giovedì 29 marzo 2018

«Est Pascha Domini!»

Not always do the gospels agree with each other; sometimes we find some discrepancies among them. One of most controversial cases is the question about the last supper of Jesus with his disciples: was it a Passover meal, like that described in today’s first reading?

Well, according to the synoptic gospels, it was; according to John, instead, it was not. In the opinion of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the last supper took place “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when [the Jews] sacrificed the Passover lamb,” that is to say, on the vigil of the Passover feast. Therefore, Jesus, according to them, died on the Passover day. On the contrary, according to John, as we have heard in today’s gospel, the last supper took place “before the feast of Passover,” and Jesus died on the vigil of the Passover, while the Paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple. The Passover fell on Saturday that year, not on Friday.

Admittedly, even though the synoptic gospels present the last supper as a Passover meal, none of them states that Jesus, during his supper ate the Paschal lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They only speak of the institution of the Eucharist, made with bread and wine. Moreover, it seems very strange that the trial and the crucifixion of Jesus might take place during a so solemn feast like Passover. So, it seems more historically founded John’s narrative.

In any case, the question whether the last supper was a Passover meal or not is not so important, because Jesus was about to institute a new Passover, of which the old one was only a foreshadowing. There was no need for Jesus and his disciples to eat the Paschal lamb, because Jesus himself was the new Paschal lamb, who was going to shed his blood for the salvation of the world. It is meaningful that, in the gospel of John, he dies exactly when the Paschal lambs are slaughtered in the Temple. The sacrifice of Jesus replaces the old sacrifices.

I think we find a good solution to our question in the book of of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. He writes, “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” (p. 114).

That is why Mark, Matthew and Luke are not wrong; they are not deceiving us. It is right to consider the last supper as a Passover meal. Only it was not the Passover of the Jews, but the Passover of Christ: “It is the Passover of the Lord” (Est Pascha Domini!) And we eat the Passover whenever we partake of the Paschal banquet of the Eucharist. Mass is our Passover.