The Jewish Roots of the Triduum: Holy Thursday

We all know that Easter (Pasca) is the most important Liturgy of the year for the Church. Fr Bline has always reminded us that our Celebration actually begins with the Sign of the Cross on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Last Supper (there is no, “Go forth, the Mass has ended”, when Jesus is put in repose at the conclusion; no beginning Sign of the Cross on Good Friday or Holy Saturday). It is one continuous Liturgy until dismissal at the conclusion of the Easter Vigil. Thus, three days, a Triduum. Where does this come from? A lot depends upon the first century understanding of the Passover. Much of this material has been gleaned from the books, papers, and writings of Dr Brant Pitre.

Holy Thursday Afternoon

“So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us,”… and they prepared the Passover.” (Luke 22:7-13). The first day of Passover was the Feast Day of Unleavened Bread. The whole Passover Feast lasted eight days. The Passover wasn’t just a meal, it was a SACRIFICE. Peter and John had to actually slaughter the Lamb as the Levitical priests would catch the blood in silver and gold basins and toss it on the base of the altar.

“ For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted up in the form of a cross.” ( Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trophy the Jew, 40; trans ANF)

This gives us one good reason why Jesus selected Passover for his death by Crucifixion. Just as the LORD used the Passover to free the Jews from bondage to Egypt, the LORD will use the New Passover to free us from the bondage of sin.

Holy Thursday Night

In the first century the washing of feet was done by a servant or slave. Jesus becomes a servant much to the chagrin of Peter. “… Amen, amen I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he greater than he who sent him.” (John 13:12-16). Jesus is showing us his “new commandment” (Latin mandatum novum) (Maundy Thursday) of sacrificial love (Greek Agape) “… that you love one another as I have loved you. …” (John 13:12-16

During the Last Supper Passover meal, Jesus does not talk about Moses, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. He says, “ Take eat, this is my Body… Drink of it, all of you, for this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” By using these words Jesus is revealing that He is the new Passover Lamb. If He really is the Lamb, then He is actually giving us His flesh and blood to eat and drink!

Matthew says, “and when they had sung a hymn,…”.( Matthew 26:26-30). What hymn did Jesus sing at the Last Supper?

“… I will lift the cup of salvation…
O LORD, I am thy servant;… the son of thy handmaid… …the sacrifice of thanksgiving

Notice that Jesus identifies himself as “The Suffering Servant” from Isaiah. He also sings about the son of the handmaid. Why do we, as Catholics sing songs about Mary? Because that is exactly what Jesus did at the Last Supper. The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is Todah; the Greek word is Eucharistia. A sacrifice of Thanksgiving.

Why does Jesus suffer in the Agony in the Garden? Jesus begins to take on suffering for our sins, even to the sweating of blood. Why does Jesus suffer for our sins on the Mount of Olives in Gethsemane (oil press)? There is a connection with Adam and Eve here.

And Adam said to Eve, “ Rise and go with my son, Seth, to the regions of Paradise… Perhaps (God) will have mercy and send his angel to the tree of his mercy (the Tree of Life) from which flows the oil of life and will give you a little of it with which to anoint me that I might have rest from my pains…(Life of Adam and Eve 36:1-2). It is an ancient Jewish tradition that the Tree of Life was an Olive Tree.

As a new Adam, He is coming to us to bring us a new Tree of Life. What is the new Tree that oil of mercy and oil of healing will flow? It is the Wood of the Cross!

During Holy Week, the Oils of Life are consecrated by the Bishop at the Chrism Mass. These all are OLIVE OILS.

Bill