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Catholic Commentary on the Gospel of
Session 10 – The Passion and Death of Jesus
I. The Betrayal of Jesus
a. and it was night (13:30)
1. “The Gloss says that the night-time is in keeping with the mystery, for he that went out was a son of darkness and did the works of darkness. The night indicates the darkness of mind in which Judas found himself, says St Ambrose, also the impenitence and condemnation to the darkness of hell, to which Judas was headed. (Cornelius a Lapide)
2. Although it was a full moon on account of the Passover (first full moon after the vernal equinox), yet there was relative darkness.
b. They went backward, and fell to the ground (18:6)
1. “As though repelled, and driven backward by the power of Jesus’ spirit and voice, when he said, I am he, they lay prostrate on their backs. They fell backward to make it plain that they were thrown down by the power of the words from Christ’s mouth, and they could not bear to behold his face or hear his words.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
2. When Jesus said, I am, it reminded them of the name which God had given to himself, saying to Moses in Exodus 3, I am who am. As if to say: This is my name with which I am throwing you down and can annihilate you if I wish, because I am who am. Therefore, ‘you are those who are not’: for all your being you receive not from yourselves, but directly from me.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
II. When was the Last Supper and Good Friday?
a. Then they led Jesus from Caiphas to the governor’s hall. And it was morning; and they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the Pasch. (18:28)
“The Pasch her does not mean the paschal lamb, for they had already eaten that at supper the day before; but rather the paschal victims, which were sacrificed during the whole seven days, which could be eaten only by those who were clean.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
b. And it was the parasceve of the Pasch, about the sixth hour, and he saith to the Jews: behold your king. (19:14)
The parasheve of the Pasch, “that is, [the day of preparation on the eve] of the Paschal Sabbath, the Sabbath which fell within the octave of the Passover. This day was more solemn than toher Sabbaths, and hence is called the great Sabbath. The meaning therefore is: It was the sixth feria, Friday, on which parasceve was made, i.e., the preparation foods and other things necessary for the following day, the Sabbath; for on that day, being most holy, it was not permitted to cook food or do any other work. Hence, only the Sabbath had its Parasceve or day of preparation, whereas the other feasts did not. Therefore, the Greeks are wrong to interpret the parasceve of the Pasch to mean the day before Passover, [the feast] on which the lamb was sacrificed. For it is certain from Matthew, March and Luke that Christ was crucified on the first day of unleavened bread, that is, the day after Passover, [the feast] on which the lamb had been sacrificed; therefore John calls the first day of unleavened bread here the parasceve of the Pasch, i.e., the day before the Paschal Sabbath.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
c. Then the Jews, (because it was the parasceve,) that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that was a great Sabbath day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (19:31)
“For this was the sabbath within the octave of the Passover, and for this reason a more solemn day than other sabbaths.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
d. There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulcher was nigh at hand. (19:42)
Some claim that St. John is in tension (or even open contradiction) with the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). However, St. John never states anything which is contrary to the other Evangelists.
St. John tells us that the Last Supper occurred, Before the festival day of the pasch (John 12:1). However, he counts time according to the natural distinction of days (from midnight to midnight), rather than according to the Jewish ritual (from sundown). Thus, when he states that the Last Supper is before the festival of Passover, he means that it was on the evening before the first full day of Passover – in other words, the eve of Passover, which is to say, 14 Nissan (just as the Synoptics state).
Likewise, when St. John tells us that the chief priests did not enter into Pilate’s hall on Friday morning so that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch(John 18:28), he does not intend that the Passover meal (including the paschal lamb) was to be eaten Friday evening. Rather, St. John here refers to the Paschal victims which were sacrificed during the whole seven days of the feast of Unleavened Bread.
Further, when St. John states that Friday was the parasceve of the pasch (i.e. the day of preparation for the Passover), he does not mean that it was the eve of Passover itself, but the eve of the Solemn Sabbath in the Passover Octave (cf. John 19:14).
Indeed, that St. John makes this explicit when he speaks of the soldier thrusting Christ’s side threw with a spear:
Then the Jews, (because it was the parasceve [i.e. day of preparation]) that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that was a great Sabbath day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away (John 19:31).
From this, we are to understand not that the Passover fell on Saturday that year, but that the Saturday was the Solemn Sabbath after the Passover (which came on Thursday eve – Friday, as the other Evangelists relate).
This is the Latin Tradition, and has been maintained in the Church for nearly two-thousand years. It is simply astonishing that so many modern “scholars” dismiss this long-held tradition to run after ill-conceived and wholly fanciful theories about the Essenes and Qumran.
