Preparations for the Pasch
Holy Thursday, the 13th Nisan (29th of March)
Yesterday evening it was that the last great public repast of our Lord and his friends took place in the house of Simon the Leper, at Bethania, and Mary Magdalen for the last time anointed the feet of Jesus with precious ointment. Judas was scandalised upon this occasion, and hastened forthwith to Jerusalem again to conspire with the high-priests for the betrayal of Jesus into their hands. After the repast, Jesus returned to the house of Lazarus, and some of the Apostles went to the inn situated beyond Bethania. During the, night Nicodemus again came to Lazarus’s house, had a long conversation with our Lord, and returned before daylight to Jerusalem, being accompanied part of the way by Lazarus.
The disciples had already asked Jesus where he would eat the Pasch. Today, before dawn, our Lord sent for Peter, James, and John, spoke to them at some length concerning all they had to prepare and order at Jerusalem and told them that when ascending Mount Sion, they would meet the man carrying a pitcher of water. They were already well acquainted with this man, for at the last Pasch, at Bethania, it had been him who prepared the meal for Jesus, and this is why St. Matthew says: a certain man. They were to follow him home, and say to him: The Master saith, My time is near at hand, with thee I make the pasch with my disciples (Matt. xxvi. 18). They were then to be shown the supper-room, and make all necessary preparations.
I saw the two Apostles ascending towards Jerusalem, along a ravine, to the south of the Temple, and in the direction of the north side of Sion. On the southern side of the mountain on which the Temple stood, there were some rows of houses; and they walked opposite these houses, following the stream of an intervening torrent. When they had reached the summit of Mount Sion, which is higher than the mountain of the Temple, they turned their steps towards the south, and, just at the beginning of a small ascent, met the man who had been named to them; they followed and spoke to him as Jesus had commanded. He was much gratified by their words, and answered, that a supper had already been ordered to be prepared at his house (probably by Nicodemus), but that he had not been aware for whom, and was delighted to learn that it was for Jesus. This man’s name was Heli, and he was the brother-in-law of Zachary of Hebron, in whose house Jesus had in the preceding year announced the death of John the Baptist. He had only one son, who was a Levite, and a friend of St. Luke, before the latter was called by our Lord, and five daughters, all of whom were unmarried. He went up every year with his servants for the festival of the Pasch, hired a room and prepared the Pasch for persons who had no friend in the town to lodge with. This year he had hired a supper-room which belonged to Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. He showed the two Apostles its position and interior arrangement.
Pictured above is the Last Supper Room in Jerusalem
ON the southern side of Mount Sion, not far from the ruined Castle of David, and the market held on the ascent leading to that Castle, there stood, towards the east, an ancient and solid building, between rows of thick trees, in the midst of a spacious court surrounded by strong walls. To the right and left of the entrance, other buildings were to be seen adjoining the wall, particularly to the right, where stood the dwelling of the major-domo, and close to it the house in which the Blessed Virgin and the holy women spent most of their time after the death of Jesus. The supper-room, which was originally larger, had formerly been inhabited by David’s brave captains, who had there learned the use of arms.
Previous to the building of the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant had been deposited there for a considerable length of time, and traces of its presence were still to be found in an underground room. I have also seen the Prophet Malachy hidden beneath this same roof: he there wrote his prophecies concerning the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrifice of the New Law. Solomon held this house in honour, and performed within its walls some figurative and symbolical action, which I have forgotten. When a great part of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, this house was spared. I have seen many other things concerning this same house, but I only remember what I have now told.
This building was in a very dilapidated state when it became the property of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who arranged the principal building in a very suitable manner, and let it as a supper-room to strangers coming to Jerusalem for the purpose of celebrating the festival of the Pasch. Thus it was that our Lord had made use of it the previous year. Moreover, the house and surrounding buildings served as warehouses for monuments and other stones, and as workshops for the labourers; for Joseph of Arimathea possessed valuable quarries in his own country, from which he had large blocks of stone brought, that his workmen might fashion them, under his own eye, into tombs, architectural ornaments, and columns, for sale. Nicodemus had a share in this business, and used to spend many leisure hours himself in sculpturing. He worked in the room, or in a subterraneous apartment which was beneath it, excepting at the times of the festivals; and this occupation having brought him into connection with Joseph of Arimathea, they had become friends, and often joined together in various transactions.
