THE last days and hours before the Sacred Passion of our Lord are remarkable in two several ways. First, they must have been crowded with actions and sayings and arrangements for the future, to an extent which seems marvellous, even among the doings of our Lord. All was done with the most perfect calm and, as it were, in leisurely order, without hurry, amidst all the swiftness with which He acted. But still there were great acts almost without number to be gone through, so that, if they were all related at full, the account might occupy many large volumes. The Church perfectly under stands that large portions of the sayings and doings of those days and nights are left untold, not only from the very multitude of what might have had to be related, but also from the fact that many sayings and doings were not of that class which was to be committed to the Evangelical records. Such was all that related directly to the positive institutions of the Christian Church, or, again, to interior and spiritual histories, the dealings of our Lord with single souls, and the like. But what we know must have been done or said, on account of its connection with things that are absolutely recorded, is of itself very copious, and we may well suppose that much more of which we have but little conception was said and done at this time. But all was done with immense swiftness and peace.
Another feature which is remarkable at this time is that our Lord appears to have increased His manifestations of loving and tender affectionateness, as the time of the Passion drew nearer. St. John gives us a hint as to this when he says, that our Lord, "knowing that His hour was now come that He should pass out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them unto the end." 1 These words may refer especially to the great outpouring of love in the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, but even that excess of love was but a specimen of the whole tenour of His conduct at that time. Our Lord was going to His Father. This filled His Heart with ineffable joy, which made Him more communicative than ever before of the love that was in His Heart for us. This excessive love showed itself in every incident and word of that last evening with His disciples. Apart from all other considerations which suggest themselves as causes of this increase of lovingness, He knew that He was going to die for the sins of the world, and He had during the last few days experienced the greatest ingratitude and been the object of the foulest conspiracy on the part both of His enemies and of the poor Apostle who had leagued himself with them. Treatment of this kind makes imperfect men angry, and to some extent sour, at least it drives them in on themselves and closes their hearts against others. But to perfect sanctity such trials act in another and in a contrary manner, letting loose new streams of love and beneficence, and throwing a calm brightness and tenderness over the whole demeanour which had not been so discernible before. Thus we must enter on our considerations of the acts and sayings of Holy Thursday with this thought in our mind as well as the other. Not only were the things said and done most wonderful in their greatness and their multiplicity, but they were said and done with an excess of love and devotion which seemed in itself something new, even to those who like St. John had long been most watchful students of the Sacred Heart.
These two features in what w r as about to happen would make it more reasonable than ever, if we needed any fresh reason, to think that our Blessed Lady was, as the contemplatives of the Church tell us, present in the house in which the Last Supper was celebrated, the Blessed Sacrament instituted, and in which all the other wonders of our Lord's love were manifested. For it would hardly be in harmony with the manner of our Lord's dealings with her all through, if she had not been-present on that occasion, when He was to pour out so lavishly the marvels of His love, and when so many of the most important acts of His whole life were to take place. For, apart from the intense love which He bore to her, and which would make Him desire that she should share in all the bounties which He was now to display towards others, her presence would be wanted, that He might have by Him the heart that could alone fully understand what He was doing, and, in particular, correspond to the immense love which was glowing and working in His Heart. In what manner our Lady may have been present at the Last Supper may not be quite certain. Maria de Agreda tells us that she followed our Lord with some of the holy women to the house provided by the unnamed but most blessed disciple who was His host, and the host of all the Church, on that evening. In this house there were many rooms, in one of which our Lady took her place, whence she could hear or see what went on in the Cenacle. We may adopt this suggestion, as helping us to form some picture in our own minds of the whole scene. It was also arranged that she might in some way, natural or supernatural, receive Holy Communion directly after our Lord.
