“Mondays with Mary” – Holy Week with the Mater Dolorosa

Yesterday, beginning with Palm Sunday, the Catholic Church entered Holy Week also known as the Great Week. In my personal opinion, these are the best days in the entire liturgical cycle because we celebrate the High Holy Days of Catholicism.

Holy Week begins with the great imagery of palms and olive branches, which were symbolic for victory and triumphant in the ancient world. We also witness Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem, just as Solomon rode David’s mule into Jerusalem centuries before declaring him as king. We now see the New Davidic King, Jesus Christ, enter to the words – “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our Father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:9-10; cf. Ps 118:26).

As we begin this week of suffering with Our Lord, I want you to remember the one person who was there with him, most united with him, and always prepared to lead us closer to him, yes, even into his suffering – the person is of course the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Mother, Mary leads us into a more complete union with Jesus, not only during the joyful and blessed times of our lives, but also during the times of suffering and pain. During this week, as we walk with Our Lord to Calvary, we must keep in mind that we also walk with Our Mother.

Mary’s role is so important during the week of Holy Week that in the Roman Missal and Calendar prior to 1970, the Church commemorated the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Friday preceding Palm Sunday. Today, this commemoration is still celebrated in Catholic parishes where the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite is celebrated as well as in the Anglican Ordinariate parishes. This special day is a day where we remember what the Mother of God witnessed and underwent as she watched her Son brutally tortured and executed.

To better prepare for this Holy Week with the Mater Dolorosa, I encourage you to read and pray with the Seven Sorrows (Dolors) of Mary. Often prayed as part of the Mater Dolorosa Rosary, these seven sorrows will lead us into the suffering Our Lady endured not only during Holy Week, but also in the childhood of Jesus.

The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady are the following:

1. The Prophecy of Holy Simeon

2. The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt

3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple

4. The Encounter of Jesus with His Blessed Mother as He Carries the Cross

5. The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Mary at the Foot of the Cross

6. The Descent from the Cross, and Jesus in the Arms of His Most Blessed Mother

7. The Burial of Our Lord, and the Loneliness of the Blessed Virgin

Mater Dolorosa…Pray for Us. 

The High Holy Days of Catholicism

Traditionally, in the Jewish faith, the high holy days are known as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As one website put it, these are the heavy hitters of the Jewish year. Likewise, in the Catholic faith, the Holy Days of Obligation, along with every Sunday, because Sunday is enough, are the high holy days for Catholics. Although they may not be listed anywhere specifically, I would argue that the days in which we are about to enter can also be, and should be, considered high holy days as well.

Beginning tonight and concluding late Saturday night, the Catholic world starts what is known as The Sacred Triduum – Holy Thursday (Mass of the Lord’s Supper), Good Friday (Celebration of the Lord’s Passion/Stations of the Cross) and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil). The culmination of these three days brings us to the Sunday of all Sundays – Easter Sunday, the day where Our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead.

If Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the heavy hitters of the Jewish faith, then we must say the Triduum and Easter Sunday are heavy hitters in the Catholic faith.

As I stated previously, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the day Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood while he celebrated the Passover Meal with the Apostles and established the new Passover (see Luke 22:14-23) begins the Sacred Triduum. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist is the major element we commemorate on this great day. From this day forward, we have Jesus present in the Church – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

During this Holy Mass, we also reenact the washing of the Apostles feet.  This action by Jesus in John 13 is an act of humility and points to the humiliation that he would receive on the cross. He is displaying heroism as the servant-king for the Apostles.  The washing of the Apostles feet mirrors the washing of Aaron and his son’s feet by Moses in the Book of Exodus, as they become the first of the Levitical Priests. If this is the case, foot-washing can been seen as a sign of priestly ordination. The apostles receive a “part” in Jesus where the Levitical priests received a “portion” of God alone.

On Good Friday, we commemorate the day our Lord willingly gave himself in the perfect sacrifice for our redemption. As the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple; so Jesus is slaughtered on the cross. Jesus becomes the New Lamb of God – he is both sacrifice and victim. As it has been since the most ancient days of the church, the Holy Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. The only sacraments that are permitted on this day are Penance (Reconciliation) and Anointing of the Sick.  During the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, we hear the readings (Cycle A, B, C) from Isaiah 52:13—53:12, Psalm 31, Hebrews 4:14-16 5:7-9 and the Gospel of St. John 18:1—19:42.