This morning, whilst Peter and John were conversing with the man who had hired the supper-room, I saw Nicodemus in the buildings to the left of the court, where a great many stones which filled up the passages leading to the supper-room had been placed. A week before, I had seen several persons engaged in putting the stones on one side, cleaning the court, and preparing the supper-room for the celebration of the Pasch; it even appears to me that there were among them some disciples of our Lord, perhaps Aram and Theme in, the cousins of Joseph of Arimathea.
The supper-room, properly so called, was nearly in the centre of the court; its length was greater than its width; it was surrounded by a row of low pillars, and if the spaces between the pillars had been cleared, would have formed apart of the large inner room, for the whole edifice was, as it were, transparent; only it was usual, except on special occasions, for the passages to be closed up. The room was lighted by apertures at the top of the walls. In front, there was first a vestibule, into which three doors gave entrance next, the large inner room, where several lamps hung from the platform; the walls were ornamented for the festival, half way up, with beautiful matting or tapestry and an aperture had been made in the roof, and covered over with transparent blue gauze.
The back part of this room was separated from the rest by a curtain, also of blue transparent gauze. This division of the supper-room into three parts gave a resemblance to the Temple—thus forming the outer Court, the Holy, and the Holy of Holies. In the last of these divisions, on both sides, the dresses and other things necessary for the celebration of the feast were placed. In the centre there was a species of altar. A stone bench raised on three steps, and of a rectangular triangular shape, came out of the wall: it must have constituted the upper part of the oven used for roasting the Paschal Lamb, for today the steps were quite heated during the repast. I cannot describe in detail all that there was in this part of the room, but all kinds of arrangements were being made there for preparing the Paschal Supper. Above this hearth or altar, there was a species of niche in the wall, in front of which I saw an image of the Paschal Lamb, with a knife in its throat, and the blood appearing to flow drop by drop upon the altar; but I do not remember distinctly how that was done. In a niche in the wall there were three cupboards of various colours, which turned like our tabernacles, for opening or closing. A number of vessels used in the celebration of the Pasch were kept in them; later, the Blessed Sacrament was placed there.
In the rooms at the sides of the supper-room, there were some couches, on which thick coverlids rolled up were placed, and which could be used as beds. There were spacious cellars beneath the whole of this building. The Ark of the Covenant was formerly deposited under the very spot where the hearth was afterwards built. Five gutters, under the house, served to convey the refuse to the slope of the hill, on the upper part of which the house was built. I had previously seen Jesus preach and perform miraculous cures there, and the disciples frequently passed the night in the side rooms.
Arrangements for eating the Paschal Lamb
WHEN the disciples had spoken to Heli of Hebron, the latter went back into the house by the court, but they turned to the right, and hastened down the north side of the hill, through Sion. They passed over a bridge, and walking along a road covered with brambles, reached the other side of the ravine, which was in front of the Temple, and of the row of houses which were to the south of that building. There stood the house of the aged Simeon, who died in the Temple after the presentation of our Lord; and his sons, some of whom were disciples of Jesus in secret, were actually living there. The Apostles spoke to one of them, a tall dark-complexioned man, who held some office in the Temple. They went with him to the eastern side of the Temple, through that part of Ophel by which Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem on Palm-Sunday, and thence to the cattle-market, which stood in the town, to the north of the Temple. In the southern part of this market I saw little enclosures in which some beautiful lambs were gambolling about. Here it was that lambs for the Pasch were bought. I saw the son of Simeon enter one of the seen closures; and the lambs gambolled round him as if they knew him. He chose out four, which were carried to the supper-room. In the afternoon I saw him in the supper-room, engaged in preparing the Paschal Lamb.
