The 14th of Nisan was a Thursday. It was no ordinary day. In Jerusalem by early afternoon, most of the guesthouse and inns were already full to capacity with Jewish pilgrims. Even Jesus and his Apostles were among the revelers. They too were looking forward to celebrate the festival of Passover. During Passover, it has been “estimated that the city, which normally numbered around 40,000 inhabitants, swelled to more than 180,000 people. Every Jewish male was obligated to attend one of the three Holy Festivals each year. It was a grave punishment of “Karet” for failing to keep this commandment of God. “Karet” or “Kareth”, was a form of punishment for a grave sin; in Hebrew it means to cut off from the people. In the Talmud, “Kareth” means “extinction of the soul and denial of a share in the world to come”. Passover had the largest number of pilgrims. Why was this such a big event?
To understand this question, we have to look at what was the main attraction in Jerusalem at that time? It was the Temple! All of Jewish life’s activities revolved around the Temple. The Temple itself was massive. Johnathan, my Jerusalem guide in 2019, said; “during Jesus’s time, Jerusalem itself had a circumference of about 4 miles long. The temple complex sat on 40 acres. The walls heights from the base of the bedrock was 158 feet. The length of the Temple was about 1500 yards or five football fields. Its width about 1000 feet. The quarried limestone used to build the walls range anywhere from three to thirty feet long and could be three to six feet high. They would weigh from one to forty tons. Covered in gold, the Temple would be seen from many miles away. An analogy to its size is like comparing it to the Superdome in New Orleans.
Inside the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant and the Jews believed that God resided inside the Ark. The Ark was kept in a large room called the Holy of Holies that was sealed off to outsiders with a large thick curtain. I was told by Johnathan the curtain was about 60 feet long and 30 feet wide and about an inch thick. Approximately 300 Levities priests manned the curtain. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. There were four items kept inside the Ark for safekeeping: “The jar of Manna, a vial of the Anointing oil, Aaron’s staff with its flowers and almonds, and the gift of gold sent by the Philistines when they return the Ark to the Israel”. By visiting the Temple, Jewish men and women could be forgiven from sin by providing a sin offering to God. The only way to provide a sin offering was animal sacrifice. Without forgiveness, the Jews believed they would be condemned and alienated from God; they would spiritually cease to exist. The Temple was a beehive of activities. Johnathan informed me that some Jewish writings’ implied the high priests were up to there knees in animal blood while another writing alludes to 1.2 million animals were sacrificed in one day.
“The Slaughter area, where the sacrifices were prepared situated at the north of the altar. Here the offerings were slaughtered, skinned, and prepared to be brought upon the altar. The animal’s neck (or legs, according to Maimonides) was placed in the rings, and on the small pillars known as nanasim, were hung the animals so that they could be skinned. The marble tables were used for washing the meat before it was placed in the fire on the altar”. Upon receiving the cooked lamb, each family would then retire to their quarters to begin the final and most important part of the celebration-the meal.
Standing in front of the “Wailing Wall” (also known as the Western Wall or the Buraq Wall in Islam. It is the last remaining wall erected by Herod the Great that was part of the Second Temple), I asked Jonathan to elaborate on the meal. I had many questions regarding the meal. Johnathan said, “around 50 to 100 people would gather per roasted lamb and eat just a small portion of the meat: about a “olive’s worth”. Other foods provided would be bitter herbs and unleavened bread, the matza. During this time, the Seder would begin around the time of the meal and usually end around midnight”. What is the Seder I asked? “The most stirring moment of the Jewish Seder meal is when the youngest participant intones the questions (“We may presume that at this Last Supper it was John who asked), why this feast? How is this different from every other night of the year? Every other night of the year we eat bread or Matzah, but on this night we eat only matzah. Why? John would have asked many questions and Jesus may have given the same answer, as is quoted in the Passover Haggadah: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand”. (Dt6:21). This annual ritual is narrated year after year, it brings this event of the remote past back to the mind and will not let it fade from memory”. The Seder meal was the exceedingly long retelling the story of the Israelites release from slavery by the Pharoah as recorded in the Book of Exodus.
