This year’s Holy Week may be marked by a blood-red moon

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by Doug Lawrence

And going out, he went, according to his custom, to the Mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed him. And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation. And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast. And kneeling down, he prayed. Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)

A lunar eclipse has long been a regular feature of Passover and Easter, as Passover has always been marked by a phase of the lunar cycle.

In the passage above, we read of Jesus’ sweat looking like drops of blood, as they trickled down to the ground.

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I’m not one to try to rationalize miracles, but I’ve never been convinced there ever was a miracle here, since drops of sweat, illuminated by the subdued light of a blood-red, fully eclipsed moon, would indeed naturally appear as blood, especially if moonlight provided the only available illumination.

Another interesting thing about a lunar eclipse – you can’t have things both ways. It’s impossible to have a (natural) solar eclipse the day after a (natural) lunar eclipse, since everything in the heavens is totally out of phase. Plus – natural solar eclipses don’t last for three hours – and they’re not visible across the whole earth. That would make the darkness that covered the whole earth from noon to 3 on Good Friday, truly supernatural! 

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? Which is, being interpreted: My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:33-34)

This was also a prophetic and very specific fulfillment of Old Testament sacred scripture:

Christ on the Cross by Diego Velazquez, 1632

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that the sun shall go down at midday, and I will make the earth dark in the day of light: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation: and I will bring up sackcloth upon every back of yours, and baldness upon every head: and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the latter end thereof as a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10)

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It’s an old Catholic tradition to visit 7 churches on Holy Thursday.

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By Neal Heitz

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My wife and I look forward to a special event we partake in every Holy Thursday.  It’s an old Catholic tradition to visit 7 churches on Holy Thursday. While neither of us partook in this tradition growing up, as adults we look forward to this special event every year.  Certainly the event is religious in nature but it also gives us a chance to explore our beloved Chicago a bit more intimately.  Have you ever gone past a beautiful, old church and said to yourself, “One day I will stop in and see it”? For many years we said we should check out some of this magnificent architecture and never did.

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Photo: St. Mary of Perpetual Help Catholic Church

10 things you need to know about Holy Thursday

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Every single Mass, we hear the words “on the night he was betrayed.”

That night was Holy Thursday, and it is one of the most important nights in all of history.

Here are 10 things you need to know.

1. What happened on the original Holy Thursday?

An amazing amount of stuff! This was one of the most pivotal days in the life of Jesus Christ.

Here are some of the things the gospels record for this day (including events that happened after midnight). Jesus:

  • Sent Peter and John to arrange for them to use the Upper Room to hold the Passover meal.
  • Washed the apostles’ feet.
  • Held the first Mass.
  • Instituted the priesthood.
  • Announced that Judas would betray him.
  • Gave the “new commandment” to love one another.
  • Indicated that Peter had a special pastoral role among the apostles.
  • Announced that Peter would deny him.
  • Prayed for the unity of his followers.
  • Held all the discourses recorded across five chapters of John (John 13-18).
  • Sang a hymn.
  • Went to the Mount of Olives.
  • Prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Was betrayed by Judas.
  • Stopped the disciples from continuing a violent resistance.
  • Healed the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, after Peter cut it off with a sword.
  • Was taken before the high priests Annas and Caiaphas.
  • Was denied by Peter.
  • Was taken to Pilate.

It was a momentous day!

If you’d like to read the gospel accounts themselves, you can use these links:

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Holy Thursday

What does “Gethsemane” mean?


Q: What does “Gethsemane” (as in the Mount of Olives-Garden of Gethsemani/Gethsemane)?

A: “Gethsemane” means “olive oil press”.

More from the Catholic Encyclopedia

A place so memorable, to which all the Evangelists direct attention, was not lost sight of by the early Christians. In his “Onomasticon,” Eusebius of Caesarea says that Gethsemani is situated “at the foot of the Mount of Olives”, and he adds that “the faithful were accustomed to go there to pray“.

In 333 the Pilgrim of Bordeaux visited the place, arriving by the road which climbs to the summit of the mountain, i.e. beyond the bridge across the valley of Josaphat. In the time of the Jews, the bridge which spanned the torrent of Cedron occupied nearly the same place as one which is seen there today, as is testified by the ancient staircase cut in the rock, which on one side came down from the town and on the other wound to the top of the mountain. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna (c. 420), and Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, speak of this immense staircase and two other pilgrims counted the steps. Traces of it are still to be seen on the side towards the city, and numerous steps, very large and well-preserved, have been discovered above the present Garden of Gathsemani.

