The Action So Far

Understanding the Passion is obviously critical for us, but St. John’s method of presenting it — lengthy, multi-chapter discourse makes it easy to lose for forest for the trees.  Christ has completed over the course of three years of ministry seven major signs.  He, the Light of the World, has revealed himself over and over.  Now is the time for the Light to leave the world and, in doing so, overcome the Prince of the World once and for all.  It is important, though, for understanding to remember that these were actual, historical events and that their meaning for us is shaped by who did what when.  This is a chart from the Agape handout for next Saturday detailing these events up to Chapter 14.


The Passover supper begins John 13:2; Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17-18; Luke 22:14
The disciples dispute about precedence Luke 22:24ff
Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles as a lesson in humility John 13:4-10, 15-16
Jesus announces that a traitor is among them John 13:10-11; Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21
The disciples begin to ask which of them will betray Him. John 13:22-30; Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19; Luke 22:23
Jesus tells them it is the one to whom He gives the sop and tells Judas aside to be quick. John 13:25-26; Matthew 26:25; Mark 14:20-21
Aside, Jesus gives the sop to Judas and reveals He knows that Judas is the traitor. John 13:26
Judas goes out immediately into the night. John 13:30
The institution of the Most Holy Eucharist. Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20 [see John 6:51-58]
Jesus predicts His Passion with the words: “I shall never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.”*  Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18*
Jesus warns Simon-Peter that he will deny Him. John 13:36-38; Matthew 26:33-35; Mark 14:29-31

(c) Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study) 2001


Servant of the Servants of Christ

Where did the man who would become the first of the servants of the servants of Christ sit at the Last Supper? In the servant’s chair, of course….

Question: How does Jesus visually demonstrate this teaching at the Last Supper banquet table? See John 13:21-22 and the plan of the triclinium in the Charts section.

Answer: It is the “beloved” disciple who is reclining next to Jesus in the place of honor. Tradition has always identified this disciple as St. John, the youngest of the Apostles who has been place above his older “brothers” in the place of honor, fulfilling Jesus’ teaching in Luke 22:26. And where was Simon-Peter, the greatest of the Apostles? The table at which Jesus and the other Passover guests reclined was an inverted U-shaped table, called a triclinium, with the host seated on the far left side, with the two places of honor on either side of the host and then the order of honor increasing to the left of the host with the other most honored guests on the far side of the U. The servants would sit on stools at either end of the U. Most scholars believe that Simon-Peter, as leader of the Apostles, sat in the place of honor at the far table across from Jesus. However, that placement would have defeated the lesson in humility Jesus was teaching that night. We know from John 13:24-25 that Simon-Peter was close enough to John to ask John who was it that would betray Jesus’he would have to shout his question if he were seated across the far side of the triclinium. However, if Peter were seated in the servant’s seat, he would be next to John. One of the oldest titles for the Bishop of Rome is “the servant of the servants of Christ.”

This theory is not universally accepted. For example, Msgr. Charles Pope of our own Archdiocese of Washington wrote a detailed blog post on this topic in January. Msgr. Pope places Christ in the place of honor in accordance with an image from Ravenna that Msgr. dates as pre-5th Century. Here is the image:

I agree with the Agape materials — Christ is teaching us about the least being the greatest — so he puts St. John (the youngest) in the place of honor and puts St. Peter in the servant’s spot. Judas had to have been close by. Once again, the details really make the Gospels come alive!

Puzzling Over The Foot Washing in John 13

Let me pose a question in this post. What is the connection between the ritual washing of the Apostles’ feet and Jesus’ first public sign? As always, Jesus takes Old Covenant ritual and, by bringing its true meaning out, transforms it.

Also, the Agape study materials for point out:

Question: What comment did Jesus make to Simon the Pharisee on the lack of his hospitality when he criticized the loving devotion of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears? See Luke 7:44.

Answer: Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘You see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair.

But why does Jesus wash the feet of the Apostles if they already washed their feet when they first entered the building? We will discuss Jesus’ explanation beginning in verse 13, but this ritual washing may have taken the place of one of the three ritual hand washings that were required during the sacrificial meal of the Passover victim. Hands were ritually washed:

Before drinking from the second ritual cup of wine just before food was brought in and placed on the table
Before touching the unleavened bread
After eating the roasted lamb that had been sacrificed earlier at the Temple that day.

(see Christ in the Passover, pages 52-57)
To take the place of one of the ritual hand washings gives the foot washing an aspect of ritual purification.

Question: Many Catholic scholars believe the foot washing ritual was an ordination ceremony for the Apostles. There is evidence to support this interpretation in Old Covenant purification rites. Jesus washes the feet of His Apostles in this significant ritual and later during the meal, their hands will also be ritually washed. Is there an Old Covenant ritual purification that Jesus’ symbolic foot washing and the ritual hand washing of the meal may be linked to? See Exodus 30:17-21; what is the significance of this passage?

