Friday, March 30, 2012

The final week of Jesus' life, a chronology

As the Church prepares to enter into Holy Week, we do well to consider the final week of Jesus’ life, from Friday to Friday. In a later post, we will look at the last twenty-four hours (from the Last Supper to the death of Jesus on the Cross) in greater detail.
It will be helpful to review the Gospel accounts given by Sts. Mark and John, the two who offer the most explicit chronology of Holy Week. See Mark 11:1 – 15:37 and also John 11:54 – 19:30.

The Friday before the Passion
Jesus was in the city of Ephraim, in hiding since the Jewish authorities desired to kill him. On this day (before evening), Jesus and his disciples went up to Jerusalem, before the pasch to purify themselves (John 11:55).
They spent the night in Bethany, which is very close to Jerusalem.
Saturday before the Passion
Jesus therefore, six days before the pasch, came to Bethania, where Lazarus had been dead, whom Jesus raised to life. And they made him a supper there: and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that were at table with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. (John 12:1-3)
The pasch (i.e. Passover) was on a Thursday that year (beginning Thursday eve with the Passover Meal), and so six days before, that is, on Friday, Jesus came to Bethany.
The next day, which is to say, Saturday, Jesus came to the feast there and was anointed by Mary of Bethany (that is, Mary Magdalene [here]). In this first anointing, Mary pours the oil over the Savior’s feet.
This meal and anointing occurred, most probably, at the house of Lazarus known as the Lazarium.
Our Savior spent the night in Bethany.
Palm Sunday
And on the next day, Sunday (John 12:12), Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass. This was the first Palm Sunday, when the children of the Hebrews bearing olive branches went forth to meet the Lord, crying out and saying, “Hosanna in the highest!”
Our Lord returned to Bethany for the night.
Monday of Holy Week
On the way into Jerusalem, Jesus sees a fig tree which has born no fruit – which tree he curses in the presence of his disciples.
Upon entering the city, our Lord goes up and cleanses the Temple for the second time (he had cleansed it once already, two years ago – cf. John 2:13ff [see our article, here]).
That eve, Jesus returned to Bethany (cf. Mark 11:19).
Tuesday of Holy Week
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples notice that the fig tree which he had cursed the morning before has now withered. They are amazed.
Entering the Temple area, Jesus preaches extensively and answers the questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
It is on this day that our Lord tells the parable of the vineyard workers who kill the owner’s son who is the heir to the vineyard. Also, on this occasion, the Lord answers the questions regarding the tribute to Caesar, the resurrection of the body, the greatest commandment, and whether the Christ will be the son of David.
Further, while in the Temple, our Lord sees a widow offer two small coins and declares her gift to be greater than those of the others.
Finally, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple and speaks of the final judgment.
He returns that night to Bethany.
Spy Wednesday
Now the feast of pasch and of the Azymes [i.e. Unleavened Bread] was after two days [i.e. in two days' time] ... and when [Jesus] was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard: and breaking the alabaster box, she poured it out upon his head. (Mark 14:1,3)

Spending the day in retirement, our Lord attends a feast at the house of a certain Pharisee, Simon the Leper. During this meal, Mary of Bethany (i.e. the Magdalene [here]) again anoints our Lord, but this time upon his head.

Update: I am aware of the fact that there is a good deal of diversity among the Church Fathers on whether Mary anointed Jesus on Spy Wednesday. I side partially with Origen, Chrysostom, and Theophylus (against Augustine and Gregory) in affirming that there were two anointings, one on Saturday and another on Wednesday; but then agree with Augustine and Gregory (against Origen and Chrysostom) insofar as I claim that there was one and the same woman, Mary of Bethany who is the Magdalene. St. Thomas Aquinas did not come down on one side or the other of the question, so there is clearly room for doubt.

Update II: As I consider this further, I am beginning to lean more toward the side of Sts. Augustine and Gregory. Perhaps there was only one anointing (which would then be on Saturday) and Sts. Matthew and Mark mention it here as a way of connecting the betrayal of Judas more clearly with the incident.
Judas is now set against our Savior, and so goes to the priests to betray Jesus. And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests, to betray him to them. (Mark 14:10)
Because it was this evening that Judas conspired against Jesus, the day is called “Spy Wednesday”.
Holy Thursday
Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the pasch, the disciples say to him: Whither wilt thou that we go, and prepare for thee to eat the pasch? (Mark 14:12)
Because the Passover meal would be consumed Thursday evening, Jesus sent his disciples to make the preparations for the pasch. They went from Bethany to Jerusalem and prepared the upper room.
On this evening, Jesus offered the Last Supper in which he instituted both the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Upon finishing the meal, our Lord and his apostles (excepting Judas, who left early) sang a hymn and then went forth to the Mount of Olives.
On this night, our Lord suffered the agony in the garden and was arrested. Jesus spends the night locked in the dungeon of the house of Caiaphas, after undergoing a secret night-trial by the Sanhedrin.
Good Friday
It was on Friday that our Lord suffered and died. Condemned to death at 10am, nailed to the Cross at noon, and dying at 3pm.
Christ was buried before 5pm and, the stone being rolled across the entrance, all departed.
N.B. A much more detailed chronology of the Triduum will be posted during Holy Week.


Marko Ivančičević said...

In regards to the actual days of the Holy Week i totally agree with the Tradition. But i must let you know that there are some modern biblical "scholars" who propose that the events of the Paschal Triduum didn't occur on that exact days. Some of them propose tuesday or wednesday for the Last Supper, thursday for His Crucifixion and so on...but if this data is true why would all branches of Christianity that have ancient roots of their Holy Week solemnities choose the traditional days?(the scholars cite as their argument, the difference between Esene and regular calendar, and they say that Jesus had the Passover in the Esene enviorment/neighbourhood) Those scholars must think of Apostles like they are somewhat less mentally capable if they aren't able to comemorate the events in their exact order. I mean - those events struck the Apostles pretty hard and the must have known the exact time and place of every event and they must have comemorated them in the same setting the next year, and the next year and so on...