I saw Peter and John go to several different parts of the town, and order various things. I saw them also standing opposite the door of a house situated to the north of Mount Calvary, where the disciples of Jesus lodged the greatest part of the time, and which belonged to Seraphia (afterwards called Veronica). Peter and John sent some disciples from thence to the supper-room, giving them several commissions, which I have forgotten.
They also went into Seraphia’s house, where they had several arrangements to make. Her husband, who was a member of the council, was usually absent and engaged in business; but even when he was at home she saw little of him. She was a woman of about the age of the Blessed Virgin, and had long been connected with the Holy Family; for when the Child Jesus remained the three days in Jerusalem after the feast, she it was who supplied him with food.
The two Apostles took from thence, among other things, the chalice of which our Lord made use in the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
The Chalice used at the Last Supper
(Pictured above is the holy chalice believed to have been the one used by Jesus at the Last Supper.Peter safeguarded it after Jesús died and it was used by popes throughout church history.It is now housed in Valencia Spain)
The chalice which the Apostles brought from Veronica’s house was wonderful and mysterious in its appearance. It had been kept a long time in the Temple among other precious objects of great antiquity, the use and origin of which had been forgotten. The same has been in some degree the case in the Christian Church, where many consecrated jewels have been forgotten and fallen into disuse with time. Ancient vases and jewels, buried beneath the Temple, had often been dug up, sold, or reset. Thus it was that, by God’s permission, this holy vessel, which none had ever been able to melt down on account of its being made of some unknown material, and which had been found by the priests in the treasury of the Temple among other objects no longer made use of, had been sold to some antiquaries. It was bought by Seraphia, was several times made use of by Jesus in the celebration of festivals, and, from the day of the Last Supper, became the exclusive property of the holy Christian community. This vessel was not always the same as when used by our Lord at his Last Supper, and perhaps it was upon that occasion that the various pieces which composed it were first put together. The great chalice stood upon a plate, out of which a species of tablet could also be drawn, and around it there were six little glasses. The great chalice contained another smaller vase; above it there was a small plate, and then came a round cover. A spoon was inserted in the foot of the chalice, and could be easily drawn out for use. All these different vessels were covered with fine linen, and, if I am not mistaken, were wrapped up in a case made of leather. The great chalice was composed of the cup and of the foot, which last must have been joined on to it at a later period, for it was of a different material. The cup was pear-shaped, massive, dark-coloured, and highly polished, with gold ornaments, and two small handles by which it could be lifted. The foot was of virgin gold, elaborately worked, ornamented with a serpent and a small bunch of grapes, and enriched with precious stones.
The chalice was left in the Church of Jerusalem, in the hands of St James the Less; and I see that it is still preserved in that town—it will reappear someday, in the same manner as before. Other Churches took the little cups which surrounded it; one was taken to Antioch, and another to Ephesus. They belonged to the patriarchs, who drank some mysterious beverage out of them when they received or gave a Benediction, as I have seen many times.
The great chalice had formerly been in the possession of Abraham; Melchisedech brought it with him from the land of Semiramis to the land of Canaan, when he was beginning to found some settlements on the spot where Jerusalem was afterwards built; he made use of it then for offering sacrifice, when he offered bread and wine in the presence of Abraham, and he left it in the possession of that holy patriarch. This same chalice had also been preserved in Noah’s Ark.