Answer: In the ritual of purification before entering the Sanctuary, Yahweh commanded that the priests ritually cleanse their hands and feet. This ritual of purification was commanded by Yahweh for the first High Priest Aaron, the brother of Moses and for Aaron sons. Whenever the priests came near the sacrificial altar to minister the sacrifice offered to Yahweh or when they entered the Holy Place (see Exodus 30:20 and Leviticus 8:6), they were commanded to wash their hands and feet, even though they were already clean.

Question: Knowing what will take place at the end of this meal, what connection might there be between the command for the priests to wash their hand and feet before offering sacrifice to Yahweh and the miracle that will take place that night when Jesus holds Himself in His hands in the first Eucharistic offering?

Answer: It is possible this action is the establishment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and in the ordination of the New Covenant priesthood. In the foot washing ritual Jesus was not only instructing His ministers to preach the Gospel of salvation in humility, but His actions can also be seen as the anointing of the new priesthood of the New Covenant Church. His symbolic purification of the Apostles takes place before the celebration of the first Eucharistic sacrifice. For other passages on hand and foot washing see Genesis 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Exodus 30:19-21; 40:31-32; Leviticus 8:6; 15:11; Judges 19:21; 1 Samuel 25:41; 2 Samuel 11:8; Song 5:3; Matthew 15:2; 27:24; Mark 7:3; Luke 7:38, 44; 11:38; 1 Timothy 5:10.

In any event, it is the role reversal that so shocks Simon-Peter that he protests that he cannot allow his Lord to perform this menial and degrading task.

Priest, Prophet and King

Are you a priest? Is/was your mother a priest? Hmm… The answer is yes and no. When we are baptized, we are baptized fully into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That includes His priestly office, His prophetic office, and His kingly office. Does that mean we can consecrate the host? Does that mean we can confer absolution? No. In addition to the common priesthood, there is the sacramental priesthood. This is how the Church explains it:

While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –—a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit—, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood.

The relationship between this and Holy Orders is unclear — I haven’t been able to find an explicit statement —but it shows the link between service and the ministerial priesthood or, the inverted triangle of the servants of the servants of God.


Holy Orders — How Did We Get Here From There?

This is a summary that was prepared by the Diocese of Fort Worth. It provides a quick overview which I thought might be interesting.

I. Doctrinal Overview


1. Summary to 100 A. D.

a. Only one priest – Jesus Christ; his ministry, service.

b. All believers share Christ’s ministry

c. Ordained priest – a special sign of Christ’s priesthood and a call to serve all Believer in living out Jesus’ ministry.

d. First priestly leaders (Bishops) recognized by their outstanding service and guided community in learning Jesus’ teachings, doing good works and celebrating the Eucharist.

e. At first there were different types of Church government but before too long the monarchical form – as for a king – prevailed.

f. Bishop looked to talents of other Christian men and women – preaching, teaching healing, and prophesying – to help him in his ministry.

g. Two groups became recognized assistants: Priests to act as advisors, deacons to work with the daily needs of the people.

2. Summary: Second to Sixth Centuries

a. All the individual tasks of ministry had an ordination rite to give “authority” for the job.

b. Authority within the whole Church was by “collegiality,” mutual consultation and renewal.

c. Bishops delegated power to priests so they could minister to the growing number of churches.

d. Priest’s role as “Vicar of Christ” carried idea of special spiritual power.

e. Clergy gained further power by acting as judges and counselors in government.

f. Power-authority tended to overshadow as priestly ministry.

3. Summary: Sixth to Sixteenth Centuries

a. Monastic life influenced priesthood

1) Separateness of clergy emphasized in tonsure and special clothing

2) Celibacy for all priests

3) A life of prayer and spirituality separate from everyday world.

b. Middle ages and Renaissance saw priesthood as one of several levels of power. Bishops, not priests, had power to confirm and ordain.

c. Clergy took over total responsibility for worship and devotion – no role for people.

d. Priests tended to form an elite class with political and church power.

e. Council of Trent tried to limit Bishops’ power and to insure better education for priests.

4. Seventeen and eighteenth centuries the aspect of secular and political power in the priesthood began to disappear. The clergy became pastors, “sacristy” priests, caring for the church and ceremonies of worship, holding office hours in the sacristy, and seldom leaving the confines of the church except to visit the sick. The continued to be “separated” men, held to be wise in the ways of God, but sharing little with the lives of the people.

