Explanation of the Passion according to the Four Evangelists
from the St Andrew Daily Missal
Events preceding the Passion
Towards evening on the Tuesday in Holy Week, after leaving the Temple, our Lord ascended the mount of Olives; "You know " He said to His disciples, "that after two days shall be the Pasch, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to be crucified." Now among the Jews the days are reckoned to begin on the previous evening; Wednesday had already begun and it was on the following Friday that our Lord was put to death. The Passover corresponded with the full moon of the Spring equinox since it was then that the Hebrews left Egypt. In the hurry of their departure they had no time to prepare unleavened bread, in memory of which fact the Jews abstained from leavened bread throughout this Feast.
[To the Hebrews this moon was the mark of the first month of their year called Nisan. "And in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, shall be the Phase of the Lord." (Numbers, XXVIII, 16.) So the day in which the Last Supper and the Crucifixion took place, reckoned In Jewish fashion from Thursday to Friday evening, was the 14th of Nisan or the eve of the Passover. (See St. John, XIII, 1.) To show that Christ is the true Paschal Lamb of the true Passover, almighty God willed that He should be received as food by the apostles, and sacrificed by the Jews on the same day when the Israelites were eating the lambs offered in sacrifice which were types of Him. The Passover, or the time of our Lord's passing from this world to His Father and of our deliverance from sin, took place at the time when the Jews were keeping the anniversary of the passing of the angel over the land of Egypt and of the freeing of Israel which was the type of that deliverance. The Church therefore, to emphasize the fact that: "This New Feast, the old repealing, Newer King and Pasch revealing, Ushers In a newer rite " (Lauda Sion), has decreed that Easter, like the Jewish Passover, shall always take place at the Paschal moon. But since she wished to keep the Feast of the Resurrection on a Sunday, the day on which it actually took place, she decided at the Council of Nicea that in each year it should kept on the Sunday following the full moon of the Spring Equinox which was supposed to always fall on the 21st of March, as was actually the case in 325 A.D., the year of the Council. If the full moon falls before the 21st, it is the following full moon which will mark the date of Easter which varies between the 22nd of March and the 25th of April.]
The Last Supper in the Cenacle
When the Evangelists speak of the "First day of the Azymes" they mean Thursday evening, that is, in the Jewish reckoning, the beginning of Friday. It was on Thursday that Peter and John were sent by the Master to prepare the supper in the "upper room" of a certain house and there at the fall of evening that is during the first watch lasting until nine o'clock, our Lord went with His disciples. They reclined round the table in eastern fashion on low couches, the left hand supported on cushions, so that John, on our Lord's right, could easily rest his head on the Master's breast. During the meal, taking one of the great cakes of unleavened bread, about eight inches across and very thin, our Lord changed it into His Body, uttering the Eucharistic prayer or grace, just as the father of the family was accustomed to do when eating the Passover lamb, he thanked almighty God for having delivered Israel from her captivity. And then, after supper, when there still remained one more cup to drink, He changed it in the same way into His Blood, using the same words by which Moses had sealed the Old Covenant made in the blood of creatures: "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you," to which our Lord added the words: "This is my Blood of the New Testament". It was when speaking of the Passover, the centre of the whole religious life of the Jewish people, that the great Lawgiver of Israel said: "You shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations with an everlasting observance." In the same way our Redeemer commanded the Apostles, "and therefore" adds the Council of Trent, "all their successors in the priesthood, to consecrate in the same way this bread and cup of wine in memory of Him".
For the lamb sacrificed for more than fifteen hundred years by the children of Israel is substituted the Lamb of God which will be sacrificed by us to the end of the world, and the Mass, which is identified with the Passover and Calvary, becomes the religious centre of all Christian people.
Our Lord's last discourse Gethsemane
The Supper over, Jesus uttered the sublime discourse which is the last testament of His love, the second part of it being spoken while He was on His way from the Cenacle to leave the city. Passing through the gate which stood not far from the Pool of Siloam, He traversed the valley of Cedron, by the suburb of Ophel, to enter the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The three apostles who had been witnesses of His Transfiguration were here also as part-witnesses of His thrice renewed agony, and Judas, who had sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver, came with the captain and soldiers of a Roman cohort accompanied by guards commanded by Temple police, sent by the Sanhedrim. In the depth of night they entered Jerusalem with our Lord, climbing the slopes to the north east of the city and went straight to the palace of the High Priests.