Jesus goes up to Jerusalem
IN the morning, while the Apostles were engaged at Jerusalem in preparing for the Pasch, Jesus, who had remained at Bethania, took an affecting leave of the holy women, of Lazarus, and of his Blessed Mother, and gave them some final instructions. I saw our Lord conversing apart with his Mother, and he told her, among other things, that he had sent Peter, the apostle of faith, and John, the apostle of love, to prepare for the Pasch at Jerusalem. He said, in speaking of Magdalen, whose grief was excessive, that her love was great, but still somewhat human, and that on this account her sorrow made her beside herself. He spoke also of the schemes of the traitor Judas, and the Blessed Virgin prayed for him. Judas had again left Bethania to go to Jerusalem, under pretence of paying some debts that were due. He spent his whole day in hurrying backwards and forwards from one Pharisee to another, and making his final agreements with them. He was shown the soldiers who had been engaged to seize the person of our Divine Saviour, and he so arranged his journeys to and fro as to be able to account for his absence. I beheld all his wicked schemes and all his thoughts. He was naturally active and obliging, but these good qualities were choked by avarice, ambition, and envy, which passions he made no effort to control. In our Lord’s absence he had even performed miracles and healed the sick.
When our Lord announced to his Blessed Mother what was going to take place, she besought him, in the most touching terms, to let her die with him. But he exhorted her to show more calmness in her sorrow than the other women, told her that he should rise again, and named the very spot where he should appear to her. She did not weep much, but her grief was indescribable, and there was something almost awful in her look of deep recollection. Our Divine Lord returned thanks, as a loving Son, for all the love she had borne him, and pressed her to his heart. He also told her that he would make the Last Supper with her, spiritually, and named the hour at which she would receive his precious Body and Blood. Then once more he, in touching language, bade farewell to all, and gave them different instructions.
About twelve o’clock in the day, Jesus and the nine Apostles went from Bethania up to Jerusalem, followed by seven disciples, who, with the exception of Nathaniel and Silas, came from Jerusalem and the neighbourhood. Among these were John, Mark, and the son of the poor widow who, the Thursday previous, had offered her mite in the Temple, whilst Jesus was preaching there. Jesus had taken him into his company a few days before. The holy women set off later.
Jesus and his companions walked around Mount Olivet about the valley of Josaphat, and even as far as Mount Calvary. During the whole of this walk, he continued giving them instructions. He told the Apostles, among other things, that until then he had given them his bread and his wine, but that this day he was going to give them his Body and Blood, his whole self—all that he had and all that he was. The countenance of our Lord bore so touching an expression whilst he was speaking, that his whole soul seemed to breathe forth from his lips, and he appeared to be languishing with love and desire for the moment when he should give himself to man. His disciples did not understand him, but thought that he was speaking of the Paschal Lamb. No words can give an adequate idea of the love and resignation which were expressed in these last discourses of our Lord at Bethania, and on his way to Jerusalem.
The seven disciples who had followed our Lord to Jerusalem did not go there in his company, but carried the ceremonial habits for the Pasch to the supper-room, and then returned to the house of Mary, the mother of Mark. When Peter and John came to the supper-room with the chalice, all the ceremonial habits were already in the vestibule, whither they had been brought by his disciples and some companions. They had also hung the walls with drapery, cleared the higher openings in the sides, and put up three lamps. Peter and John then went to the Valley of Josaphat, and summoned our Lord and the twelve Apostles. The disciples and friends who were also to make their Pasch in the supper-room, came later.
The Last Pasch
Jesus and his disciples ate the Paschal Lamb in the supper-room. They divided into three groups. Jesus ate the Paschal Lamb with the twelve Apostles in the supper-room, properly so called; Nathaniel with twelve other disciples in one of the lateral rooms, and Eliacim (the son of Cleophas and Mary, the daughter of Heli), who had been a disciple of John the Baptist, with twelve more, in another side-room.
Three lambs were immolated for them in the Temple, but there was a fourth lamb which was immolated in the supper-room, and was the one eaten by Jesus with his Apostles. Judas was not aware of this circumstance, because being engaged in plotting his betrayal of our Lord, he only returned a few moments before the repast, and after the immolation of the lamb had taken place. Most touching was the scene of the immolation of the lamb to be eaten by Jesus and his Apostles; it took place in the vestibule of the supper-room. The Apostles and disciples were present, singing the 118th Psalm. Jesus spoke of a new period then beginning, and said that the sacrifice of Moses and the figure of the Paschal Lamb were about to receive their accomplishment, but that on this very account, the lamb was to be immolated in the same manner as formerly in Egypt, and that they were really about to go forth from the house of bondage.