After a short homily or time in prayer, the Liturgy of the Word ends with “The Solemn Intercessions” which are For the Holy Church, For the Pope, For all orders and degrees of the faithful, For the unity of Christians, For the Jewish People, For those who do not believe in Christ, For those who do not believe in God, For those in public office, and For those in tribulation.

After the Solemn Intercessions, there is Adoration of the Holy Cross. The priest(s), deacons and/or altar servers, process with a cross which has been covered with a purple veil (purple is the color associated with penance and was also worn royalty and more than likely the color of the garment the Roman soldiers put on Jesus). As the cross is brought forth and held before the altar, the priest (assisted by the Deacon and/or altar servers) uncovers a little of the cross each time by chanting the words – “Behold the wood of the Cross” (Ecce lignum Crucis) and all chant is response – “Come let us adore” (Venite, adoremus).

Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Ad Orientem) at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church 2016.

After the Adoration of the cross, an altar cloth is spread on the altar as is a corporal and the Missal put in place. The Blessed Sacrament is brought from its place of keeping (from the conclusion of Holy Thursday Mass to this point, the Holy Eucharist is not kept in the Tabernacle).  The Our Father is either chanted (or recited). After this, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful during the celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Since the Holy Mass is not celebrated on this day, more hosts should be consecrated during the Mass on Holy Thursday. Once Communion has ended and the prayer over the people is recited – all depart in silence.

We now come to my favorite part of the Sacred Triduum – The Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil is the Mass where the elect (formerly catechumens) and those seeking full communion (candidates) are welcomed into the Catholic Church. For 2 ½ years, I was privileged to work with the adults of our parish in preparing them to receive the Sacraments on this night. It is a blessing that is incredibly difficult to put into words, especially watching the adults who are baptized. Although I am no longer involved in the daily duties of preparation, I still teach these individuals during the year.

As the Sacred Liturgy begins, there is the Blessing of the Fire and the Preparation of the Candle. After the candle is prepared, the Easter Proclamation is recited. During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the seven Old Testament readings of Salvation History accompanied with seven Psalms in response, an epistle from Paul, and then the Gospel Reading. For those of us that love the Sacred Scriptures and Salvation History, this Mass is by far the best set of readings for the entire year. After the readings, we chant the Gloria (the lights come on brighter) and we can finally say Alleluia again.

After the homily is given, the Baptismal Liturgy begins which includes the Litany of the Saints, the blessing of the baptismal water, the Rite of Baptism (the Elect come forward with their Godparents), and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the faithful. If you never seen an adult received the Sacrament of Baptism, I encourage you to attend the Easter Vigil. It’s a moving experience!

Once everyone is baptized, the newly baptized along with those seeking full communion (they make a Profession of Faith) receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Once all have received Confirmation, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins and Mass continues and concludes as usual. The newly baptized Catholics and the newly professed Catholics for the first time receive Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. As the Easter Vigil comes to a close, the Church finds herself in the Easter Season looking 40 days ahead to the Ascension of Our Lord and 50 days to another great feast (and high holy day), Pentecost Sunday.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection over sin and death. We cannot have the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. The Paschal Mystery – Passion, Death, and Resurrection is now complete. Jesus Christ has Risen from the Dead!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1169 states, “Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities,” just as the Eucharist is the “Sacrament of sacraments” (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter “the Great Sunday” and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week “the Great Week.” The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him.”

I would really encourage you to attend these high holy days if you haven’t done so before. If you have been in the past, but haven’t been in some time, I would hope you attend. To really see Easter Sunday at its fullest, you should participate in the days proceeding. There really is nothing else like it in the liturgical year. We have truly entered the High Holy Days of Catholicism.

“Mondays with Mary” – Reflecting on the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cross

Since we have now entered the holiest weeks of all weeks in the Church’s liturgical year, also known as the Great Week in the East, I want to focus as I have done in years past, on Mary at the Cross. However, instead of focusing on the theology, I want to just examine some points in the hopes that you may reflect on them during this Holy Week.

In a culture that abhors suffering and pain, I remember the words of Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete of Communion and Liberation,

“Suffering is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived.”

In regards to the cross of Jesus Christ, and the blood, sweat, agony, and suffering, I believe these words give us an insight to the suffering Our Lord endured and willfully embraced. I also believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary also lived these words out in her life, since she never fled from the suffering of her Son, even when it might have become too much to bear. She embraced his suffering and partook in that suffering, not physically, but spiritually as any mother would for their child.