We find Jesus in the mist of all this activity. People are hurrying to and from the narrow crowded streets trying to enter the Temple, all the while vendors trying to sell their goods to the pilgrims. Sheep, bulls, ox’s, cows, pigeons, and doves would be heard howling from the “Chamber of lambs” located in the south-west corner of the “Place Of Heath”. Loud shouting would be heard as the money changers lined up to exchange the Roman and foreign coins to Temple coins for the Temple Tax. There are hundreds of Levite priests running to and from the Altar, supplying wood for the fire and animals for the sacrifice, brining holy water, sprinkling the blood of the animals, burning Frankincense, and assisting at the many purification pools. Prayers would be heard coming from the Gate of Nicanor where Lepers were to be purified, the Chamber of Nazirites (located in the Women’s Court), as well as the Court of the Men and the Gentile’s court. Then there were the blaring from the Temple with large number of musical instruments: “And the Levites who were singers with cymbals, harps and lyres stood the east of the altar. With them were a hundred and twenty kohanim blowing trumpets. When the sound of the trumpets and cymbals and other instruments sounded out, with praise of God.” The Mishna (Tamid) “teaches there were no fewer than 21 trumpet blasts a day in the Temple. Three for opening the gates, nine for the morning Tamid (three for each song-part), and nine for the evening Tamid”.
During our honeymoon stay in Jerusalem, I had many profound thoughts and imagines as my wife and I entered the “old city” through the gate that Jesus entered, walked the crowed narrow streets with vendors trying to lure us into their stores and when we stood at the Wailing Wall. When we walked into the “Upper Room”, the site of the Last Supper, I was moved to tears, just thinking, and wondering what Jesus was feeling, knowing that in a few hours on that 14th of Nisan day, He would begin his brutal and painful passion. Was He scared? Was He nervous and full of anxiety? Did He spend time with His mother? Did He find time to pray? Was He concerned about Mary Magdalene and the holy women? Was He in a rush trying to get his last few instructions to His Apostles? Or was Jesus calm and in full control of His emotions knowing fully this is why He was born among men?
Accordingly to the mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Jesus did speak to His beloved mother. “When Jesus made known to the Blessed Virgin what was about to happen to Him, she besought Him in touching terms to let her die with Him. But He exhorted her to bear her grief more calmly than the other women, telling her at the same time that HE would rise again, and He named the spot upon which He would appear to her. Like a devoted Son, Jesus thanked her for all her love. He embraced her with his right arm and pressed her to His breast. He told her that He would celebrate His Last Supper with her in spirit and named the hour at which she should received his Body and Blood”. Jesus also spoke to Lazarus, the holy women and to Mary Magdalen. “Of Magdalen, who was quite out of herself from grief, He said: “ She loves unspeakably, but her love is still encompassed by the body, therefore has she become like one quite out of her mind with pain”.
The Gospel of Mark has Jesus sending two of his disciples into the city to look for a man carrying a jar of water. When they find him, they are to say to him: “The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples”? With a city bulging with over 180,000 pilgrims, why was it so important to find a man carrying a jar of water? Well you have to understand Jewish History. In those days, carrying water was a woman’s task; no man would belittle himself to do such a thing. With that many people walking through the city, it would be so obvious to find a man carrying a jar of water as opposed to thousands of women carrying water.
Following Jesus’s instructions, the two disciples entered the city and found the man with the jar of water who then showed them a large room ready and furnished. They then prepared the Passover in the tradition of the Seder meal. “The fellowship of the meal was important to Jesus. Time and time again, he used a shared meal to reach out to those closest to Him, or those he needed to convert to his kingdom of God. Jesus and the Apostles would most likely have dined from wooded or terracotta plates with high rims, similar to those found at Qumran, and sipped wine from clay cups, for wine was a vital component of the Seder. According to the Mishnah, even the poorest should have no fewer than four cups of wine on Passover night, even if the funds must come from public charity”.
As Jesus and the Apostles entered the prepared room for the Seder meal, one of the first thing that the host of the house would do was to wash the feet of his guest as they would have traveled through areas were “uncleaned” people and roman heathen soldiers walked about. Jesus must have told the host “I’ll take care of it” for Jesus “took off his outer garments, took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. Jesus told Peter, “what I am doing , you do not understand now, but you will understand later. When He had finished, he told the rest of them, Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me teacher and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I therefor washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do”.
