Rome (AsiaNews) – Jesus, probably “celebrated the Passover without the lamb” , in so far as the Last Supper may have taken place before the moment in which , according to Hebrew tradition the lambs were sacrificed, and above all because He himself became the voluntary sacrificial victim, by offering His life as a gift for the salvation of mankind.
These reflections on the how and when the Last Supper took place, coupled with others on the meaning and value of the celebration, featured in the Pope’s celebration of the “In Coena Domini” Mass, which took place this evening in the basilica of St John Lateran, during which Benedict XVI carried out the rite of the washing of the feet.
Benedict XVI’s commemoration of Our Lord’s Last Supper, which opens the Easter Tridium, re-evoked the Jewish tradition of Passover, “a celebration of thanksgiving and at the same time of hope. At the centre of the memorial feast, ordered according to strict liturgical rules, was the lamb as a symbol of liberation from the slavery of Egypt”.
Yet still, “the nation suffered as a small population caught up in the tensions between great powers. Their grateful memorial of God’s intervention on their behalf in the past, transformed itself into a pleading prayer and expression of hope; come and bring to an end what you have begun! Gift us ever lasting freedom. The night before his passion Christ shared this feat of multiple meanings with his disciples. In this context we must understand the new Easter, which he gifted to us in the Blessed Sacrament”.
The theologian Pope then recalled that “In the evangelist’s accounts of this event there seems to be a contradiction between the version as told by John and those of Mathew, Mark and Luke. According to John, Christ died on the cross at the exact moment when in the temples nearby, the lambs were being slaughtered for the Pascal feast. His death coincides with the sacrifice of the lambs. That however means that he died on the eve of Passover and therefore could not personally celebrate the Pascal feast – this at least is what seems to be. According to the other three evangelists Our Lord’s last supper was a traditional Pascal feast into which he inserted the novelty of the gift of His body and blood. Until very recently this contradiction seemed irresolvable. Most of the exegetes were of the opinion that John did not want to give us the exact, historic date of Christ’s death, but had instead chose a symbolic date to highlight the one profound truth: Jesus is the true Lamb of God who shed his blood for us”.
“In the meantime the discovery of the Qumran writings has led us to a possible and convincing solution that, while not accepted by all, possesses a great degree of probability. We are now able to say that John’s account of the passion is historically precise. Christ really did shed his blood on the eve of the Passover at the hour of the slaughter of the lambs. However he celebrated Passover with his disciples according to the Qumran calendar, therefore at least one day earlier – he celebrated it without lamb, as according to the traditions of the Qumran community, which did not recognise Herod’s temple and was waiting for a new temple. Christ therefore celebrated Passover without the lamb: no, - not without the lamb: in place of the lamb he gifted his body and blood. Thus He anticipated the death with his words: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own”. At the very moment He gives his body and blood to the disciples, He really is bringing his words to be. He himself offers His life. Only in this way does the ancient Passover obtain true meaning”.
“Thus –concluded the Pope – at the very heart of Christ’s new Easter is the cross. From the cross comes His gift to us. His body and His blood. In the blessed Eucharist, we celebrate together with the Apostles, down through the centuries, our new Easter. This gift comes from Christ’s cross”.