We know that the walk to Calvary began at the Wedding Feast of Cana when the Blessed Mother requests that Jesus assist in the dilemma of the young couple having no more wine to offer. Unlike Cana, at the cross, Mary doesn’t utter one word. But what was she thinking? Could she have been remembering the life of Jesus as a child or her time when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would have a son? We will never know completely on this side of Heaven, but the one thing we do know is that Jesus gave her to us on the cross through the Beloved Disciple, Saint John. From that point on, John took her into his home and cared for her as his own mother.

In our relationship with the Blessed Mother, I have some questions for us – Have we taken Mary into our homes? Like the Apostle John, have we allowed her to enter into the lives of our families? Like the couple who ran out of wine, have we asked her to intercede to Our Lord for us?

Among many non-Catholic Christians today, and even some Catholics, the Blessed Virgin Mary is rejected, although in the Sacred Scriptures she is “blessed among women” and is professed “full of grace” by the Angel Gabriel. Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters because of poor theology and faulty catechesis, reject the Mother of God and degrade her to just another woman that doesn’t deserve any honor or recognition. She is often misunderstood and is portrayed as a pagan goddess, a mother-goddess. Again, here we see a lack of clear thinking and the conclusions of the many divisions among the Christian faithful.

Although seen as the forerunner of Protestantism, Martin Luther had a great love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He once wrote,

“Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of us all. If Christ be ours…all that he has must be ours, and His Mother also must be ours.”

In our daily lives, how do we include Mary? Simply, we must walk with her through faith, humility, and obedience. Through these three elements, Mary walked with Our Lord to the cross. Even though she was wounded, scorned, and in pain, she still walked with Him…and so must we.

One of the points I made above was that she did not speak at the Cross. More likely, she listened. How did she listen? She listened in her obedience. It seems to me that most Catholics want to be faithful and seek humility, but many reject obedience. We can’t follow Our Lord and His Catholic Church, as well as walk with his Mother, if we reject obedience.

In the book, Into Your Hands, Father, the Belgian Carmelite, Fr. Wilfred Stinissen, says the following,

“If God does not will something in every detail of our life, it is up to us to ‘discern the will of the Lord’. To be able to ‘obey’, we must ‘listen’…That is how Mary lived, with her eyes continually turned toward God. Her gaze was one single question, ‘What would you have me do?’”

These words I believe singularly define the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and most distinctly at the foot of the cross. Although I think many of us are fearful to “Behold, your mother”, the words of Jesus to St. John at Cross, this is precisely what we are called to do. We are to walk with Mary through faith, humility, and obedience.

To conclude this reflection, I leave you these words since they wrap up for me exactly what I tried to help you reflect upon today –

“Mary’s Way leads us to Calvary, and from there to the empty tomb. It is not an easy path, but Mary was unafraid. By her faithful and humble life, and by her presence at the cross, she shows us how to overcome the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life, fear. Let us meet her in her pain, her loss, and her grief. Let us choose, then, without fear, to accept suffering into our lives as she did, to welcome the wounds of love. Only in doing so can we also share with her the joy of the Resurrection” (The Prayer of Mary, Keith Fournier).

Stabat Mater Dolorosa…Pray for Us 

Was Jesus’ Last Supper Actually a Passover Meal or was it Something Completely New?

This year for Lent I decided to take it upon myself to read the second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, which is subtitled – Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. And although I have read a lot of it, I am not completely finished with it yet, but hoping to finish the chapters up to the Resurrection by Saturday morning. My lack of reading though has assisted me to write this blog post or should I say quote Pope Benedict himself.

Last year on Holy Thursday, I wrote the blog post titled, The Four Cups, the Last Supper, and the Cup on Consummation. Using Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, and James Socias, I wrote about the Four Cups of the Passover Meal and whether or not Jesus drank the fourth cup or if the fourth cup is actually the Cross itself. To read last year’s post, check out the link above.

The reason I am writing today’s post on Good Friday of this year is because last night while sitting in front of the Altar of Repose at my parish, I re-read some parts in the Last Supper chapter that made me rethink some things I wrote about last year. Although Pitre’s book, Jesus and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, mentions and highlights the Four Cups of the Passover, it’s interesting that Pope Benedict XVI writes nothing about the four cups in the aforementioned book. A somewhat interesting note of fact is that Pitre’s book was published on March 2, 2011 and Benedict’s on March 10, 2011. Theological ships passing in the night?

Why doesn’t Benedict talk about the four cups? Are the four cups not important? Did Jesus use/drink the cups? What about St. Luke’s account that speaks of cups?