Also...We all know that the Last Supper took place on Holy Thursday. But if it was evening, according to Jewish understanding of time it was already Friday. We can relate the words on the Cross: "It is finished.", with that fact that the "real thing" started early on Friday(i.e. Thursday evening according to our time measuring) and that it was finished in the late hours of Friday(6th hour) - is this reasoning correct.

One thing more. Just to remind you that there is a question of mine in "Ask Father Ryan" section. :)

Ave Maria

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have never been convinced by all this business of the "Essenes" influencing Jesus and the Apostles ... even though I know that Pope Benedict XVI once mentioned it in a homily.
There are just so many dramatic theological differences ... after all the Essene way was focused extensively on ritual purity -- radically contrary to both John the Baptist and our Savior.
And there is much more to be said besides.

Probably the better way to explain it is that the "solemn Sabbath" to which St. John refers (and which some mistakenly interpret as Passover) is the Sabbath within the octave of Passover (which was on Thursday/Friday).

Like you, I have a hard time taking the modern critical exegetes seriously ... they, after all, don't take the 1800 previous years of biblical scholarship seriously. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have switched to embedded comments, since some said that this will make it easier to "subscribe by email."

Alessandro said...

Yet the discrepancy favors John as saying that Jesus died on the first day of Azymes - otherwise the entire logic of showing Christ as the new Lamb would be lacking.

Sincerely, I can come to two (and only two) possible harmonizations.

1) Jesus' trial lasted more then expected. If the Jews really wanted to kill him before Passover, while did they delay the arrest for two days after Christ's last discourse in the Temple (Holy Monday)? There are some good texts that show that the one of the Synoptics portrays two discourses early in the morning as if they were two distinct mornings. I'm sorry I can't recollect exactly the quotes - If I find them, I will post them as soon as possible. What may confirm this possibility is the fact that the early churches practiced abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays alike.

2) There's also the possibility that the Jews had it wrong in computing the Passover. At the time, the beginning of the month was marked by eyesight of the new moon. But in case of bad weather conditions, direct observation of the moon phases may have been delayed even by one whole day. So, if Jesus as Creator had calculated the right date while the Jews had observed the new moon one day later due to bad weather conditions, we should look for a year when Passover may fall on Tuesday rather then Friday. Jesus celebrated correctly according to the moon phases, while the Jews celebrated on day later, since they couldn't observe the new moon in time to begin Nisan on the right day.

On both occasions, the validity of Christ's Last Supper as a Passover meal is saved, as well as the truth that the priests were sacrificing the lambs on Friday morning (1st day of Azymes).

What really matters is that we must defend the accuracy of the Gospels... this is fundamental for Catholics in the present day.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you very much, this timeline is so helpful: it is the kind of device that helps us laymen to organize our thoughts as we set to pray and meditate on the mysteries of the life of Christ, esp the days leading up to His Passion. Maybe I was just a bad student, (or maybe my memory's going) but I can't ever remember such a clear and well-documented chronology being taught. God bless you, Father.

Anonymous said...

Mark's gospel has Jesus being crucified (maybe led out to Crucifixion?) at mid-morning (9a.m.?) and the sky becoming dark at noon, with Jesus dying about 3 p.m. In that narrative He may have been dying on the cross for closer to five hours than three. OTOH, Luke has Pilate sending Jesus to Herod after learning that He is a Galilean. The Sanhedrin condemned Him to death at daybreak, and had to seek audience with Pilate after that. Many events have to fit into the morning of Good Friday: Sanhedrin condemning, first meeting with Pilate, visit to Herod, second meeting with Pilate, scourging, crowning with thorns, mocking, Via Dolorosa, and crucifixion.

Aikkarakanayil Augustine Jose, INDIA said...

Thank you very much for this informative article.

Charlene said...

Palm Sunday: foal not foul - just a typo

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@TeaPot ... I will cover more on this in a post mid-week.
You are quite right to point out the confusing Good Friday timeline! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Charlene, Thank you for pointing that out ... and keeping me from looking too much the "fool"! :-)

Frans said...

Dear Father,
I am presently reading Jesus of Nazareth by our Holy Father, Jesus of Nazareth II. He also deals with the topic at hand. He seems to believe in a different chronology of those events. Below, I took the liberty of pasting a link of that section pertaining to those chronologies.
God bless,

Alessandro said...

To those of you who can read Italian (or use some translators, if necessary), I suggest you read a very good study on the "Qumran calendar" hypothesis by later Alberto Giglioli, Bishop of Montepulciano-Chiusi-Pienza. He studies the matter from three points of view:
1) The traditions of the Jews regarding trial procedures;
2) The harmonization of the four Gospel narratives, including the proper reading of the crucifixion of Christ in the Gospel of John according to different manuscript traditions;
3) The earliest witness of Patristic Tradition in support of either chronology.

You can find this text in two parts for free on the Internet:

Hope this helps to study the matter in depth.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not surprised to hear that Pope Benedict would present a different chronology ... he is far more influenced by modern historical-critical protestants, than by the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic exegetes of the scholastic and counter-reformation periods.

The question is ... do the past 200 years of "scholarship" (produced largely by heretics) outweigh 1500 years of Catholic exegesis? +

Anonymous said...

The Reverend Kenneth L. Smith Sr.
Thank you for your thoroughness in this subject. God Bless and Keep You!

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