The events of the last evening in the Cenacle are, as has been already said, very many in number, and it would be foreign to the purpose of this work to comment upon each at any length. 2 It is only necessary to remind ourselves of them, in order that we may meditate on the effect they would have on our Blessed Lady, and on her affections and prayers concerning each. The legal supper of the Pasch seems to have come first, after which our Lord gave the disciples who had partaken of it with Him the chalice of which St. Luke speaks, which was a cup of wine passed round after the Pasch had been eaten. 3 Then followed the preparation for the simple ordinary supper, which is what the Evangelists speak of when they mention our Lord as sitting down or lying down with the twelve. The Pasch was eaten with haste, with their garments girt as if for a journey, and it was taken standing, probably in a short space of time. There may have been some interval between the two suppers, in which our Lord is thought by some to have explained to the Apostles the significance of the ceremonies and rites which they had just performed, and how all was now to be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
We have more than once hints in the Gospel narratives of the custom of washing the feet before meals, the omission of which custom was once noted as a kind of fault by our Lord in one of His entertainers. 4 Our Lord now took up this custom, as it were, and consecrated it to a great spiritual meaning, in the washing of the feet of the disciples, according to the account of St. John. He rose from the table, we are told, and thus it seems likely that the washing of the feet took place at the very beginning of the ordinary supper, as soon as the disciples had arranged themselves in their places on the couches on which they reclined. It was then that St. Peter resisted our Lord's action, and it seems that he was the first at whose feet our Lord placed Himself. He was reprimanded by our Lord, and forced to submit, and then, after the whole ceremony had been gone through, our Lord told them of the obligation laid upon them of following His example of humility. He added a few words about the dignity of His ministers, after having spoken, for the first time that evening, of His approaching betrayal by one of them, the thought being naturally suggested by His words about their being all clean, which almost forced Him to show that He knew that His words did not apply to all.
It was now, then, during the ordinary supper, that our Lord spoke about His betrayer, that the Apostles asked Him," Lord, is it I ? " that St. John at the request of St. Peter asked Him who it was, and that our Lord gave* the sop to Judas from the dish. After the reception of the morsel, we are told that Satan entered into or took possession of him, and that he went out, having received from our Lord the injunction which concealed his purpose from the rest of the disciples, "What thou doest, do quickly." It is here also that should be placed the first warning to St. Peter, which was called forth by his protest that he would follow our Lord anywhere, and lay down his life for His sake, and also the dispute among the disciples who was to be the greater, perhaps suggested by Peter's vehement protestations, which seemed to raise him above his brethren, the words of our Lord to St. Peter about His having prayed for him that his faith might not fail, the second warning about the denial, and the words about the two swords. All these things seem naturally to precede the institution of the adorable Sacrament, and we must probably add to these that part of the long discourse given by St. John which contains the questions and observations of St. Thomas, St. Philip, and St. Jude, with our Lord's words in answer. 5
It is here, however, that we must probably suppose that there is a great gap in the narratives of the Evangelists. The institution of the Blessed Eucharist Itself is only mentioned by the first three in very few words, and not at all by the fourth. St. Luke alone adds the important words in which our Lord bade the Apostles "do this in commemoration of Me," which words, according to the Catholic teaching, contain the truth of the institution of the Christian priesthood, without which they would be comparatively meaningless. The Church teaches us that the Apostles were then made priests of the New Testament. We have already seen that it is not a part of the purpose of the Gospels to relate, directly and formally, the class of acts to which this institution of the priesthood belongs, and therefore it must not surprise us to find it omitted in the narratives of what passed on this Thursday evening. But we must be quite sure that, at some time or other, the Christian priesthood was formally instituted by our Blessed Lord Himself, and the statement of the Church that it was done at the time of the Last Supper, when the Holy Communion was first given, and when our Lord celebrated, as we should say, the first Mass, is in itself the most reasonable account that could be given of the certain fact, especially when we consider the words just mentioned. But, if it be so reasonable that the priesthood should have been instituted at this time, there is very great reason for thinking, further, that other great institutions of the same class were also made at that time. It must be quite certain that the Apostles must have had some instruction in order to their receiving Holy Communion rightly, devoutly, and with profit, and that they must also have been instructed if they were to understand the sacrificial words, "Do this in commemoration of Me." Thus we have very great reason for thinking, as has been said, that there is here a very large omission indeed of matters of the utmost importance to the Church, as to which she was to receive her knowledge in other ways than from the Gospels.