Although there is a lot to say on this particular topic, Chapter Five covers the entire Last Supper, I am going to pick up on page 113. The question is – Was Jesus’ Last Supper Actually a Passover Meal or was it Something Completely New?

“We have to ask, though, what Jesus’ Last Supper actually was. And how did it acquire its undoubtedly early attribution of Passover character? The answer given by Meier (John P. Meier – A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus) is astonishingly simple in many respects convincing: Jesus knew that he was about to die. He knew that he would not be able to eat the Passover again. Fully aware of this, he invited his disciples to a Last Supper of a very special kind, one that followed no specific Jewish ritual but, rather, constituted his farewell; during the meal he gave them something new: he gave them himself as the true Lamb and there instituted his Passover.

Jesus & Eucharist - EWTN

In all the Synoptic Gospels, the prophecy of Jesus’ death and Resurrection form part of this meal. Luke presents it in an especially solemn and mysterious form: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (22:15-16). The saying is ambiguous. It can mean that Jesus is eating the usual Passover meal with his disciples for the last time. But it can also mean that he is eating it no longer but, rather, is on his way to the new Passover.

One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out –when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.

The earliest evidence for this unified view of the new and the old, providing a new explanation of the Passover character of Jesus’ meal in terms of his death and Resurrection, is found in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be new dough, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed” (5:7; cf. Meier, A Marginal Jew I, pp. 429-430). As in Mark 14:1, so here the first day of Unleavened Bread and the Passover follow in rapid succession, but the older ritual understanding is transformed into a Christological and existential interpretation. Unleavened bread must now refer to Christians themselves, who are freed from sin by the addition of yeast. But the sacrificial lamb is Christ. Here Paul is in complete harmony John’s presentation of events. For him the death and Resurrection of Christ have become the Passover that endures.

On this basis one can understand how it was that very early on, Jesus’ Last Supper – which includes not only a prophecy, but a real anticipation of the Cross and Resurrection in the eucharistic gifts – was regarded as a Passover: as his Passover. And so it was” (pp. 113-115).

I am by no means an expert on this topic. I just find it interesting and I find the absence of the four cups from the writings of Benedict, at least in this book, to be equally interesting. Does anyone know if he speaks of the four cups in another document or even in a homily?

I will conclude with Benedict’s words from the beginning of Chapter Six: “Jesus’ final meal – whether or not it was a Passover meal – was first and foremost an act of worship. At its heart was the prayer of praise and thanksgiving, and at the end it led back into prayer.”

It was an act of worship! This however is a topic for another time.

The Chrism Mass and Sacramental Oils Explained

Last night, I traveled across the city of Phoenix to SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the annual Chrism Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Phoenix, Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted. This was the second year in a row I have ever attended the Chrism Mass. As it was last year, it was a solemn and sacred liturgy.

Besides the primary purpose of the Chrism Mass, which is the blessing and distribution of the Sacramental Oils, which I discuss below, there is also another purpose of the Chrism Mass – the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service. Bishop Olmsted asks his priests through a variety of statements for their renewal and commitment to the Church. After each statement is read by Bishop Olmsted, the priests in unison, but speaking as individuals respond with, “I am.” Bishop Olmsted then asks for the assembly to stand, and together with one voice, the consecrated religious and the lay faithful pray for their priests and Bishops.

When working at a parish, a year doesn’t go by when someone sees the sacramental oils in the church and asks why do we have three glass jars of oil. The three oils in the ambry are known as the Oil of Catechumens (“Oleum Sanctorum“), Oil of the Sick (“Oleum Infirmorum“), and The Sacred Chrism (“Sacrum Chrisma“).

At the Chrism Mass, Bishop Olmsted, the pastor of the particular church of Phoenix, blesses the oils, which will be used in the sacramental celebrations throughout the year in the churches in Phoenix. In other dioceses across the universal Church, this very same thing occurs.

Sacramental Oils

According to the Early Church Fathers, an image of God the Father was the olive tree. The fruits that bud from that tree are seen as the image of God the Son. The image of God the Holy Spirit is the oil that flows out in every direction as the purest extract of both the tree and the fruit. When the Church uses the blessed oil in its sacramental celebrations, it represents the outward sign of the power of salvation, which is promised in the Paraclete. The people of God are sanctified, that is made holy, by the Holy Spirit.

During the Chrism Mass, right after the Memorial Acclamation, there is the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick. This oil is used for those individuals that are seriously ill. The oil here acts as a spiritual ointment by which the Holy Spirit heals the body and the soul. This oil is also used for those who are dying. In union with the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the soul is given the firm and final fortification it needs as it enters eternity.

