After His merciful act of washing of the Apostles’ feet before the Last Supper, Christ reveals that one His chosen will betray Him (“He who ate My bread has lifted his heel against Me”; Psalm 41:9). Christ has been troubled during the evening as He anticipates the horrors of sin and His Passion and again becomes troubled as He considers the awful betrayal of Judas; Christ loves Judas despite his betrayal and anguishes over Judas’ coming suicide and his soul.
Announcing He will be betrayed by one of them, the Apostles become agitated, wondering who the betrayer is. Peter asks John, who is reclining at table near Christ (as was the common approach to table fellowship), to ask Christ to identify the betrayer. Judas, who also has the honor of being near Christ at table and receives food from Christ’s own hand, is identified by Christ as His betrayer. Compromised by his selfishness and greed, Judas accepts Satan’s entry into his heart and goes into the darkness of the night to betray Christ.
Revealing that His long-awaited hour has finally come in which the Trinity will be glorified despite the evil acts of men, Christ confirms His departure and that the Apostles will not be able to immediately follow. Simon Peter, already troubled by Judas’ betrayal, is concerned about being separated from Christ. In a veiled reference to death and resurrection, Christ reveals that Peter will indeed follow Him. Despite Peter’s heartfelt promise to die for Christ, Christ reveals that Peter will deny Him three times before the cock crows; after Judas’ betrayal, Christ’s prophecy of Peter’s three-fold denial must have cut deep in Peter’s soul.
1) Be awed that God so loves us that He would become Man to experience the fullness of human suffering: anguish, anger, physical suffering, betrayal, denial, etc.
2) Just as faith grows, so does the falling away of faith; Judas’ pilgrimage to betrayal and suicide occurs over time. During Holy Week, confront the dangers of Unrepentant Sin (CCC 1846-1876) and pray for Christ to give you the grace to repent and go to Confession, to resist sin and to grow in charitable acts.
3) Judas feels remorse, does not repent and kills himself. In contrast, Peter denies Christ but repents, is forgiven and becomes one of the greatest Saints. During Holy Week, realize the need for a Continual Conversion (CCC 1427-1429) and pray for Christ to help you not only avoid overt sins but to battle sins of omission (failure to act with charity to build Christ’s Kingdom).
After His disciplined three-year public ministry of preaching, offering signs of His divinity and forming His Apostles for their mission, Christ returns to Bethany (where He raised Lazarus from the dead) on the Saturday before the Jewish Passover. Preparing for His Passion, Christ attends a dinner in His honor at the home of Simon the Leper (Matt 26:6); Lazarus is at table and his sisters Martha and Mary prepare a meal for Christ and His Apostles.
While the industrious Martha serves, the deeply devoted Mary draws near to Christ to anoint His feet with pure nard, a highly fragrant oil from the spikenard plant which grows at high elevations in India. Taking a pound (a very large amount), Mary kneels before Christ and anoints His feet and wipes them with her hair; this is a disturbing act for women were not disciples of rabbis and letting down her hair in public and using her hair to wipe Christ’s feet was scandalous. But Christ commends Mary’s act; it is a profound act of adoration, provides a beautiful comfort to Christ and prefigures the burial preparations for Christ’s body after His death on the Cross. The beautiful fragrance of the spikenard and Mary’s humble act of love spreads through the house, a sign of the blessings of Christ’s Gospel that will spread throughout the world.
After the greedy Judas complains about Mary’s generous act, Christ bluntly rebukes Judas and defends Mary. Judas’ objection that the nard could be sold (almost a year’s wages for a day laborer; perhaps $25,000 in today’s dollars) for the poor is a false one; Judas is a thief who will ironically betray Christ for the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver. Christ is not indifferent to the poor for elsewhere He instructs men to give alms; Christ commands that Mary keep the remainder to anoint His body at burial and may be establishing the future practice of supporting the financial needs of His Church (Acts 4:34-35). News of Christ’s presence quickly draw a crowd; the chief priests, to maintain their power and avoid a potential violent crackdown by the Romans, plan to kill Jesus and Lazarus because he is “evidence” of Christ’s supernatural power.
1) Marvel at Christ’s omniscience; He knows He will be crucified (and raised from the dead) and the inner motivations of Judas and Mary.
2) While the scandalous acts some Catholic clergy can shake faith, realize Christ has full knowledge of Judas’ betrayal but uses it for His glory. During Holy Week, renew your understanding of Scandal (CCC 2284-2287) and pray for Christ to bring His will to be done in spite of the evil acts of some in His Church.
3) Some object to the Church’s use of donations to build beautiful parish buildings or support priests and religious, arguing (like Judas!) it is better to give to the poor. During Holy Week, recall your Obligation to support the Church (CCC 2043, 1351) and pray for Christ to help you to be a good steward who generously supports the work of your parish, diocese and the broader Church.
Christ’s deliberate preparation to fully reveal Himself to the world in the Passion and Resurrection continues with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the Passover (likely date: April 3, 33 A.D.). Withdrawing from Jerusalem after raising Lazarus to avoid the Jewish leadership’s plot to kill Him (John 11), Christ returns just before Passover and waits in the small town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem. Christ directs two disciples to fetch a donkey and colt from a nearby village, mysteriously knowing the animals are waiting for Him.
Christ purposefully enters Jerusalem in a provocative and symbolic way to announce the salvation of His coming Kingdom. Kings in the ancient Middle East entered conquered cities leading a symbolic procession on a warhorse. Rather than riding a warhorse, Christ fulfills centuries-old Hebrew prophecies (Isa 62:11; Zech 9:9) by humbly entering Jerusalem on a peaceful donkey as an announcement of salvation. Christ replays and perfects King Solomon’s entry into Jerusalem a thousand years before: both are “Sons of David”, both ride a humble animal (donkey/mule) and both enter Jerusalem and are greeted by ecstatic crowds.
