Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who attended the Last Supper?


Asserting that only twelve male apostles attended the Last Supper when Jesus instituted Holy Orders, church leaders only permit men to be ordained.  However, although Jesus also instituted the sacrament of Eucharist at the Last Supper, church leaders do not restrict Eucharist to only men nor only apostles.  Why the inconsistency? 

Regardless, since church leaders believe Last Supper attendees’ gender justifies excluding people from a sacrament, it is important to understand who actually attended.

Mark’s gospel indicates Jesus asked two disciples to prepare the Passover meal and then Jesus “came with the Twelve” (Mark 14:13-17).  According to Mark’s gospel, at least fifteen people attended the Last Supper: Jesus, two disciples and “the Twelve”.  Since Jesus had male and female disciples, and since meal preparation was a traditionally female role, the two disciples attending the Last Supper easily could have been women.  

Matthew’s gospel indicates disciples prepared the Last Supper (MT 26:17-19). It does indicate “the Twelve” attended but it does not indicate only “the Twelve” attended.  In the Eucharist institution narrative, Jesus takes the bread and cup, blesses them and distributes them to the disciples.  During the Holy Order’s institution narrative, Jesus also tells disciples to, “Do this in memory of me”.  Since Matthew’s gospel specifies disciples, it also offers the possibility for female attendees.

Luke’s gospel mentions apostles attending, but it does not mention the number twelve nor indicate that only apostles attended.  John’s gospel indicates disciples attended (John 13:5).  Therefore, both accounts permit the possibility for female attendees also.

About eight years before Mark wrote the earliest gospel, Paul first wrote a scriptural Last Supper account in 1 Cor 11. Pope John Paul II cited 1 Cor 11:24 in Mulieris Dignitatem, using this passage to justify excluding women from the priesthood.  However, Paul does not mention who attended the Last Supper at all, much less their gender.

Paul and the four gospel authors had closer connections to the Last Supper than today’s church leaders, yet they inconsistently described its attendees.  Why do current church leaders insert attendee gender assumptions with such certitude as to use them to exclude? 

Paul didn’t mention Last Supper attendees’ gender, number, or disciple/apostle distinctions.  Rather, his testimony emphasized Jesus.  How he was betrayed by selfish disharmony amongst his followers.  How he selflessly gave of himself and advised us to imitate his sacrifice in remembrance of him (1 Cor 11:23-26).

Paul compared the Last Supper to the Corinthians’ behavior at Eucharistic meals.  Much like Judas’ selfish betrayal, the Corinthians selfishly betrayed Christ by neglecting the needs of others and using the Eucharistic gathering as an excuse for gluttony, posturing and self-aggrandizement.  They came together as a single Body of Christ only as a fa├žade because they divided into judging factions, “In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you…” (1 Cor 11:17-18)

Perhaps Paul de-emphasized Last Supper attendees for the same reason he admonished the church of Corinth.  It is not about “you”.  Jesus selflessly gave of himself and you must do likewise for each other. 

Should we more profoundly consider that which Paul emphasized from the Last Supper rather than inserting attendee gender assumptions that divide the community?  Does fixation upon the Eucharistic celebrant’s gender commit a similar error to that of the Corinthians’ misguided priorities?

Do we posture, choosing where to sit based upon who is in our clique?  Do we first insure that everyone’s needs in the community are met before we dare celebrate the Eucharist?  Do we judge the worthiness of others rather than examine our own worthiness? 

6 comments:

  1. This is a very belated comment, but: for an account of the Last Supper that is fictional but very stimulating for serious reflection, I recommend Tina Beattie's "The Last Supper According to Martha and Mary."

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  2. Are you kidding me! Does anyone think there was a meal for <13 prepared and served w/o a distaff presence? Get real!

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  3. Bill: The gospels state that women followed/accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem. John has Jesus' mother at the cross. The Passover meal, even at that time, was a family celebration. Why would Jesus exclude his own mother and women friends/followers from this meal? It makes no sense. Too bad we do not have the original gospel texts.

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  4. We should at least consider that a meal within a framed 'house" structure, such as the "Last Supper" would have been attended and/or served by male and women followers. If we, as Catholics, continue to see only men as 'worthy images" of Jesus, then why are women even allowed to take Communion now? The laity has been educated and somewhat empowered, and now we are ready for the "next step."

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  5. it is absolute nonsense to sugguest that there was no women at the last supper

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  6. On 1998 Polish artist Bohdan Piasecki painted a LAST SUPPER which included 6 women and 2 children, as well as Jesus and his 12 apostles. It seems highly improbable that Jesus would have excluded his mother, Mary of Magdala and the other women who had followed him up to Jerusalem from this important occasion. To see a copy of the Piasecki painting please visit this website:

    http://wearechurchireland.ie/last-supper/

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