Once the Prayer after Communion is prayed, we then have the Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and Consecration of The Sacred Chrism. Those preparing for Baptism receive the Oil of Catechumens. Just like the ancient athletes who once fought in the arena covered their bodies in oil as to make their enemies unable to grab hold and hurl them to the ground, so too are the catechumens anointed with this oil to remind them that the Christian life is full of struggle, most especially a struggle with Satan and sin. The oil gives them strength to continue in their daily battles, which mirrors the Old Testament warriors who would rub oil upon their shields as a symbol of God’s strength protecting them.

The Holy Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, the oil in Baptism symbolizes for individuals the rebirth through water and a share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal missions of Jesus Christ. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the oil reaffirms and strengthens the baptized individual to continue as a witness of Christ to the world. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, through the words of the Bishop, the Holy Spirit anoints the hands of the priest, who will consecrate and distribute the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

If your diocese has yet to have their Chrism Mass for this year, I would highly encourage you to attend. It’s one of the great aspects of Holy Week here in Phoenix. As I said above, the Chrism Mass is an experience that all Catholics should experience at least once, if not many times over.

If you have been to a Chrism Mass before or plan to attend this year, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box.


The Chrism Mass Missal – Diocese of Phoenix. Monday, March, 30, 2015

The Four Cups, the Last Supper, and the Cup of Consummation

When I taught theology at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Austin, Texas, one of my most favorite lessons of the entire school year was when I taught the students about the Four Cups of the Passover meal. After studying the Passover meal in some classes at Franciscan University of Steubenville and combined with reading Brant Pitre’s fantastic book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, my desire to explain to my students the importance of the Four Cups, the Last Supper, and the Cup of Consummation was of utmost importance, even though it wasn’t technically prescribed in the curriculum.

At the time of Jesus, there was the sacrifice of the lambs in the Temple, but also the Passover (pasch) meal. The Passover Seder or “order” featured in the meal four cups of wine. Within the Passover meal, there were two regulations that had to be followed – first, before the lamb was to be eaten, several hours of fasting were required, beginning around 3:00pm. The fasting we do as Catholics before we receive the Holy Eucharist in Mass is a similar function to the fasting in the Passover meal. The second regulation was that the drinking of the four cups of wine was deemed mandatory.

the-last-supper- cup

One might ask why the wine was so important, but the answer is unclear since the traditional Jewish sources don’t really say. In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Pitre states, “One reason may be that the overall structure of the Passover meal seems to have revolved around the drinking of the four cups of wine.” Now let’s examine one by one.

  1. The Cup of Sanctification (the kiddish cup) –

The first cup was the “introductory rites” to the Passover meal. The Passover meal begins in the evening, sometime around “nightfall.” The father gathers with his family at a large table and reclines to celebrate the freedom won by God in Egypt. The first cup is mixed with water and wine. After the mixing occurred, the father begins with the formal blessing over the cup. After the blessing, the food is then brought out, which includes unleavened bread, bitter herbs, a bowl of sauce, and the roasted lamb, which is known as “the body” in traditional Jewish sources. Appetizers were also brought out, however, the actual meal had not yet started.

  1. The Cup of Proclamation (the haggadah cup) –

The second cup would be mixed, but not drunk. The father would “proclaim” what the Lord did for Israel in Egypt. The son then asks the question – why is this night different from other nights? The son’s question is connected to the drinking of the second cup. The father would then answer by quoting a specific section from the Scriptures (read Deuteronomy 26:5-11). This exchange between the father and the son displays how the Passover meal looks back to the exodus and redemption the Israelites received by God in Egypt. The father then explains the parts of the meal – unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and the lamb. Explaining the significance of the meal was essentially the center of this part of the meal. To express their thanksgiving to God, the family would then sing the Hallel (“praise”) Psalms 113 and 114.

Passover cups

  1. The Cup of Blessing (the berakah cup) –

The third cup would be mixed and this is where the supper officially begins. The family would finally eat the lamb and the unleavened bread. Because customs change over time, it’s hard to figure how this actually was staged, but it seems that there was a blessing over the bread, there was a serving of a hors d’oeuvre, which consisted of a small morsel of bread, and at the end the main course was eaten. Once the meal was completed, the father recited another blessing over the third cup and it was consumed.

