff! The acceptable time has come, the day of God’s mercy and of man’s salvation, when death was destroyed, and eternal life began. This is the time, when, in the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth, new plants are to be set, and the detestableness of the old growth is to be pruned away. For though there be no period of time, which is not rich in the goodness and mercy of God, yet now indulgence produces a more abundant remission of sins, and grace yields a more plentiful number of the regenerated. Those that are regenerated add to our ranks; those that return, increase our numbers. There is a laver of water; there is a laver of tears. From the one, there is joy because of the admittance of them that are called; from the other, there is gladness because of them that repent. Therefore it is, that these thy suppliant servants, after having fallen into sundry kinds of sins, by the neglect of the divine commandments, and the transgression of the moral law, humbled and prostrate, cry out to the Lord in these words of the Prophet: We have sinned: we have done unjustly; we have committed iniquity: have mercy on us, O Lord! It has not been in vain, that they have heard the words of the Gospel: Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. As it is written, they have eaten the bread of sorrow; they have watered their couch with tears; they have afflicted their hearts with mourning, and their bodies with fasting, that thus they might recover the health of soul, which they had lost. The grace of penance, therefore, is one; but it profits each one that receives it, and gives help to all in common.
The Bishop then rose, and advanced towards the Penitents. He spoke to them concerning the mercy of God, and how they should live for the time to come. After this exhortation, he thus addressed them: Come, come, come, my children! I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The Choir then sang this Antiphon, taken from the 33rd Psalm: Come ye to him, and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded. Hereupon, the Penitents got up, and, coming to the Bishop, threw themselves at his feet. The Archpriest then pleaded for them in these words:
Make good in them, O Apostolic Pontiff, all that has been corrupted in them by the temptation of the devil! By the merit of thy prayers and intercession, and by the grace of the divine reconciliation, bring these men nigh unto God. Thus, they who, heretofore, suffered by the sins they committed, may now be happy in the hope, that, having overcome the author of their death, they may please the Lord, in the land of the living.
The Bishop answered: Knowest thou, if they be worthy of reconciliation? The Archpriest replied: I know, and bear witness, that they are worthy. A Deacon then ordered the Penitents to rise. This done, the Bishop took one of them by the hand, who did the same to his neighbour; and thus all, hand in hand, followed the Bishop to the place prepared in the centre of the nave. Meanwhile, the Choir sang the following Antiphons: I say unto you, there is joy to the Angels of God over one sinner doing penance. It behoveth thee, my son, to rejoice; for thy brother was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and is found. The Bishop then offered up to God this prayer, which he sang to the solemn tone of the Preface.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always and in all places give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God, through Christ our Lord: Whom thou, O Almighty Father, didst will should be born among us by an ineffable Birth, that so He might pay to thee, his Eternal Father, the debt contracted by Adam, and put our death to death by His own, and bear our wounds in His own flesh, and cleanse away our stains by his Blood; hereby enabling us, who had fallen by the envy of the old enemy, to rise again by his mercy. Through him, O Lord, we suppliantly beseech and pray thee that Thou mayest graciously hear us making intercession for the sins of others, who are not worthy to plead for our own. Do thou, O most merciful Lord, recall to Thyself, with Thy wonted goodness, these Thy servants, who have separated themselves from Thee by their sins. For neither didst Thou reject the most wicked Achab when he humbled himself before Thee, but didst avert from him the punishment he had deserved. So, likewise, didst thou graciously hear Peter, when he wept, and didst afterwards give to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and Thou didst promise the reward of that same kingdom to the Thief when he trusted in thee. Therefore, O most merciful Lord! mercifully welcome back these for whom we offer to Thee our prayers, and restore them to the bosom of the Church, that the enemy may not triumph over them, but that they may be reconciled unto Thee by thy co-equal Son, and by Him be cleansed from their guilt, and graciously admitted by Him to the banquet of Thy most Holy Supper. May He in such wise refresh them by His Flesh and Blood, as to lead them, after this life’s course is run, to the kingdom of heaven.
After this Prayer, all, both clergy and laity, prostrated themselves, together with the Penitents, before the Divine Majesty, and recited the three Psalms which begin with the word Miserere, (that is, the 50th, the 55th, and the 56th). The Bishop then stood up, and said over the Penitents, (who remained prostrate, as did also all the assistants,) six Prayers, from which we select the following sentences.
