A sneak peek at Pope Benedict’s new book

Pope Benedict’s second book on Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection — is set to be released next week, but readers can get a sneak peek at a few sections now.

Amy Welborn teases out one of the interesting chapters on “The Dating of the Last Supper.” There is a dispute among scholars as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, as indicated in the Synoptic Gospels, or whether it occurred before the Passover, according to the account in John’s Gospel (“the Jewish authorities who led Jesus before Pilate’s court avoided entering the praetorium, ‘so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover’ (18:28)”).

Where does Benedict come down in the dispute? He ultimately concludes that John’s account of the date is the correct one — but why, then, do the Synoptic Gospels say differently? Because, as Welborn puts it, “what Jesus celebrated with his disciples was a new Passover meal.” From the book:

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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. 429–30). 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 with 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.

Fascinating stuff. Amy has more over at her blog, so be sure to check it out. Looks like this book will make great Lenten reading.


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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