The only great teaching on the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament of which there is any record in the Gospels is the long discourse preserved in the sixth chapter of St. John. But that leaves the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament itself without its full completeness, and requires the narrative of the institution which is here given to make it perfect. Nor does it say anything clearly about the great doctrine of the Sacrifice. Here then is a solid reason for supposing that on this occasion our Lord poured out the whole wonderful riches of the doc trines and ordinances connected with the Blessed Sacrament, and, indeed, with the whole sacramental system which w r as to be founded on His Passion, and to convey to men so simply and so efficaciously the fruits of that Passion. It may seem a great omission on the part of the Evangelists, if this was really the case, and yet they did not mention it. But the answer to this difficulty has already been given more than once. We are here speaking of a class of communications which it was not the office of the Evangelists to hand on. It is most probable, there fore, that on this evening our Lord gave the Apostles full instruction on this most important part of His work in the world. And the words already mentioned, which seem so clearly to convey the injunction of the exercise by the Apostles of their priestly powers, in celebrating the commemorative Sacrifice of Holy Mass, imply moreover the further truth, that they were then solemnly ordained.
The words of St. John, which form the beginning of our fifteenth chapter, about the vine and the branches, seem to point naturally to a break in the long discourse in which they occur, and they are immediately preceded by the words, of which no explanation is given, "Arise, let us go hence." It seems very natural to think that after the last mentioned words some change of place occurred for the whole company, as if they had then risen from table, and proceeded to another room or part of the room, and there our Lord had celebrated Holy Communion, after giving to the Apostles the instructions of which we have been speaking concerning the sacramental system of His Church, and especially concerning the Adorable Sacrifice itself. The discourse from this point is broken by none of the questionings which mark its earlier stages, and the doctrine about the Office of the Holy Ghost and the effects of our Lord's going to the Father for the purpose of sending the Paraclete in His Name, seems to belong very naturally to a time when the intelligence of the Apostles had been en lightened, and their hearts inflamed by the reception of the Holy Communion. It would be out of place here to comment on this great discourse at any length, or even on the climax of all our Lord said or did on this evening. This was the Divine and most efficacious prayer which He poured forth before leaving the Cenacle, the great prayer of the High Priest of the New Testament to the Father for the unity of the Church. What has been said must suffice for a brief outline of the events of this Thursday evening. We may now proceed to con sider them in the heart and mind of our Blessed Lady. It has already been said that she \vas present either actually or spiritually in the Cenacle, and certainly the presence of one who could so thoroughly enter into the feelings, intentions, and desires of her Blessed Son must have been singularly opportune at such a time, when He was indeed pouring out the very choicest treasures of His Heart. With all the great holiness and devotion of the Apostles, it is clear that they were not yet capable of understanding their Master, of following with enlightened appreciation the multifarious and exquisite devices of His charity. When He celebrated for this last time the Paschal feast, it was well that there should be some one there who could enter into all its full meaning, the service which its yearly commemoration had rendered to the honour of God and the welfare of souls, throughout all those centuries which had elapsed since its institution, both in stirring up gratitude to God, in encouraging the people to faithfulness to His law, and in keeping alive the hope and expectation of a deliverance far greater and more lasting than the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. In that celebration by our Lord, the old Covenant was folded up and laid aside with honour and thanksgiving, and this was almost immediately followed by the introduction of the great feast of the New Testament.