Give ear, O Lord, to our supplications, and mercifully hear me, though I myself need mercy above all others. Thou hast chosen me to be the minister of this work, not from any merits thou didst see in me, but by the pure gift of Thy grace. Grant me courage to fulfil my office, and do Thou work, by my ministry, the effects of Thine own mercy. It is Thou that didst bring back, on Thy shoulders, the lost sheep to the fold, and that didst mercifully hear the prayers of the Publican: do Thou, also, restore to life these Thy servants, whom Thou wouldst not have die unto Thee. O thou, Who abandonest not them that are gone astray, receive these who have returned to Thee. We beseech Thee, O Lord, let the tearful sighs of these Thy servants move Thee to clemency: heal their wounds: stretch out Thy saving hand to them, and raise them up. Permit not Thy Church to be injured in any of her members: let not Thy flock suffer loss; let not the enemy exult over the destruction of any of Thy family, nor the second death lay hold of them that have been regenerated in the layer of salvation. Pardon, O Lord, these that confess their sins to Thee: let them not fall into the punishments of the future judgment to come; let them never know the horrors of darkness, or the torments of the flames of hell. They have returned from the way of error to the path of justice; let them not be again wounded, but maintain ever within themselves both what Thy grace hath conferred upon them, and what Thy mercy hath reformed within them.
Having said these Prayers, the Bishop stretched forth his hands over the Penitents, and pronounced the Reconciliation, in this solemn formula:
May our Lord Jesus Christ, Who vouchsafed to take away the sins of the whole world by delivering Himself up for us, and shedding His spotless Blood; Who, also, said unto His Disciples: whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven: and Who hath numbered me, though unworthy, among these His ministers: may he deign, by the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, of the blessed Archangel Michael, of holy Peter the Apostle, (to whom he gave the power of binding and loosing,) and of all the Saints, to absolve you, by the merits of His Blood shed for the remission of sins, from all whatsoever you have negligently committed in thought, or word, or action; and, having loosed you from the bonds of sin, may He graciously lead you to the kingdom of heaven. Who, with God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen
The Bishop then advanced towards the Penitents, who were still lying prostrate: he sprinkled them with holy water, and thurified them. Finally, he addressed them in these words of the Apostle: Arise, ye that sleep! arise from the dead, and Christ shall enlighten you! The Penitents stood up; and, in order to express the joy they felt at being reconciled with their God, they immediately went and changed their penitential garb for one more in accordance with gladness, and with the Holy Communion they were now to receive together with the rest of the Faithful.
THE MASS OF MAUNDY THURSDAY.
The Church intends, on this day, to renew, in a most solemn manner, the mystery of the Last Supper: for our Lord Himself, on this occasion of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, said to His Apostles: Do this for a Commemoration of Me (St. Luke, xxii. 15). Let us, therefore, resume the Gospel narrative.
Jesus is in the Supper chamber, where the Paschal Lamb is to be eaten. All the Apostles are with Him; Judas is there, also, but His crime is not known to the rest. Jesus approaches the table, on which the Lamb is served. His Disciples stand around him. The ceremonies prescribed by God to Moses are religiously observed. At the beginning of the repast, Jesus speaks these words to His Apostles: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer (St. Luke, xxii. 15). In saying this, He does not imply that the Pasch of this year is intrinsically better than those that have preceded it; but, that it is dearer to Him, inasmuch as it is to give rise to the institution of the new Pasch, which He has prepared for mankind, and which He is now going to give them as his last gift: for as St. John says, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end (St. John, xiii. 1).
During the repast, Jesus, Who reads the hearts of all men, utters these words, which cause great consternation among the Disciples: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray Me: he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me (St. Matth. xxvi 21, 23.). The sadness, with which He speaks, is enough to soften any heart; and Judas, who knows his Master’s goodness, feels that they imply a merciful pardon, if he will but ask it. But no: the passion of avarice has enslaved his soul, and he, like the rest of the Apostles, says to Jesus: Is it I, Rabbi? Jesus answers him in a whisper, in order not to compromise him before his brethren: Thou hast said it! But Judas yields not. He intends to remain with Jesus, until the hour comes for betraying Him. Thus, the august mystery, which is on the point of being celebrated, is to be insulted by His presence!