Ecclesiastical Trial before Annas and Caiaphas
Here the ecclesiastical trial was about to take place since it pertained to the Jewish religious authorities to examine Jesus on what they called His assumed title of the Son of God. The Sanhedrim consisted of seventy members, at the head of which were the chief priests and their supreme head the High Priest, which office Annas had succeeded in obtaining for his five sons in succession, and then in the year of our Lord's death for his son-in-law,Caiaphas. Faithless to their mission, these official representatives of the Jewish religion no longer looked for any Messias other than a warrior king who should deliver them by main force from the Roman yoke.
Our Lord was at first taken before Annas, the father-in-law as we have seen of the High Priest, but since he was no longer in office it was beyond his competence to judge our Lord when He appeared before him. The affair had been mismanaged and had to be referred to the tribunal of the real High Priest, Caiaphas. He awaited Jesus, in another wing of the Palace, seated, according to custom, with legs crossed, on a slightly raised platform. Around him on the ground, on cushions set in the form of a semicircle, were grouped the other priests. The proceedings were illegal because while they should have taken place in the day-time with witnesses present, it was actually two o'clock in the morning, and such witnesses as there were detected in flagrant imposture. Then Joseph Caiphas, overpowered by rage, solemnly called upon our Lord to tell him if He were the Christ, a measure quite contrary to the Roman Law which in such a case invalidates the confession of the accused; and our Lord who had waited for this moment before speaking, formally declared His Divinity before the Jewish religious authority in full council assembled. They then found Him worthy of death, a sentence which He accepted since it was precisely His character as Son of God which enabled Him to give an infinite value to the sacrifice which He was about to offer to God the Father for His brethren, the sons of men.
Our Lord was then given over to the mockeries of the High Priest's servants who, uttering blasphemies, covered Him with spittle. It was during this night that Peter, who had followed Jesus afar off, was brought by John into the High Priest's palace where he denied his Master three limes, and after the cock had crowed for the second time, he went out from the palace, and as the Greek text implies, "he wept with a loud voice, with sobs". Towards morning the Sanhedrim met again in order to give some semblance of legality to its sentence which according to law, had to be passed in the day-time. Our Lord appeared before the court and having declared Himself the Son of God was condemned afresh.
Judas now understood the magnitude of his crime, and being consumed with remorse approached the Council of Priests which was still sitting and confessed that he had "sinned in betraying innocent blood". Then the traitor seized with despair, threw down the pieces of silver in the Temple and going out to the pool of Siloam, lost himself in the deep Valley through which flows the mountain stream of Hinnom. In this narrow place known as the Gehenna (Ge-Hinnom) "he hanged himself " and "burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out ".
The Civil Trial before Pilate
But it was Rome, of whom Palestine was at that time a dependency, that had the sole power of life and death. It was necessary to refer a case of this kind to the Roman Procurator and our Lord was taken to the Judgement Hall of Pontius Pilate, in the fortress of Antonia. Here the Jews did not enter, since in the house of a pagan they would have contracted legal defilement, at this time of the Passover Feast.
Our Lord's civil trial was, in its turn, about to commence. But before this new tribunal a political charge was a necessity. In the Jewish view the Messias was to be an earthly monarch, so they accused Jesus, who said that He was the Messias, of being a rival king to Caesar.
On this new ground was reproduced, point by point, the same procedure as that of the night before, the same silence of our Lord in the face of false witnesses, the same formal assertion of His spiritual kingship before the pagan world, represented this time by those who actually held the world power; the same ill-treatment by subordinates, in this case the Roman soldiery. Our Lord, who in reality guided the whole proceeding, would be condemned only as the Son of God and King of souls. He put the question again on religious ground, when He said: "My kingdom is not of this world."
This was to remove the matter from Pilate's province, and he, up to the very end, declared our Lord perfectly innocent. The Jews then had recourse to intimidation, and Pilate who was too much of a coward to use his authority in the teeth of a mob who would avenge itself by accusing him in high places, looked round for means to safeguard his own interests without altogether ignoring the protests of some remnant of conscience, informed as it was by pagan superstition, which vaguely feared the chastisement of the gods.
