Catholic Encyclopedia: Supper, The Last
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 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 ; 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 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, , tr. GRIFFITH, II (London, 1895), 386;
MADAME CECILIA, ; , II, 197; , XX (Edinburgh, 1909), 514;
(1877), 425; LANGEN, (Freiburg, 1864), 27; KRAUS,
, s. v. ; , XLIX, 146;
CHWOLSON in , 7th ser.,
XLI, p. 37; VIGOUROUX, (Paris, 1899), s. vv. ; ,
where a full bibliography may be found.
Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
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