The legal repast is over. It is followed by a feast, which again brings the Disciples around their Divine Master. It was the custom in the East, that guests should repose two and two on couches round the table; these have been provided by the disciple, who has placed his house at Jesus’ service. John is on the same couch as Jesus, so that it is easy for him to lean his head upon his Master’s breast. Peter is on the next couch, on the other side of Jesus, Who is thus between the two Disciples, whom he had sent, in the morning, to prepare the Pasch, and Who, as we have already observed, represent Faith and Love. This second repast is a sorrowful one, in consequence of Jesus having told the guests, that one of them is a traitor. The innocent and affectionate John is overwhelmed with grief, and seeks consolation on the Heart of this dear Lord, Whom some one is about to deliver to His enemies.
But the Apostles little expect a third Supper. Jesus has not told them of His intention; but He had made a promise, and He would fulfill it before His Passion. Speaking, one day, to the people, He had said: I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever, and the Bread that I will give, is my Flesh for the life of the world. * * * My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh and drinketh my Blood, abideth in Me, and I in him (St. John, vi . 51, 52, 54, 56, 57.). The time has come for the fulfilment of this His loving promise. But as it was both His Flesh and His Blood that He promised us, He waited till the time of His sacrifice. His Passion has begun; He is sold to His enemies; His life is already in their hands; he may at once, therefore, offer Himself in sacrifice, and give to His Disciples the very Flesh and Blood of the Victim.
As soon as the second repast was over, Jesus suddenly rises, and, to the astonishment of His Apostles, takes off his upper garment, girds himself, as a servant, with a towel, pours water into a basin, and prepares to wash the feet of the guests. It was the custom, in the East, to wash one’s feet, before taking part in a feast; it was considered as the very extreme of hospitality, when the master of the house himself did this service to his guest. Jesus is about to regale His Apostles with a Divine Banquet; He wishes to treat them with every possible mark of welcome and attention. But in this, as in every other action of His, there is a fund of instruction: He would teach us, by what He is now doing, how great is the purity, wherewith we should approach the Holy Table. He that is washed, says he, needeth not but to wash his feet (Idem, xiii. 10.); as though he would say: “The holiness of this Table is such, that they who come to it, should not only be free from grievous sins, but they should, moreover, strive to cleanse their souls from those lesser faults, which come from contact with the world, and are like the dust that covers the feet of one that walks on the highway.” We will explain further on, the other teachings conveyed by this action of our Lord.
It is with Peter, the future Head of his Church, that Jesus begins. The Apostle protests; he declares that he will never permit his Master to humble Himself so low as this: but he is obliged to yield. The other Apostles, (who, as Peter himself, are reclining upon their couches,) receive the same mark of love: Jesus comes to each of them in turn, and washes their feet. Judas is not excepted: he has just received a second warning from his merciful Master; for Jesus, addressing himself to all the Apostles, said to them: You are clean; but not all (St. John, xiii. 10): but the reproach produced no effect upon this hardened heart. Having finished washing the feet of the Twelve, Jesus resumes His place, side by side with John.
Then taking a piece of the unleavened bread, that had remained over from the feast, He raises His eyes to heaven, blesses the bread, breaks it, and distributes it to his Disciples, saying to them: Take ye, and eat; this is my Body (St. Matth. xxvi. 26.). The Apostles take the bread, which is now changed into the Body of their Divine Master; they eat; and Jesus is, now, not only with them, but in them. But, as this sacred mystery is not only the most holy of the Sacraments, but, moreover, a true Sacrifice; and as a Sacrifice requires the shedding of blood; our Jesus takes the cup, and changing the wine into His own Blood, He passes it round to His Disciples, saying to them: Drink ye, all, of this; for this is My Blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many, unto remission of sins (St. Matth. xxvi. 27, 28). The Apostles drink from the sacred chalice thus proffered them; when it comes to Judas, he too, partakes of it, but he drinks his own damnation, as he ate his own judgment, when he received the Bread of Life (I. Cor. xi. 29). Jesus, however, mercifully offers the traitor another grace, by saying, as He gives the Cup to His Disciples: The hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table (St. Luke, xxii. 21).