The incidents which followed after the Paschal Supper were also far above the Apostles in their spiritual import, and were probably ordered by our Lord as an introduction for the new feast of the Holy Communion. Our Lady might be able to understand the mystery concealed under the washing of the feet, which was in a manner necessary then as the prelude to the new banquet, which required a special and immediate purification to fit them for it. For it has been considered in the Church that the washing of the feet of the Apostles was intended to represent that purification of the soul from daily faults, which should be practised by all those who celebrate Holy Mass or who receive Holy Communion, if it may be, by the reception of the Sacrament of Penance, or at least by the exercise of contrition and of some holy prayer or action which may remove the dust of venial sins from the soul. And it may be thought that the complaint about the betrayal, and the words and acts which followed, were arranged by our Lord with the same view also to what was immediately to be. For thus, if Judas would not let himself be touched by the most tender pleading of our Lord humbling Himself at his feet, he might at least be moved by the manifestation of His knowledge of his treachery, or be given the opportunity of leaving the Cenacle at once. St. John seems to mention the ignorance of the Apostles concerning this treachery with a sort of admiring wonder at the charity of our Lord, in providing for the concealment from any eyes of theirs. Perhaps also there may be in the measures taken by our Lord for the removal of Judas, a further lesson of exquisite prudence, in preventing him from adding to his guilt by the participation of Holy Communion, without any revelation of his evil state.
In any case all these sayings and doings and arrangements of our Lord must have been far more intelligible to our Lady than any other, and thus her presence would provide in this way for that loving and continual homage of gratitude and interior praise which it was her delight to be always ministering to Him. And the intelligence which she had of the greatness of what our Lord was doing in all these acts preliminary to the introduction of His greatest gift of love in the Holy Communion, must have furnished her with a fresh number of subjects for her loving intercessions. If this is true of the acts and sayings of our Lord before the moment came for the instructions about the sacraments, and for their institution itself, what must have been the value of her presence when that institution was made, with all its endless fruits and blessings in time and in eternity ! Our Lady was then, as it were, in the place of the whole Church of all ages in her praise and thanksgiving, and she had before her not only one great boon, like that of the Adorable Sacrifice or of Holy Communion or of the abiding Presence of our Lord in the Tabernacle, with all its fruits in the soul of whatever kind, but the whole range of that marvellous sacramental septenary, which included Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, as well as the Blessed Eucharist, a set of gifts which encompass and supernaturalize human life from its beginning to the last moment of its earthly stage, and which last on in their divine effects throughout all eternity.
When our Lord spoke to His Apostles about this immense crown of boons, all of which were the gifts of His redeeming love to the race of man, steeped in the Blood He was about to shed on the Cross, He probably made little of them, as was His way, mentioning them almost as if they were to cost Him nothing, and were ordinary offerings. And yet certainly it would require no less than the illuminated intelligence of His own Mother to rate their value as it deserved, or rather as it could be rated, no less than the rapturous glow of her intense love to reward His Heart duly for them. Outside was the night, into which Judas, as St. John tells us, had gone forth, the night which was soon to be lit up by the torches and lanterns of the armed band, sent by the enemies of our Lord to seize Him in the Garden, the night that represented the miserable world which He came to redeem, and which was so ignorant of its own needs and miseries, and of His power, as to turn on Him with all its malice and bring Him to death. But in the Cenacle, within which were assembled our Lord and His Mother and the holiest souls in the world, all was light and peace and calm thankfulness, and there the foundations were being laid for the glory of God on earth and in Heaven which was to last for ever. The Death of our Lord was to call into being the powers, as St. Paul calls them, "of the world to come," which w r ere to give to men the might of angels, and transform earth into the ante-chamber of Heaven. And there was at least one heart there that could follow out the great counsel of God which was being executed by the Incarnate Son, in a manner which transcended the thoughts of the Angels themselves, and which by its prayers was to have a large share in the application of the marvellous graces thus created for the benefit of mankind. Mary could not see into the future, as our Lord could see, she could not trace with infallible and distinct accuracy all the workings of Divine grace in every human soul, but she could understand the immensity of the blessings now so freely offered, the beauty of the Divine contrivance by which they were made easy of access, the simplicity and the humility of the means and instruments and ministers by which they were to be conveyed to men.