In Matthew 26: 26-30, The Last Supper begins. “ While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessings, broke it and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body”. The he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Drink form it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the new day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father”. In an ecstasy vision, Blessed Emmerich reveled “ He seemed to pouring out His whole Being in love and I saw Him becoming perfectly transparent. He looked like a luminous apparition. He said to the Apostles that He was now about to give them all that He possessed, even His very self. Jesus then broke the bread into several morsel and laid them over one another on the plate. With the tip of his finger, He broke off a scrap from the first morsel and let it fall into the chalice and at the same moment I saw, as it seemed to me, the Blessed Virgin receiving the Blessed Sacrament, although she was not present in the Coenaculum. It seemed to me that I saw her enter at the door and come before the Lord to receive the Blessed Sacrament, after which I saw her no more”. He then took the plate with the morsels of bread and said, “take and eat. This is my body given for you. While saying these words, He stretched out his right hand over it as giving it a blessing, and as He did, a brilliant light emanated from Him. His words were luminous as also the Bread, which as a body of light entered the mouth of the apostles. It was as if Jesus Himself, flowed into them.
Blessed Emmerich explains that the Chalice, known to us as the Holy grail, was exceptionally large and “belonged to Abraham. Melchisedech brought it from the land of Semiramis where he had used it at the Sacrifice of bread and wine offered in Abrahams presence, and afterward gave it to him. This same Chalice was even in Noah’s possession. It stood in the upper part of the ark. Moses also had it in his keeping. The cup was massive like a bell. It looked as if it had been shaped by nature, not formed by art”. Then Jesus “raised the chalice by its two handles, to a level with His face, and pronounced into it the words of consecration. While he was doing so, He was wholly transfigured, as it were, transparent. He was as if passing over into what He was giving. John removed some of the Sacred Blood from the chalice to the small cups, which Peter handed to the Apostles who, two by two, drank from the same cup. The remains of the Sacred Blood in the chalice, the Lord poured into small cup and bade Peter and John to pour water and wine upon them. He instructed them to drink from the cup and then passed what was left to the Apostles. After that Jesus wiped out the chalice, put into it the little cup with what was left of the Sacred Blood, laid upon it the plate with the remains of the consecrated Paschal Bread, replaced the cover, wrapped the whole in the linen cloth. After the Resurrection, I saw the Apostles partaking of Communion form this Bread and Wine consecrated from Jesus”.
Reading further along from her book, Blessed Emmerich revels that night, Jesus consecrated Peter as bishops and the remaining Apostles as High priests. Jesus then “ gave to the Apostles an instruction full of mystery. He told them how they were to preserve the Blessed Sacrament in memory of Him until the end of the world, taught them the necessary forms for making use of and communicating it, and in what manner they were by degree to teach and published the Mystery. Then He instructed them upon the priesthood”. Missing from this ceremony was Judas as he already left the Coenaculum. Regarding Judas, Blessed Emmerich has some interesting revelations. For instances, during the day when Jesus was speaking to his Mother, He informed her that Judas was the betrayer. The Blessed Mother beseeched compassion for him. Though Judas accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry, Blessed Emmerich saw visions of the devil at all times with Judas. “During the whole meal, meaning the last supper, “I saw a little red monster with one foot like a bare bone sitting at Judas’ feet and often rising up to his heart, but when outside the door, I saw three devils pressing around him. One entered his mouth, one urged him on, and the third ran in front of him. It was night and they seemed to be lighting him as he hurried on like a madman”.
Present day, many Christians follow their church doctrine proclaiming that the breaking of bread and wine is only “symbolic”; it is meant to serve in “his memory” but not to be taken literally or actually. However, these same individuals will literally and actually proclaim that:
- God created all things from nothing.
- Noah thru God saved mankind with the Ark.
- Moses thru God parted the red sea.
- God provided manna for the wondering Hebrews.
- Jesus, born of a virgin and became man is truly the Son of God.
- Jesus changed water into wine.
- Jesus raised Lazarus and two others from the dead (a widow’s son and Jairus’ daughter)
- Jesus restored the sight to the blind and the speech to the dumb, healed those suffering from epilepsy, paralysis, leprosy, and demonic spirits.
- Jesus healed without being in the presence of the sick participant-Jesus healed from a far off distance.
- Jesus fed 5000 with 2 loaves and a few fish.
- Jesus walked on water and calmed the wind and seas.
- Jesus died for the sins of mankind.
- Jesus defeated Satan by rising from the dead.
- Jesus was witnessed by over 500 people to ascend into the heavens.
- Jesus is the key to everlasting salvation and unity with God.