Peter is struck by Jesus thus frequently alluding to the crime, which is to be committed by one of the Twelve. He is determined to find out who the traitor is. Not daring himself to ask Jesus, at whose right hand he is sitting, he makes a sign to John, who is on the other side, and begs him to put the question. John leans on Jesus’ breast, and says to Him in a whisper: Lord, who is it? Jesus answers him in an equally suppressed tone: He to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And having taken one of the pieces of bread that remained over from the repast, He dipped it, and gave it to Judas. It was one more grace offered and refused, for the Evangelist adds: And after the morsel, Satan entered into him (St. John, xiii. 27.). Jesus again addresses him, saying: That which thou dost, do quickly (Id. ibid.). The wretch then leaves the room, and sets about the perpetration of his crime.
Such is the history of the Last Supper, of which we celebrate the anniversary on this day. But there is one circumstance of the deepest interest to us, and to which we have, so far, only made an indirect allusion. The institution of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and Sacrifice, is followed by another, the institution of a new Priesthood. How could our Saviour have said: Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his Blood, you shall not have life in you (St. John, vi . 64.), unless He had resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby He would renew, even to the end of time, the great Mystery He thus commands us to receive? He begins it today, in the Cenacle. The twelve Apostles are the first to partake of it: but observe what He says to them: Do this for a commemoration of me (St. Luke, xxii. 19.). By these words, He gives them power to change bread into his Body, and wine into his Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the Mystery of the Last Supper. By thus enriching His Church with the one and perpetual Sacrifice, He also gives us the means of abiding in Him, for He gives us, as He promised, the Bread of heaven. Today, then, we keep the anniversary, not only of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, but, also, of the equally wonderful Institution of the Christian Priesthood.
To offer the Faithful an outward expression of the greatness and the unity of this Supper, which our Saviour gave to his Disciples, and, through them, to us, the Church forbids her Priests to say private Masses on this day, except in cases of necessity. She would have but one Sacrifice to be offered in each church, at which the other Priests are to assist, and receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Celebrant. When approaching the Altar, they put on the Stole, the emblem of their Priesthood.
The Mass of Maundy Thursday is one of the most solemn of the Year; and although the Feast of Corpus Christi is the day for the solemn honouring the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, still, the Church would have the anniversary of the Last Supper to be celebrated with all possible splendour. The colour of the vestments is white, as it is for Chrismas Day and Easter Sunday; the decorations of the Altar and Sanctuary all bespeak joy: and yet, there are several ceremonies during this Mass, which show that the holy Spouse of Christ has not forgotten the Passion of her Jesus, and that this joy is but transient. The Priest entones the Angelic Hymn, Glory be to God in the highest! and the Bells ring forth a joyous peal, which continues during the whole singing of the heavenly Canticle: but, from that moment, they remain silent, and their long silence produces, in every heart, a sentiment of holy mournfulness. But why does the Church deprive us, for so many hours, of the grand melody of these sweet bells, whose voices cheer us during the rest of the year? It is to show us, that this world lost all its melody and joy when its Saviour suffered and was crucified. Moreover, she would hereby remind us, how the Apostles, (who were the heralds of Christ, and are figured by the Bells, whose ringing summons the Faithful to the House of God,) fled from their Divine Master and left him a prey to His enemies.
The Holy Sacrifice continues as usual; but at the solemn moment of the Elevation of the Holy Host and the Chalice of Salvation, the Bell is silent, and, outside the Church, there is not given to the neighbourhood the usual signal of the descent of Jesus upon the Altar. When the time of the Holy Communion is near, the Priest does not give the Kiss of Peace to the Deacon, who, according to the Apostolic tradition, should transmit it, by the Subdeacon, to those that are about to communicate. Our thoughts turn to the traitor Judas, who, on this very day, profaned the sign of friendship by making it an instrument of death. It is out of detestation for this crime, that the Church omits, today, the sign of fraternal charity, it would too painfully remind us of sacrilegious hypocrisy.
Another rite, peculiar to today, is the Priest’s consecrating two Hosts during the Mass. One of these he receives in Communion; the other he reserves, and reverently places it in a Chalice, which he covers with a veil. The reason of this is, that, tomorrow, the Church suspends the daily Sacrifice. Such is the impression produced by the anniversary of our Saviour’s Death, that the Church dares not to renew, upon her Altars, the immolation which was then offered on Calvary: or rather, her renewal of it will be by the fixing all her thoughts on the terrible scene of that Friday Noon. The Host reserved from today’s Mass, will be her morrow’s participation. This rite is called the Mass of the Presanctified, because, in it, the Priest does not consecrate, but only receives the Host consecrated on the previous day. Formerly, as we shall explain more fully further on, the holy Sacrifice was not offered up on Holy Saturday, and yet the Mass of the Presanctified was not celebrated, as it was on the Friday.