The vessels and necessary instruments were prepared, and then the attendants brought a beautiful little lamb, decorated with a crown, which was sent to the Blessed Virgin in the room where she had remained with the other holy women. The lamb was fastened with its back against a board by a cord around its body, and reminded me of Jesus tied to the pillar and scourged. The son of Simeon held the lamb’s head; Jesus made a slight incision in its neck with the point of a knife, which he then gave to the son of Simeon, that he might complete killing it. Jesus appeared to inflict the wound with a feeling of repugnance, and he was quick in his movements, although his countenance was grave, and his manner such as to inspire respect. The blood flowed into a basin, and the attendants brought a branch of hyssop, which Jesus dipped in it. Then he went to the door of the room, stained the side-posts and the lock with blood, and placed the branch which had been dipped in blood above the door. He then spoke to the disciples, and told them, among other things, that the exterminating angel would pass by, that they would adore in that room without fear or anxiety, when he, the true Paschal Lamb, should have been immolated—that a new epoch and a new sacrifice were about to begin, which would last to the end of the world.
They then went to the other side of the room, near the hearth where the Ark of the Covenant had formerly stood. Fire had already been lighted there, and Jesus poured some blood upon the hearth, consecrating it as an altar; and the remainder of the blood and the fat were thrown on the fire beneath the altar, after which Jesus, followed by his Apostles, walked round the supper-room, singing some psalms, and consecrating it as a new Temple. The doors were all closed during this time. Meanwhile the son of Simeon had completed the preparation of the lamb. He passed a stake through its body, fastening the front legs on a cross piece of wood, and stretching the hind ones along the stake. It bore a strong resemblance to Jesus on the cross, and was placed in the oven, to be there roasted with the three other lambs brought from the Temple.
The Paschal Lambs of the Jews were all immolated in the vestibule of the Temple, but in different parts, according as the persons who were to eat them were rich, or poor, or strangers.* The Paschal Lamb belonging to Jesus was not immolated in the Temple, but everything else was done strictly according to the law. Jesus again addressed his disciples, saying that the lamb was but a figure, that he himself would next day be the true Paschal Lamb, together with other things which I have forgotten.
When Jesus had finished his instructions concerning the Paschal Lamb and its signification, the time being come, and Judas also returned, the tables were set out. The disciples put on travelling dresses which were in the vestibule, different shoes, a white robe resembling a shirt, and a cloak, which was short in front and longer behind, their sleeves were large and turned back, and they girded up their clothes around the waist. Each party went to their own table; and two sets of disciples in the side rooms, and our Lord and his Apostles in the supper-room. They held staves in their hands, and went two and two to the table, where they remained standing, each in his own place, with the stave resting on his arms, and his hands upraised.
* She here again explained the manner in which the families assembled together, and in what numbers. But the writer has forgotten her words.
The table was narrow, and about half a foot higher than the knees of a man; in shape it resembled a horseshoe, and opposite Jesus, in the inner part of the half-circle, there was a space left vacant, that the attendants might be able to set down the dishes. As far as I can remember, John, James the Greater, and James the Less sat on the right-hand of Jesus; after them Bartholomew, and then, round the corner, Thomas and Judas Iscariot. Peter, Andrew, and Thaddeus sat on the left of Jesus; next came Simon, and then (round the corner) Matthew and Philip.
The Paschal Lamb was placed on a dish in the centre of the table. Its head rested on its front legs, which were fastened to a cross-stick, its hind legs being stretched out, and the dish was garnished with garlic. By the side there was a dish with the Paschal roast meat, then came a plate with green vegetables balanced against each other, and another plate with small bundles of bitter herbs, which had the appearance of aromatic herbs. Opposite Jesus there was also one dish with different herbs, and a second containing a brown-coloured sauce or beverage. The guests had before them some round loaves instead of plates, and they used ivory knives.
