The Last Supper
The meal held by Christ and His disciples on the eve of His
Passion at which He instituted the Holy Eucharist.
The Evangelists and critics generally agree that the Last Supper
was on a Thursday, that Christ suffered and died on Friday, and
that He arose from the dead on Sunday. As to the day of the month
there seems a difference between the record of the synoptic
Gospels and that of St. John. In consequence some critics have
rejected the authenticity of either account or of both. Since
Christians, accepting the inspiration of the Scriptures, cannot
admit contradictions in the sacred writers, various attempts have
been made to reconcile the statements. Matt., xxvi 17, says, "And
on the first day of the Azymes"; Mark, xiv, 12, "Now on the first
day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the pasch ";
Luke, xxii, 7, " And the day of the unleavened bread came, on
which it was necessary that the pasch should be killed". From
these passages it seems to follow that Jesus and his disciples
conformed to the ordinary custom, that the Last Supper took place
on the 14th of Nisan, and that the Crucifixion was on the l5th,
the great festival of the Jews. This opinion, held by Tolet,
Cornelius a Lapide, Patrizi, Corluy, Hengstenberg, Ohlshausen, and
Tholuck, is confirmed by the custom of the early Eastern Church
which, looking to the day of the month, celebrated the
commemoration of the Lord's Last Supper on the 14th of Nisan,
without paying any attention to the day of the week. This was done
in conformity with the teaching of St. John the Evangelist. But in
his Gospel, St. John seems to indicate that Friday was the 14th of
Nisan, for (xviii, 28) on the morning of this day the Jews "went
not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they
might eat the pasch ". Various things were done on this Friday
which could not be done on a feast, viz., Christ is arrested,
tried, crucified; His body is taken down" (because it was the
parasceve) that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the
sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day)"; the shroud and
ointments are bought, and so on.
The defenders of this opinion claim that there is only an apparent
contradiction and that the differing statements may be reconciled.
For the Jews calculated their festivals and Sabbaths from sunset
to sunset: thus the Sabbath began after sunset on Friday and ended
at sunset on Saturday. This style is employed by the synoptic
Gospels, while St. John, writing about twenty-six years after the
destruction of Jerusalem, when Jewish law and customs no longer
prevailed, may well have used the Roman method of computing time
from midnight to midnight. The word pasch does not exclusively
apply to the paschal lamb on the eve of the feast, but is used in
the Scriptures and in the Talmud in a wider sense for the entire
festivity, including the chagigah; any legal defilement could have
been removed by the evening ablutions; trials, and even executions
and many servile works, though forbidden on the Sabbath, were not
forbidden on feasts (Num., xxviii, 16; Deut., xvi, 23). The word
parasceve may denote the preparation for any Sabbath and may be
the common designation for any Friday, and its connexion with
pasch need not mean preparation for the Passover but Friday of the
Passover season and hence this Sabbath was a great Sabbath.
Moreover it seems quite certain that if St. John intended to give
a different date from that given by the Synoptics and sanctioned
by the custom of his own Church at Ephesus, he would have said so
expressly. Others accept the apparent statement of St. John that
the Last Supper was on the 13th of Nisan and try to reconcile the
account of the Synoptics. To this class belong Paul of Burgos,
Maldonatus, Petau, Hardouin, Tillemont, and others. Peter of
Alexandria (P.G., XCII, 78) says: "In previous years Jesus had
kept the Passover and eaten the paschal lamb, but on the day
before He suffered as the true Paschal Lamb He taught His
disciples the mystery of the type." Others say: Since the Pasch,
falling that year on a Friday, was reckoned as a Sabbath, the
Jews, to avoid the inconvenience of two successive Sabbaths, had
postponed the Passover for a day, and Jesus adhered to the day
fixed by law; others think that Jesus anticipated the celebration,
knowing that the proper time He would be in the grave.
The owner of the house in which was the upper room of the Last
Supper is not mentioned in Scripture; but he must have been one of
the disciples, since Christ bids Peter and John say, "The Master
says". Some say it was Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, or the
mother of John Mark. The hall was large and furnished as a dining-
room. In it Christ showed Himself after His Resurrection; here
took place the election of Matthias to the Apostolate and the
sending of the Holy Ghost; here the first Christians assembled for
the breaking of bread; hither Peter and John came when they had
given testimony after the cure of the man born lame, and Peter
after his liberation from prison; here perhaps was the council of
the Apostles held. It was for awhile the only church in Jerusalem,
the mother of all churches, known as the Church of the Apostles or
of Sion. It was visited in 404 by St. Paula of Rome. In the
eleventh century it was destroyed by the Saracens, later rebuilt
and given to the care of the Augustinians. Restored after a second
destruction, it was placed in charge of the Franciscans, who were
driven out in 1561. At present it is a Moslem mosque.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Some critics give the following harmonized order: washing of the
feet of the Apostles, prediction of the betrayal and departure of
Judas, institution of the Holy Eucharist. Others, believing that
Judas made a sacrilegious communion, place the institution of the
sacrament before the departure of Judas.
The Last Supper has been a favourite subject. In the catacombs we
find representations of meals giving at least an idea of the
Surroundings of an ancient dining hall. Of the sixth century we
have a bas-relief in the church at Monza in Italy, a Picture in a
Syrian codex of the Laurentian Library at Florence, and a mosaic
in S. Apollmare Nuovo at Ravenna. One of the most popular pictures
is that of Leonardo da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
Among the modern school of German artist, the Last Supper of
Gebhardt is regarded as a masterpiece.
FOUARD, The Christ, the Son of God, tr. GRIFFITH, II (London,
1895), 386; MADAME CECILIA, Cath. Scripture Manuals; St. Matthew,
II, 197; The Expository Times, XX (Edinburgh, 1909), 514; Theolog.
praktische Quartalschrift (1877), 425; LANGEN, Die letzten
Lebenstage Jesu (Freiburg, 1864), 27; KRAUS, Gesch. der chr.
Kunst, s. v. Abendmahl; Stimmen aus Maria Laach, XLIX, 146;
CHWOLSON in Mem. de l'Acad. imper. des Sciences de St.
Petersbourg, 7th ser., XLI, p. 37; VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible
(Paris, 1899), s. vv. Cène; Cenacle, where a full bibliography may
Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the
Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright © 1996 by
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