But, although the Church suspends, for a few short hours, the oblation of the perpetual Sacrifice, she would not that her Divine Spouse should lose aught of the homage, that is due to Him in the Sacrament of his Love. Catholic piety has found a means of changing these trying hours into a tribute of devotion to the Holy Eucharist. In every Church is prepared a richly ornamented side-chapel or pavilion, where, after today’s Mass, the Church places the Body of her Divine Lord. Though veiled from their view, the Faithful will visit him in this His holy resting place, pay Him their most humble adorations, and present Him their most fervent supplications. Wheresoever the Body shall be, there shall the eagles be gathered together (St. Matth. xxiv. 28). In every part of the Catholic world, a concert of prayer, more loving and earnest than at any other period of the Year, will be offered to our Jesus, in reparation for the outrages he underwent, during these very hours, from the Jews. Around this anticipated Tomb will be united both His long tried and fervent servants, and those who are newly converted, or are preparing for their reconciliation.
Judas has left the Cenacle, and, profiting of the darkness, has reached the place where the enemies of his Saviour are assembled. Jesus then turns to his faithful Apostles, and says to them: Now is the Son of Man glorified (St. John, xiii. 31). Yes, His Passion is to be followed by triumph and glory; and the Passion has already begun, for Judas has commenced his work of betraying him. Meanwhile, the Apostles, forgetting the trouble, into which they had been thrown by Jesus’ telling them, that one of the Twelve was about to betray him, begin to dispute among themselves, which of them should seem to be greater (St. Luke, xxii. 24.)? They have not forgotten the words spoken by Jesus to Peter, when He made Him the Rock, on which He would build His Church; and here, at the Supper, they have seen their Divine Master wash the feet of Peter first. On the other hand, John’s affectionate familiarity with Jesus, during this same Supper, has made some of them argue, that he who was most loved, would be most honoured.
Jesus puts an end to this dispute, by giving to these future Pastors of His Church a lesson of humility. There shall, it is true, be a Head among them; but, says our Redeemer, let him that is the greater among you, become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth. He bids them look at Him: He is their Master, and yet, says He, I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth (St. Luke, xxii. 26, 27.). Then turning towards Peter, He thus addresses him: Simon, Simon! behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy Brethren (Ibid., 31, 32.). This last interview is, as it were, our Saviour’s Testament; He provides for His Church, before leaving her. The Apostles are to be Peter’s Brethren, but Peter is to be their Head. This sublime dignity is to be enhanced by the humility of him that enjoys it: he shall be “The Servant of the Servants of God.” The Apostolic College is to be exposed to the fury of hell; but Peter alone is to confirm his Brethren in the faith. His teaching shall ever be conformable to Divine Truth; it shall be ever Infallible: Jesus has prayed that it may be so. Such a prayer is all-powerful; and thereby, the Church, ever docile to the voice of Peter, shall for ever maintain the doctrine of Christ. Jesus, after having provided for the future of His Church by the words He addressed to Peter, thus speaks affectionately to all the eleven: Little children! yet a little while I am with you. Love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one for another. Peter says to Him: Lord! whither goest thou? Whither I go, answers Jesus, thou canst not now follow me; but thou shalt follow hereafter. Why cannot I follow Thee now? again asks Peter: I will lay down my life for Thee. Wilt thou, replies Jesus, lay down thy life for Me? Amen, amen, I say to thee: the cock shall not crow, till thou deny Me thrice (St. John, xiii. 33-38.). Peter’s love for Jesus had too much of the human about it, for it was not based on humility. Presumption comes from pride: it almost always results in a fall. In order to prepare Peter for his future ministry of pardon, as also to give us a useful lesson, God permits that he, who was soon to be made Prince of the Apostles, should fall into a most grievous and humiliating sin.