After the prayer, the major-domo laid the knife for cutting the lamb on the table before Jesus, who placed a cup of wine before him, and filled six other cups, each one of which stood between two Apostles. Jesus blessed the wine and drank, and the Apostles drank two together out of one cup. Then our Lord proceeded to cut up the lamb; his Apostles presented their pieces of bread in turn, and each received his share. They ate it in haste, separating the flesh from the bone, by means of their ivory knives, and the bones were afterwards burnt. They also ate the garlic and green herbs in haste, dipping them in the sauce. All this time they remained standing, only leaning slightly on the backs of their seats. Jesus broke one of the loaves of unleavened bread, covered up a part of it, and divided the remainder among his Apostles. Another cup of wine was brought, but Jesus drank not of it: ‘ Take this,’ he said, ‘ and divide it among you, for I will not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day when 1 shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father ‘ (Matt. xxvi. 29). When they had drunk the wine, they sang a hymn; then Jesus prayed or taught, and they again washed their hands. After this they sat down.
Our Lord cut up another lamb, which was carried to the holy women in one of the buildings of the court, where they were seated at table. The Apostles ate some more vegetables and lettuce. The countenance of our Divine Saviour bore an indescribable expression of serenity and recollection, greater than I had ever before seen. He bade the Apostles forget all their cares. The Blessed Virgin also, as she sat at table with the other women, looked most placid and calm. When the other women came up, and took hold of her veil to make her turn round and speak to them, her every movement expressed the sweetest self-control and placidity of spirit.
At first Jesus conversed lovingly and calmly with his disciples, but after a while he became grave and sad: ‘ Amen, Amen, I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me ‘ : he said, ‘ he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish ‘ (Matt. xxvi. 21,23). Jesus was then distributing the lettuce, of which there was only one dish, to those Apostles who were by his side, and he had given Judas, who was nearly opposite to him, the office of distributing it to the others. When Jesus spoke of a traitor, an expression which filled all the Apostles with fear, he said: ‘ he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish,’ which means: ‘ one of the twelve who are eating and drinking with me—one of those with whom I am eating bread.’ He did not plainly point out Judas to the others by these words; for to dip the hand in the same dish was an expression used to signify the most friendly and intimate intercourse. He was desirous, however, to give a warning to Judas, who was then really dipping his hand in the dish with our Saviour, to distribute the lettuce. Jesus continued to speak: ‘ The Son of man indeed goeth,’ he said, ‘ as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: It were better for him if that man had not been born.
The Apostles were very much troubled, and each one of them exclaimed: ‘Lord, is it I?’ for they were all perfectly aware that they did no entirely understand his words. Peter leaned towards John, behind Jesus, and made him a sign to ask our Lord who the traitor was to be, for, having so often been reproved by our Lord, he trembled lest it should be himself who was referred to. John was seated at the right hand of Jesus, and as all were leaning on their left arms, using the right to eat, his head was close to the bosom of Jesus. He leaned then on his breast and said: ‘Lord, who is it?’ I did not see Jesus say to him with his lips: ‘He it is to whom 1 shall reach bread dipped.’ I do not know whether he whispered it to him, but John knew it, when Jesus having dipped the bread, which was covered with lettuce, gave it tenderly to Judas, who also asked: ‘Is it I, Lord?’ Jesus looked at him with love, and answered him in general terms. Among the Jews, to give bread dipped was a mark of friendship and confidence; Jesus on this occasion gave Judas the morsel, in order thus to warn him, without making known his guilt to the others. But the heart of Judas burned with anger, and during the whole time of the repast, I saw a frightful little figure seated at his feet, and sometimes ascending to his heart. I did not see John repeat to Peter what he had learned from Jesus, but he set his fears at rest by a look.