  1. The Cup of Praise (the hallel cup) –

The remainder of the Hallel Psalms (115-118) would be sung. Psalms 115-118 are known as the Great Hallel. These psalms may not mean much to us today, although it is important to learn their significance, they were well known to Jesus and his Apostles since they would sing them each year for the Passover. The Hallel Psalms were a “script” for the one offering the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 116). Once Psalm 118 was sung, the fourth cup was drunk. At this point, the meal was finished. An interesting side note is that Jesus would have seen his own fate in these hymns.

Brick - Last Supper

In context of the Last Supper, we must ask the question – Did Jesus finish the meal and how many cups did they drink?

First, Jesus vowed not to drink of “fruit of the vine” until the coming of the kingdom of God. Here he is speaking of the fourth cup. Second, after the third cup, Jesus and Apostles “sing a hymn” (Hallel Psalms) and then “went out,” however nothing was drank. Both Matthew and Mark speak of this in their Gospels. In the end, Jesus makes reference to the fourth cup, but possibly refuses to drink it at the Last Supper. He does not finish the meal…yet!

At this point, Jesus and his Apostles make their way to the Garden of Gethsemani (read Matthew 26:36-46). Here we read that Jesus prays three times for the cup that he must drink. The cup (or chalice in some translations) is the fourth cup, the final cup of the Passover meal. Between the giving of his body at the Last Supper as the sacrifice and one of the cups as his own blood, Jesus classifies his body as the New Passover. Once the meal is over, his blood will be poured out, and Jesus will be dead. He does not finish the meal in the Upper Room because it will finish with his death on the cross.


The fourth cup in relation to Jesus’ death on the cross is also known as the Cup of Consummation. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read that Jesus drinks the final cup on the way to the cross. But when we look at the final moments of the life of Christ on the cross, we notice that he does drink of “the fruit of the vine.” However, in Mark 15:23, he does drink since the wine is filled myrrh, which would have dulled his sufferings. In Matthew 27:48, it states, “a sponge…filled it with vinegar” is lifted up for him to drink. The most overt explanation of this comes from John 19:28, which states that Jesus requests a drink and says, “I thirst.” After drinking of the vinegar given to him, in John 19:30, Jesus says, “It is finished.” When Our Lord speaks these words, he is not referring to his life or his mission, but he is referencing the meal started at the Last Supper. Here on the cross, Jesus finishes the Passover meal, and drinks the fourth cup.

Focusing on the new and sacrificial Passover, in his book mentioned previously, Brant Pitre says, “In short, by means of the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the Cross into a Passover, and by means of the Cross, he transformed the Last Supper into a sacrifice.”

For a more detailed explanation of this subject, I would suggest reading Brant Pitre’s book mentioned above. There is also a CD from Lighthouse Media on the subject matter as well.

Update March 2016: See also – Was Jesus’ Last Supper Actually a Passover Meal or was it Something Completely New?


Hahn, Scott, and James Socías. “The Cup of Consummation.” Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course on Bible Study. Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2005. Print.

Pitre, Brant James. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.


Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Last Supper and the agony at Gethsemani

As we get closer to the Great Triduum, the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which anticipate the Great Sunday, I found it fitting to briefly share with you what Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us in the Last Supper and how it corresponds with his agony in Gethsemani and his Crucifixion on the Cross at Calvary from the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which will be commemorated on Holy Thursday, is where Our Lord freely offers his life at the Last Supper with and to the Apostles. It is then their duty to perpetuate it to the faithful after His Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

During the Passover Meal, there were four cups that were to be drunk before the meal was said to be complete. As we will see in tomorrow’s blog post, The Four Cups of the Passover Meal, the fourth cup is what Jesus makes reference to in the Garden of Gethsemani. The fourth cup is the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. In the words, after he drinks the vinegar (wine) on the Cross, “It is finished”, (“It is consummated”) is the completion of the sacrificial meal.

Let us turn our attention now to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on the free offering of Jesus’ life and the agony at Gethsemani –

“Jesus gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles ‘on the night he was betrayed’. On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: ‘This is my body which is given for you.” ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” [#610].


The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice. Jesus includes the apostles in his own offering and bids them perpetuate it. By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant: ‘For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth’” [#611].

“The cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father’s hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani, making himself “obedient unto death”. Jesus prays: ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…’ Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature. Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death. Above all, his human nature has been assumed by the divine person of the “Author of life”, the “Living One”. By accepting in his human will that the Father’s will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’” [#612].

Jesus in the Garden - Passion of Christ film

For more study on the this subject, I would encourage you to read my first Quick Lessons from the Catechism, The Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Also, don’t forget to return tomorrow for an explanation of the Four Cups of the Passover Meal.