But if the sacramental system in general must have filled the heart of our Lady with gratitude and wonder, how much more must she have felt at the knowledge of that still greater condescension by which the Incarnate Son Himself became the Sacrifice as well as the High Priest of the New Covenant, renewing day after day in the Church the offering of Himself to His Father which was first offered on Calvary! If the sacraments in general convey the grace of the New Testament, this Adorable Sacrifice contains the Author of grace Himself, and He is Himself made therein the food of the soul by the eating and drinking of His Precious Body and Blood. Certainly no heart but Mary's could take in the ineffable excess of this mercy or render to our Lord the thanks which He deserved from mankind. With her great intelligence of the ways of God in the world and of the ways of the world in its reception and treatment of His bounties, she may well have foreseen, at least in conjecture, what was to be the future with regard to the Blessed Sacrament and the Adorable Sacrifice, at what a cost of humiliation, and insult, and sacrilege, this crowning condescension was to be carried out, and she must have seen in this a still further reason for gratitude and praise, and for devotion of herself henceforth to the special worship and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament, in which our Lord chose to dwell on earth till the end of time, notwithstanding all that cost. The first idea of reparation to Him was thus born in her heart. She was the first and most intelligent and most loving worshipper of her Son, from the moment of the Incarnation, and now that He had taken to Himself this new mode of existence, she became at once the first and most intelligent and most loving of His worshippers therein.
It seems impossible to doubt that she received Holy Communion on this its first institution, and that her reception of her Son was the most perfect, the most humble, the most loving, and therefore the most profitable to her soul, that was ever made in the Church, except on later occasions by herself. She had much indeed to go through during the hours which followed on that blessed Communion. The whole of the Passion was to fall upon our Lord, and on her, the whole weight of that most crushing sorrow which was to wreak itself on her Compassion. It is universally believed that, whatever may have been the degree to which the faith and courage of others wavered, she bore herself all through that trying scene with the most serene and penetrating faith, as well as with the most intense pain, that her faith and her hope and her conformity to the Divine decrees were brighter and stronger than ever, and the support of the whole Church. It does not seem well to suppose that for this great and un exampled trial she was left without the strength which her soul would have derived from Holy Communion. Hers was the most perfect Communion, as has been said, and, though it would not be true to say that she would have failed without it, for our Lord could supply her with the necessary strength in other ways, still it may increase our devotion and intelligence of the ways of God to consider this as one of the first triumphs of a soul fortified by the sacramental reception of our Lord.
There are a number of beautiful features in the last conversation of our Lord with His Apostles, and especially the long prayer which He uttered to His Father before leaving the Cenacle, which must have been the occasions of great acts of adoration and thanksgiving on the part of our Lady, but on which we cannot dwell with full particularity. The lovingness of our Lord rises to its highest pitch in the last words addressed to the Apostles, about the persecutions they were to undergo for Him and about the coming of the Holy Ghost and the effects of His coming, which is one of the subjects which He seems to have reserved especially for this last discourse. It was probably a great revelation to the Apostles to hear so much about the Paraclete, and when at last our Lord told them plainly that He had come from the Father into the world, and was now about to leave the world, in order that He might go to the Father, they broke out in thankfulness for the clearness of the disclosure, which seemed to them to be a fuller manifestation concerning His Divine Person than any they had before received. The prayer to the Eternal Father must again have been a great disclosure to them, concerning the object of His Mission in the Divine counsels, and above all concerning the one great point on which the prayer insists, namely, the importance to His Heart of unity among the children of the Church. He appears to have alluded directly to the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, which is meant, as some of the Fathers tell us, when our Lord speaks of the "glory" which His Father has given to Him, 6 and which He in turn has given to them, that they may be one as He and His Father are One. The sublime truths which are thus mentioned in the last words of our Lord before going forth to His Passion, belong to a range of doctrines with which no one of the disciples could have been familiar, though they may have been long ago in the possession of the Blessed Mother, who was therefore singularly able to understand her Divine Son, and to give Him the thanks and homage which His immense charity and condescension would call for from the Church.
1 St. John xiii. i.
2 Story of the Gospels, §§ 151—157.
3 St. Luke xxii. 17.
4 St. Luke vii. 44 ; see also xi. 38.
5 St. John xiv. i—31.
6 St. John xvii. 22.