But let us return to the instructions contained in the last words spoken by our Jesus before He leaves His disciples. I am, says He, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you love Me, keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. If you loved Me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father. I will not now speak many things with you, for the prince of this world cometh, and in Me he hath not anything. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given Me commandment, so do I, arise, let us go hence (St. John, xiv.). Deeply impressed by these words, the Disciples arise, and, after the hymn of thanksgiving has been said, they accompany Jesus to Mount Olivet.
He continues His instructions as they go along. He takes occasion from their passing by a Vine to speak of the effect produced by divine grace in the soul of man. I am the true vine, He says, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me, that beareth not fruit, He will take away, and every one that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine; so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing. If any one abideth not in Me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth. You have not chosen Me: but I have chosen you, and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit, and your fruit should remain (St. John, xv.).
He next speaks to them of the persecutions that await them, and of the hatred the world will have of them. He renews the promise he had made them of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and tells them that it is to their advantage that He Himself should leave them. He assures them, that they shall obtain whatever they ask of the Father in His name. The Father, He adds, loveth you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and Am come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father. The Disciples say to him: Now we know that Thou knowest all things, and Thou needest not that any man should ask Thee. By this we believe that Thou comest forth from God. Do you now believe? answered Jesus: behold! the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone (St. John, xvi). All you shall be scandalised in Me this night: for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed.” But after I shall be risen again, I will go before you into Galilee (St. Matth. xxvi. 31, 32.).
Peter again protests that he will be faithful to his Master; the rest may abandon Him, if they will, but he will keep with Him to the last! It should, indeed, be so, for he has received so much more from Jesus than the others have: but he is again humbled by being told of his coming speedy fall. Jesus then calmly raising up His eyes to heaven, says: Father! the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee. I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do; I have manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou hast given Me. They have known that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me. I pray for them; I pray not for the world. And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father! keep them in Thy name, whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We also are. While I was with them, I kept them in Thy name. Those whom Thou gavest Me, have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the Scripture may be fulfilled. I have given them Thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil. Not for them only do I pray, but for them also who, through their word, shall believe in Me: that they all may be one, as Thou, Father! in Me, and I in Thee: that they also may be one in Us: that the world may know, that Thou hast sent Me. Father! I will, that where I am, they also, Whom thou hast given Me, may be with Me; that they may see the glory which Thou hast given Me, because thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world. Just Father! the world hath not known Me; but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. And I have made known Thy name to them, and will make it known, that the love, wherewith Thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them (St. John, xvii.).
Such are the out-pourings of the loving Heart of our Jesus, as He crosses the Brook Cedron, and ascends, with His Disciples, the Mount of Olives. Having come as far as Gethsemani, He goes into a garden, whither He had often led His Apostles and rested there with them. Suddenly, His Soul is overpowered with grief; His Human Nature experiences, as it were, a suspension of that beatitude, which results from its union with the Divinity. This His Humanity will be interiorly supported, even to the very last moment of His Passion; but it must bear everything that it is possible for it to bear. Jesus feels such intense sadness, that the very presence of His Disciples is insupportable; He leaves them, taking with Him only Peter, James, and John, who, a short time before, had been witnesses of His glorious Transfiguration: will they show greater courage than the rest, when they see their Divine Master in the hands of His enemies? His words show them what a sudden change has come over Him. He whose language was, a few moments before, so calm, His look so serene, and His tone of voice so sweet, now says to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with Me (St. Matth. xxvi. 38.).
He leaves them, and goes to a grotto, which is about a stone’s throw distant. Even to this day it exists, perpetuating the memory of the terrible event. There does our Jesus prostrate Himself, and prays, saying: Father! all things are possible to Thee. Remove this chalice from Me: but, not what I will, but what Thou wilt (St. Mark, xiv. 36.). Whilst thus praying, a sweat of Blood flows from his body and bathes the ground. It is not merely a swooning, it is an Agony, that He suffers. God sends help to His sinking frame, and it is an Angel that is intrusted with the office. Jesus is treated as man; His Humanity, exhausted as it is, is to receive no other sensible aid than that which is now brought Him by an Angel, (whom tradition affirms to have been Gabriel.) Hereupon He rises, and again accepts the Chalice prepared for Him. But what a Chalice! every pain that body and soul can suffer; the sins of the whole world taken upon Himself, and crying out vengeance against Him; the ingratitude of men, many of whom will make His Sacrifice useless. Jesus has to accept all this, and at the very time, when He seems to be left to His Human Nature. The power of the Divinity, which is in Him, supports Him; but it does not prevent Him from feeling every suffering, just as though He had been mere Man. He begins his Prayer by asking, that the Chalice may be taken from Him; He ends it by saying to His Father: Not My will, but Thine be done (St. Luke, xxii. 42.)!
