The Lamb's Feast wasn't a Lamb Feast? Pope Benedict's Homily on Holy Thursday

Here is a curious little thing that you might have missed. As far as I know it didn’t cause any ripples in the media–although in theological terms it is at least as controversial and astounding as anything Dan Brown might have dreamt up in his most lucrative daydreams.

On Holy Thursday, in his homily in St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict gave pulpit time to a theory about the Last Supper which, “while not accepted by all”, he believed was “convincing”, “possible” and, in his judgement, “highly probable”. In effect, his approval of this theory gives it a “de facto” magisterial blessing, since what the Pope says in the pulpit does belong to his teaching authority (in contradistinction to what he might write in a private capacity as a scholar, eg. in his new book on Jesus, which he has expressly excluded from the his infallible teaching magisterium).

OK, what am I talking about? I’ll let Papa Benny tell you himself:

In the narrations of the Evangelists, there is an apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John, on one hand, and what, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us. According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. His death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

This means that he died on the eve of Passover, and that, therefore, he could not have personally celebrated the paschal supper; at least this is what it would seem.

On the contrary, according to the three Synoptic Evangelists, the last supper of Jesus was a paschal supper, in its traditional form. He introduced the innovation of the gift of his body and blood. This contradiction, until a few years ago, seemed impossible to resolve.

…The discovery of the manuscripts of Qumran has led us to a convincing possible solution that, while not accepted by all, is highly probable. We can now say that what John referred to is historically correct. Jesus truly spilled his blood on the eve of Passover at the hour of the sacrifice of the lambs.

However, he celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier — he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and was waiting for a new temple.

Therefore, Jesus celebrated Passover without a lamb, no, not without a lamb: Instead of the lamb he gave himself, his body and his blood. …He himself offered his life. Only in this way the old Passover obtains its true meaning.

I agree that it is an attractive theory. It also explains why none of the Synoptics mention the eating of the Lamb, and why the Lamb plays no part in the Christian Eucharistic ritual as an item of food alongside the bread and the wine.

I wondered too what this would make of St Thomas Aquinas’ lines in his great hymn “Pange lingua”:

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

until a check of the Latin shows that Thomas didn’t write that Christ “ate the Paschal Victim”, but that he observed the legislated Supper, before offering himself as the new Supper.

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One Response to The Lamb's Feast wasn't a Lamb Feast? Pope Benedict's Homily on Holy Thursday

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