As Christ begins the procession into Jerusalem on the colt, huge crowds of pilgrims lay their garments on the ground for Christ to trod upon, signifying they consider that Christ is their king (2 Kings 9:13). Knowing that Jesus’ name means “God saves”, the crowds shout “Hosanna” (Hebrew, meaning “Save Us”). Calling Christ the Son of David, a title for the Messiah, the crowds cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”, a mysterious irony for Christ is the Lord. Achieving His purpose, Christ’s entry causes an uproar throughout Jerusalem, setting the stage for His saving Passion and Resurrection.
1) Despite the Jewish leadership’s determination and power to kill Him, Christ enters Jerusalem when the most pilgrims are in Jerusalem in the most provocative way possible. Marvel at Christ’s commitment to His mission and His remarkable courage.
2) Those who greet Christ as He enters Jerusalem, worship Him with their whole being, laying down their garments at His feet. During Lent, commit to Sacrifice for Christ (CCC 2099-2100) and pray for Christ to help you lay down everything in your life for Him.
3) Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is re-presented in the Mass. During Lent, reflect upon the Sanctus in the Mass (CCC 559) and experience a heartfelt joy for Christ’s gift of the Eucharist.
Bringing into reality God’s deliberate plan of salvation conceived from the beginning, the culminating act of Christ’s Incarnation is accomplished in His Passion. Christ’s entire life and the three years of His public ministry prefigure and reveal the saving events of His Passion. The profound mysteries of the Passion can only be imperfectly considered in the briefest of ways in this short commentary.
Beginning on Holy Thursday, Christ transforms the Passover Seder (Jewish ritual meal which commemorates the Passover and deliverance from Egypt; Ex 12) into His Eucharist by the transubstantiation of His Glorified Body and Blood; Christ’s transformation of the Seder is complete when He sips wine from the Cross (John 19:23-30), the final cup of blessing in the Jewish Seder. Christ’s death establishes the eternal New Covenant in which the repentant are baptized in Christ, become adopted children of God and are fed by the Eucharist and are united with Him and granted eternal life.
Christ’s Passion is beyond the ability of a man and only God could accomplish the Passion. The Passion spans the depths of human suffering (betrayal, abandonment, anguish, torture, mocking, humiliation, a mother witnessing her only child’s death, extreme agony in death) but goes further: Christ’s suffering includes the incomprehensible pain of the effects of every human sin, from Adam until the end of time. Christ’s Last Seven Words offer great blessing: the great offer of forgiveness for the worst of crimes, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:43), should be on every man’s lips every day; “My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46) is not a cry of confused desperation, but is a cry of victory (a quote from Psalm 22 which points to Christ’s vindication and victory); Christ’s gift, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:26-27), is a call for every Catholic man to commit to a devotion to the Holy Mother.
1) Be astounded by how Christ transforms the 1200-year-old annual ritual of the Passover, becoming the Sacrificial Lamb of God, establishing Jewish rituals of thanksgiving (Greek – eukharistos) into the Eucharist, and how Christ continually feeds Catholics through the transubstantiation of bread and wine into His glorified Body and Blood.
2) The profound and life-changing event of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection is the greatest event in human history. During Holy Week, review the Church’s reflections on the Passion (CCC 571-637; review Scripture notes in a Catholic study bible) and pray for Christ to draw you further into the great mysteries of His saving Passion.
3) The Church exhorts men to regularly pray the Rosary to stay close to Christ and the Blessed Mother of God. During Holy Week, refresh your understanding of the Rosary (CCC 2708, 2673-2682, 971) and pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Christ’s miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead was witnessed by His Apostles, Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary and by a number of Jews from Jerusalem who had arrived to mourn the death of Lazarus. While many believed in Christ because He raised Lazarus, some immediately went to Jerusalem to inform the Jewish leadership. The chief priests and the Pharisees had sought to arrest and to kill Christ multiple times for they were unwilling to believe He was the Messiah. Now, with overwhelming proof of His miracles, the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin) switches tactics; they will justify their murder of Christ by rationalizing it will protect the Jewish people from uprising and being wiped out by the Romans.
Caiaphas, the long-time leader of the Sanhedrin, ridicules the council’s handwringing fear and says, “it is expedient…that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” Caiaphas’ statement is full of irony; despite his evil and ignorance of Christ, Caiaphas prophetically reveals that Christ’s death will give life to those Jews (and Gentiles) who believe; it is precisely because the Jewish people do not believe in Christ’s death that Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. as Christ predicted (Matt 24:2) and serval million Jews will die.
Aware that the Jewish leadership was now completely committed and plotting to kill Him, Christ withdraws with His disciples to a small town near the wilderness. Completely in control of His destiny, God waits for the Passover to return to Jerusalem; He will transform the memorial celebration of the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian captivity through the Passion and Resurrection to deliver all men from the eternal death of sin.
1) Just like Christ thwarts the schemes of the Jewish leadership, the evil men and women of today who deny Christ cannot stop God’s will from being done. Marvel at God’s divine knowledge, power and mercy.
2) God, in His infinite mercy, became flesh so men might be saved. During Lent, give thanks that the Word Became Flesh (CCC 456-460) and pray that Christ might transform your heart and the hearts of all men to accept Him as Savior.
3) Adam’s rebellion against God’s will is replayed by the Jewish leaders and millions of men today. During Lent, recommit to the obedience of the calling of the Lay Faithful (CCC 897-913) and pray for Christ to give you the grace to fulfill your calling to be a priest, prophet and king for Christ’s Holy Catholic Church.