Even the Greeks, following St. John Chrysostom, generally maintain that Christ celebrate the Last Supper on the true eve of Passover (14 Nissan) – claiming that the priests of the Temple delayed the Passover a day in order to crucify Jesus.
From John especially, we are able to determine that the Lord did die on a Friday.
III. They pierced his side
But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. (19:34)
A. A miracle
B. The sacraments
2. The Eucharist
C. Prefigured in the Old Testament
2. Adam and Eve
“To make sure that Jesus was dead one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear. It deserves notice that he does not say "wounded" but "pierced," that is "opened," because in his side the door of eternal life is opened to us: "After this I looked, and lo, in heaven, an open door!" (Rev 4:1). This is the door in the side of the ark through which those animals entered who were not to perish in the flood (Gen 7).
“This door is the cause of our salvation; and so, at once there came out blood and water. This is a remarkable miracle, that blood should flow from the body of a dead person where blood congeals. And if someone says that this was because the body was still warm, the flow of the water cannot be explained without a miracle, since this was pure water. This outpouring of blood and water happened so that Christ might show that he was truly human. For human beings have a twofold composition: one from the elements and the other from the humors. One of these elements is water, and blood is the main humor.
“Another reason why this happened was to show that by the passion of Christ we acquire a complete cleansing from our sins and stains. We are cleansed from our sins by his blood, which is the price of our redemption. And we are cleansed from our stains by the water, which is the bath of our rebirth. And so it is these two things which are especially associated with two sacraments: water with the sacrament of baptism, and blood with the Eucharist. Or, both blood and water are associated with the Eucharist because in this sacrament water is mixed with wine, although water is not of the substance of the sacrament.
“This event was also prefigured: for just as from the side of Christ, sleeping on the cross, there flowed blood and water, which makes the Church holy, so from the side of the sleeping Adam there was formed the woman, who prefigured the Church.” (St Thomas)
There is some biblical evidence to suggest that our Savior had entered into hypovolemic shock after his scourging. Due to the great brutality of the scourging, in which the sacred flesh of our Savior was so torn that his skeletal muscles, veins, sinews, and even his bowels were exposed, our Lord had literally begun to run out of blood in his body. This extreme blood-loss may well have set him into a state of hypovolemic shock which would be occasioned by low blood pressure.
Those in this state of shock will experience dizziness and fainting (and our Lord fell several times as he carried his Cross) as well as extreme thirst and a desire to drink liquids to replenish all the lost fluids (and Jesus said I thirst).
What is particularly pertinent to our discussion is that hypovolemic shock causes a rapid heart-rate which in turn causes a great deal of fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and the lungs. Thus, some suggest that the “blood and water” which came forth could have been this pericardial effusion of fluid.
If such were the case, the blood and water would be mixed together, flowing out as one. Further, the event would not be a miracle, but would be a medically and scientifically explainable phenomenon – something natural.
However, St. John refers to the blood and water coming forth not merely as a natural phenomenon which demonstrates our Lord’s bodily death, but even further (especially in 1 John 5:6), as a proof of our Savior’s divinity. Pericardial effusion and hypovolemic shock do very little to prove the divinity of Jesus, thus the “scientific” and “medical” explanation seems contrary to the plain sense of the holy and inerrant Scriptures.
Furthermore, a pericardial effusion does not pertain to the flowing of blood and water, but rather to the pouring forth of various fluids which had built up around the heart. However, St. John does not say that “fluids” poured forth, but that there came out blood and water.
And we are to understand that the blood and water came out separately, not mingled. For, if they had come forth mingled, then the Beloved would not be able to say blood and water, but only blood or fluid – just as we do not say that there is “wine and water” consecrated at the Mass, but only “wine”, since the water is mingled with the wine.
Now, St. John states that there came out blood and water, and this must needs be miraculous for it was not serum, but rather pure blood and pure water which came forth so as to be distinguished one from the other.
It is well worth noting that our Savior himself confirms this interpretation through his Image of Divine Mercy, in which the blue and the red rays are clearly distinct.
It is further worth noting that this miraculous pouring forth of blood and water was total and complete. Indeed, the tradition is that our Savior gave forth in this miraculous deluge all the blood and all the water which was in his body. There is no reason why this could not be accomplished by a miracle.
Further, this total gift of blood and water symbolized the total gift of himself, and also the abundance and infinite depths of divine mercy.