5. Nineteenth Century to Vatican II

a. With the resources of the Vatican library at hand, scholars begin to examine the history and development of the priesthood.

b. Catholic theologians began to examine the signs of Christ’s priesthood in their own ministries and those of other faiths.

c. In 1962, the Bishops at Vatican II commissioned new rites of ordination that talk of sharing and service rather than authority and power. Like the early Church leaders, they begin working things out in collegiality. (Adapted from The Changing Sacraments. Reprinted by permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45210. All rights reserved.)

6. Vatican II to the present.

a. Vatican II’s renewal of Church traditions affirms the role of Bishop as fullness of priesthood.

b. The relationship of priests to their bishop in a spirit of collegiality is emphasized.

c. The office of deacon is restored as a permanent order in the Church’s sacramental ministry.

d. Restoration of the essential place of Scripture in the life and worship of the Church brings about a new emphasis on the role of preaching in the life and ministry of all ordained ministers.

e. The Council’s vision of the Church as the People of God infuses its understanding of ordained ministry with a more communitarian spirit. Clergy become more free to utilize the talents and experience of laity in the exercise of their ministry of leadership and service.


More Catholic Blogs Than You Can Shake A Stick At

Here’s a quick one: is a directory of Catholic blogs. Are you looking for a topic? Seek and ye shall find!

Operation Let the Fire Fall

Operation Let the Fire Fall
By George Weigel
Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Publication Date: June 2, 2010

In November 2007, George Misulia, a Catholic layman who lives in Mt. Airy Maryland, was lying in bed, recovering from fractured vertebrae suffered during a bad accident and wondering what he might do to support Catholics defending America in the armed services.

There are some 1.5 million Catholics in the armed forces of the United States today; their 300 chaplains are stretched very thin across a vast number of deployment areas and overseas bases. Some soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines go for months on end without seeing a chaplain or being able to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church — often at moments of great spiritual vulnerability when their lives are on the line. Units that don’t have their chaplain are often served by lay leaders trained in what are called “Catholic Lay Services in the Absence of a Priest.” Bible studies and other forms of paraliturgical worship are also used when a chaplain is unavailable.

George Misulia couldn’t do much about the chaplain shortage — one result of the overall priest-shortage in the United States, but a particularly sad one. Still, he thought, he might be able to do something to enhance the worship of Catholics in the military by some judicious deployment of modern technology: “It occurred to me that an iPod, loaded with quality liturgical music, combined with a Bose portable SoundDock, could enrich Masses on ships, in the field, even in combat zones. By adding a web site with downloadable music, lyrics, and other inspirational material, we could provide a quality resource to support our heroic Catholic military personnel around the world, even in the most remote places.”

And so, with the help of a few friends, Operation Let the Fire Fall was born. The first “FireBox” unit was sent to Thule Air Force Base in Greenland in September 2008. Catholics at Thule see a priest perhaps twice a year. But with the FireBox equipment supplementing the Catholic Lay Service, the Catholics at Thule began gathering weekly for prayer. Since that modest beginning at the top of the world, Operation Let the Fire Fall has deployed FireBox units and supporting materials around the world, to Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and other sits. Chaplains in all branches of the service have eagerly embraced Operation Let the Fire Fall, as have Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services and his predecessor, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, now Archbishop of Baltimore.

According to Mr. Misulia, the music chosen for the FireBox units is aimed at “supporting singing at Masses and a variety of Catholic lay prayer services in the absence of a priest.” The aim is not entertainment or diversion, but “prayerful participation,” and the music chosen includes both traditional hymns (happily ungelded by that great hymn-wrecker, “Alt.”) and newer compositions that are, as Mr. Misulias put it to me, “scripturally based, theologically sound, and ‘God-centered’ rather than ‘we-centered’…[including] communion hymns [that] focus on the Real Presence.” (One of the vicars general of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, who had best remain anonymous, made it clear that there were limits to his sense of musical ecumenism: “If I hear ‘Gather Us In’ one more time I’m going to jump out a window.” May his tribe increase!)

Operation Let the Fire Fall cannot substitute for an increase in the chaplain corps, and doesn’t pretend to do so. Its aims are modest, but nonetheless important for their modesty: given the circumstances we’ve got, which dictate that Catholics in the armed services are often deprived of a normal sacramental life, sometimes for months on end, it ought to be possible to enhance the opportunities for regular worship that can be created, both by overstretched chaplains and dedicated lay leaders. And if Operation Let the Fire Fall does that, it may help bring out of the service a rich harvest of priestly vocations, which could then reinforce the chaplain corps.

Want to know more? Go to Operation Let the Fire Fall’s web site, It’s a project worth learning about, following, and supporting.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Click title to view on the Web:
Operation Let the Fire Fall