Jesus then rises, leaving the earth covered with the Blood of His Agony: it is the first Bloodshedding of His Passion. He goes to His three Disciples, and, finding them asleep, says to them: What! could you not watch one hour with Me (St. Matth. xxvi. 40)? This was the beginning of that feature of His sufferings, which consists in His being abandoned. He twice returns to the grotto, and repeats His sorrowful, but submissive, prayer; twice He returns to His Disciples, whom He had asked to watch near Him, but, at each time, finds them asleep. At length, He speaks to them, saying: Sleep ye now, and take your rest! Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Then resuming the energy of His divine courage, He adds: Rise! let us go! Behold, he is at hand that will betray Me (Id. ibid. 46)!
Whilst speaking these last few words, a numerous body of armed men enter the Garden with torches in their hands. Judas is at their head. The betrayal is made by a profanation of the sign of friendship. Judas! dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss (St. Luke, xxii. 48)? These piercing words should have made the traitor throw himself at his Master’s feet, and ask pardon; but it was too late: he feared the soldiers. But the servants of the High Priest cannot lay hands on Jesus, unless He, their Victim, permit them to do so. With one single word, He casts them prostrate on the ground. Then permitting them to rise, He says to them, with all the majesty of a King: If you seek Me, let these go their way. You are come out, as it were against a thief, with swords and clubs. When I was daily with you in the Temple, you did not stretch forth your hands against Me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Then turning to Peter, who had drawn and used his sword, He says to him: Thinkest thou, that I cannot ask My Father, and He will give me presently twelve legions of Angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled (St. John, xviii. 8.; St. Luke, xxii. 52, 53.; St . Matth. xxvi. 53.)?
And now, Jesus permits Himself to be led. Whereupon, His Apostles run away in fear. Peter and another disciple follow Him, but as far off as they can. The soldiers lead Jesus by the same road, along which He had passed on the previous Sunday, when the people met Him, with palm and olive branches in their hands. They cross the brook Cedron; and there is a tradition of the Church of Jerusalem, that the soldiers as they passed the bridge, threw Jesus into the water. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of David: He shall drink of the torrent in the way (Ps. cix. 7.).
They reach the City walls. The gate is opened, and the Divine Prisoner enters. It is night, and the inhabitants know not the crime that has been committed. It is only on the morrow, that they will learn, that Jesus of Nazareth, the great Prophet, has fallen into the hands of the Chief Priests and Pharisees. The night is far advanced; but many hours must elapse before the dawn of day. The enemies of Jesus have arranged to take Him, in the morning, to Pontius Pilate, and accuse Him as being a disturber of the peace: but in the meanwhile, they intend to condemn Him as guilty in matters of religion! Their tribunal has authority to judge in cases of this nature, only they cannot pass sentence of death upon a culprit, how guilty soever they may prove Him. They, consequently, hurry Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiphas. Here is to take place the first examination. These blood-thirsty men have spent these hours in sleepless anxiety. They have counted the very minutes since the departure of their minions for Mount Olivet. They are not without some doubt as to whether their plot will succeed. At last, their Victim is brought before them, and He shall not escape their vengeance!
Here let us interrupt our History of the Passion, till the morrow shall bring us to the solemn hour, when the great Mystery of our instruction and salvation was accomplished. What a day is this that we have been spending! How full of Jesus’ love! He has given us his Body and Blood to be our Food; He has instituted the Priesthood of the New Testament; He has poured out upon the world the sublimest instructions of His loving Heart. We have seen Him struggling with the feelings of human weakness, as He beheld the Chalice of the Passion that was prepared for Him; but He triumphed over all, in order to save us. We have seen Him betrayed, fettered, and led captive into the holy City, there to consummate His Sacrifice. Let us adore and love this Jesus, Who might have saved us by one and the least of all these humiliations; but whose love for us was not satisfied unless He drank, to the very dregs, the Chalice He had accepted from His Father.