Herod Pilate Barabbas The Scourging
As a first expedient, Pilate learning that Jesus was a Galilean, despatched him to Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee. This was the son of Herod the Great who had ordered the massacre of the innocents when the Magi announced that the "King of the Jews" had not long been born. Mortified by our Lord's silence, he sought in his turn to humble the Jews by clothing Jesus in the white robe worn by those who laid claim to that royalty which they denied Him. Pilate's second plan was to propose the exchange with Barabbas. This attempt to establish a parallel between Christ and a murderer met with no better success. His third scheme was to order our blessed Lord to be scourged. This was a shameful punishment reserved only for slaves. The culprit, stripped of his garments, had his hands tied to the iron ring attached to a low pillar, while the executioner armed with a scourge of supple thongs with bone tips, with calculated deliberation lashed with it the back of his victim, bent and taut. The thongs bending pliantly about the body passed from shoulder to breast, ploughing deep furrows from which, while the blood gushed forth, pieces of flesh fell away.
In this state our blessed Lord was brought forth to the mob, wearing His crown of thorns and with a reed for His sceptre. The irony of the scene was not lost on the Jews. How dare they pretend any longer to see Caesar's rival in such a king?
The condemnation of Jesus
They reject Him, therefore, with contempt, on His claim to be the Son of God which was to be the sole cause of His death, and Pilate, shaken by the decisive argument "We will denounce you to Caesar", thinks about finding a last expedient to quiet his conscience. By the symbolic act of washing his hands he shows the Jews that, before his tribunal, Jesus is innocent and that he gives Him up to them only because of their claim that He is condemned by their laws. In this declaration he persisted up to the very last moment when he caused to be attached to the Cross an inscription in three languages, pointing out according to custom, the ground on which the prisoner was condemned. It bore these words: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Pilate, in his cowardice was guilty of homicide but the Jews in their hatred attacked the Son of God and were the murderers of God Himself.
The Way of the Cross The Crucifixion The Last Agony
At about eleven o'clock, our Lord leaves the Judgment hall of Pilate.
Judea which had been conquered by Pompey had become a tributary state under the Emperor Augustus who was, later on, joined in the supreme power by Tiberius Caesar. Pilate was their representative in Judea and Herod in Galilee.
I he sorrowful way of the Cross begins with the path which leads down into the valley of Tyropoeon and traverses towards the east a steep slope leading up to the gates of the city itself. There, outside the walls, was Mount Golgotha, the spot where executions generally took place, and here in the midst of the intense darkness which reigned from noon until three o'clock and which was noted everywhere in the Roman Empire, our blessed Lord underwent His last torments.
Death on the cross was the most cruel and terrible of tortures, for the victim necessarily compelled to remain in one position, had for several hours to support the whole weight of his body on his out stretched arms. The horrible tension thus inflicted congested the blood at the face and neck, causing intolerable pain of which the chief feature was a burning thirst. To die by crucifixion was to die of pain alone, in anguish of the most agonizing kind.
Towards evening it was the custom to hasten death by breaking the sufferer's legs, the feet being a little more than three feet above the ground.
Jesus' Death and Burial
Then came the decisive moment which was to mark the hour of redemption for the human race. Our blessed Lord is about to sign as with a ncal, the seal of His Blood, all the acts of His life that they may become redemptive in character. Further, to show that it is not by constraint hut through love for His Father and for men that He allows death to work tis will upon Him, He utters a loud cry and expires. Our Divine Redeemer is dead. With Mary His Mother and with St. John let us remain at the l oot of the Cross, and like the handful of Jews who were converted at this moment, strike our breasts, since it is to make satisfaction for our sins that He has offered His life to God.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. About five o'clock our Lord was taken down from the Cross and buried in haste since the Sabbath, this week "a great Sabbath Day", began at six. As a matter of fact it coincides with the 15th Nisan, the most important day of the Passover, thus perfectly symbolizing the rest into which our Lord had entered for ever.
The Jews had no cemetery but were accustomed to prepare a monument on their own property, often on both sides of the high road. Joseph, who came from Arimathea, a Judean town, had Jesus laid in the sepulchre which he had made for himself and which stood in a garden near the scene of our Redeemer's death; while Nicodemus brought about "an hundred pound weight of myrrh and aloes" with which to embalm Him provisionally. They then closed the sepulchre with a great stone, shaped like a millstone, which could only be moved with the greatest difficulty. This done the holy women returned to the city where they bought spices, intending to complete our Lord's burial with greater care after the Sabbath rest. The next day, Saturday, the Jews sealed the tomb and placed guards there.
Let it be our joy to-day to repeat with our Lord the Communion prayer: "Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done."