The Pilgrim of Bordeaux notes “to the left, among the vines, the stone where Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ”.

In translating the “Onomasticon” of Eusebius, St. Jerome adds to the article Gethsemani the statement that “a church is now built there” (Onomasticon, ed. Klostermann, p. 75). St. Sylvia of Aquitania (385-388) relates that on Holy Thursday the procession coming down from the Mount of Olives made a station at “the beautiful church” built on the spot where Jesus underwent the Agony. “From there”, she adds, “they descend to Gethsemani where Christ was taken prisoner” (S. Silviae Aquit. Peregr., ed. Gamurrini, 1888, pp. 62-63).

This church, remarkable for its beautiful columns (Theophanes, Chronogr. ad an. 682), was destroyed by the Persians in 614; rebuilt by the Crusaders, and finally razed, probably in 1219. Arculf (c. 670), St. Willibald (723), Daniel the Russian (1106), and John of Wurzburg (1165) mention the Church of the Agony. The foundations have recently been discovered at the place indicated by them, i.e. at a very short distance from the south-east corner of the present Garden of Gethsemani.

A fragmentary account of a pilgrimage in the fourth century, preserved by Peter the Deacon (1037), mentions “a grotto at the place where the Jews took the Savior captive”.

According to the tradition it was in this grotto that Christ was wont to take refuge with his disciples to pass the night. It was also memorable for a supper and a washing of the feet which, according to the same tradition, took place there.

Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 583), says in one of his sermons that the Church commemorates three suppers. “The first repast”, he says, “together with the purification, took place at Gethsemani on the Sabbath day, the first day, i.e. when Sunday was already begun. That is why we then celebrate the vigil” (P.G., LXXXVI, 2392). The second supper was that of Bethany, and the third was that was that of Holy Thursday at which was instituted the Holy Eucharist.

Photo credit –  Dell Tacket

Holy Week: Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

44. With the celebration of Mass on the evening of Holy Thursday “the Church begins the Easter Triduum, and recalls the Last Supper, in which the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, showing his love for those who were his own in the world, he gave his body and blood under the species of bread and wine offering to his Father and giving them to the Apostles so that they might partake of them, and he commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to perpetuate this offering.”50

45. Careful attention should be given to the mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s command of brotherly love; the homily should explain these points.

46. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the evening, at a time that is more convenient for the full participation of the whole local community. All priests may concelebrate even if on this day they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass, or if, for the good of the faithful, they must celebrate another Mass.51

47. Where pastoral considerations require it, the local Ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories in the evening, and in the case of true necessity, even in the morning, but only for those faithful who cannot otherwise participate in the evening Mass. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that celebrations of this kind do not take place for the benefit of private persons or of small groups, and that they are not to the detriment of the main Mass.

According to the ancient tradition of the Church, all Masses without the participation of the people are on this day forbidden.52

48. The Tabernacle should be completely empty before the celebration.53 Hosts for the Communion of the faithful should be consecrated during that celebration.54 A sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated to provide also for Communion on the following day.

49. For the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, a place should be prepared and adorned in such a way as to be conducive to prayer and meditation; seriousness appropriate to the liturgy of these days is enjoined so that all abuses are avoided or suppressed.55

When the tabernacle is located in a chapel separated from the central part of the church, it is appropriate to prepare the place of repose and adoration there.

50. During the singing of the hymn “Gloria in excelsis” in accordance with local custom, the bells may be rung, and should thereafter remain silent until the “Gloria in excelsis” of the Easter Vigil, unless the Conference of Bishops’ or the local Ordinary, for a suitable reason, has decided otherwise.56 During this same period the organ and other musical instruments may be used only for the purpose of supporting the singing.57

51. The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve.58 This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

52. Gifts for the poor, especially those collected during Lent as the fruit of penance, may be presented in the offertory procession, while the people sing “Ubi caritas est vera.”59

53. It is more appropriate that the Eucharist be borne directly from the altar by the deacons, or acolytes, or extraordinary ministers at the moment of communion for the sick and infirm who must communicate at home, so that in this way they may be more closely united to the celebrating Church.