But when it comes to the power and mystery of bread and wine changing into His body and blood . . . well, many Christians I have engaged conversation about this topic tell me they just do not believe that is true! How ironic and sad that is! For example, the story in the next paragraph is true. To protect the true Pastor and his church from embarrassment, I will change his name and that of his church to fictional names.
In 2010, I was a dating a beautiful soul who was a member of First Baptist Church in somewhere, Louisiana. On Occasions, I would attend this church’s services with her. The Pastor of the church, Senior Minster, John Lawrence, is a powerful speaker and a man who is loved by his flock. I enjoyed his sermons and really learned a lot. I attended his Holy Thursday service. Right before Pastor Lawrence read the Gospel regarding the Last Supper, the ushers began issuing small pieces of bread and cups of grape juice. As soon as the Gospel was read, everyone attending, ate the bread and drank the grape juice. Pastor Lawrence then began his sermon, and to my surprise, he did not elaborate on this most powerful passage in the Bible. The next day I sent him an email informing him I am Catholic and I am dating one of his members. I told him I really enjoyed his sermons and do learned more about the Apostle Paul then I ever had before. He often quoted scripture from the writings of St Paul. I then proceeded with my main inquiry and told him I was perplexed the little discussion he gave regarding the “Bread of life Discourse” and the Last Supper. I said, “ how can you just nonchalantly pass over it without a deeper discussion of what Jesus instituted that very night? His gift to all mankind in the form of His Body and Blood. Pastor Lawrence was very gracious in his reply to me and thanked me for my kind words. He offered me coffee and a chat the next time I was at his service. Then, he stated his views as to why he believed Jesus was not really in the “Presence” and that it was just a symbolic act. Pastor Lawrence ended the email with a quote from St. Paul. For the next few months we went back and forth as he always quoted the writings of Saint Paul. Not once did Pastor Lawrence come close to agreeing with me on this issue. Speaking with my godfather, retired priest, Monsignor Charles Mallet, he told me; “Pastor Lawrence cannot openly agree with you on this issue. He is employed by the board of that Church and that goes against their convictions. He would be fired if he did so. In my sixty plus years as a Catholic priest, not one Protestant that I know will ever openly admit Jesus is really presence in his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. Many months later, I read one of Scott Hahn’s book where he writes a similar story about himself when He was a Protestant Pastor and teacher. Paraphrasing, he said as long as he was a Presbyterian minister he never discussed it. Everything in the bible was taken word for word except that passage. Being Protestant, we just did not believe that the bread and wine was actually the body and blood of Jesus!
Reflecting on this story, I wonder what Pastor Lawrence would say about St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I am sure he would have read it many time. In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paula alludes “for I received from the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread and after he had given thanks broke it and said, this is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup, saying this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. Therefore, whoever drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord”.
As I end this topic, one thing is noticeably clear from that Holy Thursday night. All of the Gospels uncovers “the proximity of the Passover. It is underscored and encourages the obvious parallels to be drawn between the “old” Passover of the Jews and the new Passover in which Jesus becomes the Paschal lamb. The significance of the salvation and rescue of the Jews in the Exodus narrative is now transformed by the Christians to the salvation that they believe came with Christ sacrificial death”.  It is rather ironic that at the moment the Levites priests are sacrificing the lambs on the altar of the Temple, the true Lamb of God is being slaughtered for the salvation of man. While hanging on a cross just ear shot of the Temple, Jesus makes all things new.
 Karet definition by Wikipedia 2021
 Ibid. pp85
 Bargil Pixner. With Jesus in Jerusalem and his first and last days in Judea. Corazin Publishing. 2005. Pp94-95
 Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. The Holy Temple In Jerusalem. Maggid Books. New Milford, CT. 2018. Pp.149
 Ibid. pp 169
 Ibid. pp55
 Jean-Pierre Isbouts. In The Footsteps Of Jesus. National Geographic. Washington D.C. pp238
 The New American Bible. Catholic Translation .John 13:4-15 Catholic Bible Press. Nashville, Tn. 1987. Pp1210
 Anne Catherine Emmich. The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations; Volume IV. Tan Books. Charlotte, NC. 2012.pp69-70
 Ibid. pp.55
 Ibid. 70-71
 Ibid pp. 72
 Ibid pp 71
 Professor Barry Beitzel. Biblica; The Bible Atlas. Barron’s Press. Hauppauge, NY. 2007. Pp. 437-438