54. After the post-Communion prayer, the procession forms, with the crossbar at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn “Pange lingua” or some other eucharistic song.60 This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.61

55. The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.

The place where the tabernacle or pyx is situated must not be made to resemble a tomb, and the expression “tomb” is to be avoided. The chapel of repose is not prepared so as to represent the “Lord’s burial” but for the custody of the eucharistic bread that will be distributed in Communion on Good Friday.

56. After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the faithful should be encouraged to spend a suitable period of time during the night in the church in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament which has been solemnly reserved. Where appropriate, this prolonged eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the Gospel of St. John (chs. 13-17).

From midnight onwards, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, because the day of the Lord’s passion has begun.62

57. After Mass the altar should be stripped. It is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Lamps should not be lit before the images of saints.

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Reflections on Holy Thursday and the Last Supper

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the New Covenant, and he also gave us the definitive sacrifice of that Covenant, his very own body, blood, soul and divinity, under the traditional auspices of ordinary bread and wine. Doing so, Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the institutions, holy days and sacrifices of old, particularly the Jewish Passover, making them, along with the totality of the Old Law, things of the past.

If this were not the case, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to give us a “NEW” Covenant at all, since the “OLD” (with a few strategic alterations) might have then sufficed.

2Corinthians 5:17 –

“If then any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away. Behold all things are made new.”

What had only been prophesied before in scripture, through mysterious types and shadows, was now a new, eternal and saving reality.

Jesus was the lamb whose blood would be poured out, in order to save the people of God from Satan, sin, and eternal death.

The ancient Passover observance was always about Jesus. And once Jesus fully revealed himself and completed his work, all of the ancient observances and feasts would be divinely incorporated into just one universal (Catholic) New Covenant observance of the Paschal Mystery, that we know today as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Lest anyone doubt this is true,  all we need do is consult the Old Testament Book of Malachi, written around 400 years before the Last Supper, where this singular, eternal, and uniquely “unbloody” sacrifice was described and clearly foretold.

Malachi looks forward to a time when only a “clean” (unbloody) sacrifice would be offered up to God … not by the Jews … not only in Jerusalem … but by Gentiles (non-Jews) the world over.

Malachi 1:11

“From the rising of the sun, even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, in every place there is a clean oblation (unbloody sacrifice) for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord of Hosts.”

From this it should be absolutely clear … it’s no accident that today, every hour of every day, every day of every year, in virtually every nation, all around the world … Jesus, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass … is offered up to God, for the needs of the whole world. And in this sinful and seriously misguided world, it’s very nice to know that somewhere, there’s always a few good people still faithfully heeding Christ’s personal instructions: “Do this in memory of me.”

Anticipated at the Last Supper, fulfilled at Calvary, made present for us (and for every generation) at Mass … this one time, once for all, eternal sacrifice serves as the “engine of divine grace” that in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, perpetually empowers the Church and sanctifies its members, courtesy of Jesus, our perfect victim, high priest, mediator, God, risen brother and king.

The “token” which confirms God’s promise of salvation is none other than the Holy Eucharist, wherein the same Christ, truly present under the auspices of bread and wine, personally reaffirms his new, sacred and saving  covenant, each and every time we receive him. A better example of a real, close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ is available only in Heaven!

This is why Catholics have priests, rather than ministers, since the primary function of a priest is to offer sacrifice to God, for the people, and the Mass is indeed a true, liturgical re-presentation of Jesus Christ’s singular, perfect, and eternal  sacrifice on the cross, at Calvary. An image of the crucified Jesus on the cross … the crucifix … serves to remind us of this.

It’s also no accident that at the Last Supper, Jesus  instituted the Ministerial Priesthood of the Catholic Church, making the apostles the first New Covenant priests, since the fullness of the ministerial priesthood will always be essential to the basic work of the church (teaching, sanctifying, governing, in Jesus’ name).

It wasn’t until a few days later, when the apostles encountered the risen Christ, that they began to truly understand how all this actually worked. The scriptures explain that Jesus made things pretty clear for them:

Luke 24:44-48  And he (the risen Jesus) said to them: These are the words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms, concerning me.  Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.  And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead, the third day:  And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.

Jesus spent another 40 days working with the apostles, before he ascended to Heaven, promising:

John 14:26  … the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.