Commemorating the 24 Hours Between the Last Supper and Christ’s Entombment Before Celebrating the Resurrection

April 2017

The events that unfolded between the Last Supper and Christ’s entombment are marked by periods of time by the Gospel writers that helped frame a devotion known as the Little Office of the Passion promoted by St. Francis of Assisi and still practiced by Franciscans today. The devotion incorporates certain events that unfolded during the 24-hour period noted above with the divine offices of prayer, a Christian practice, that stems from the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night (Acts 10:3, 9; 16:25; etc.). 

You are encouraged to personally commemorate the 24-hours between the Last Supper and Christ’s entombment by observing a Little Office of the Passion beginning with evening prayer on Holy Thursday (April 13) and ending with evening prayer on Good Friday (April 14). It is composed for the Society of Urban Monks and comprised of passages of scripture for reading, for reflection, and prayer.

A Summary of the Little Office of the Passion

The 24 hours between the evening of Holy Thursday and the evening of Good Friday consists of nine offices of prayer that occur three hours apart from one another. 

You are encouraged to read the passages of scripture at the designated times for each Divine Office of Prayer and take time for reflection and prayer immediately afterwards. 

There are actually eight Divine Offices of Prayer but one of the offices, Vespers, occurs twice—at the beginning of the Little Office of the Passion and at the very end. The eight Divine Offices of Prayer and their associated times are:

Divine Offices of Prayer:

Associated Time:

Vespers (Evening prayer)

Dusk/Twilight (6:00 pm)

Compline (Night Prayer)

Middle of the Evening (9:00 pm)

Vigils/Matins (Midnight Prayer)

Midnight (12:00 am)

Lauds (Middle of the Night Prayer)

Before Dawn (3:00 am)

Prime (Early Morning Prayer)

Dawn (6:00 am)

Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer)

Between Dawn and Noon (9:00 am)

Sext (Mid-Day Prayer)

Noon (12:00 pm)

None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer)

Between Noon and Dusk/Twilight (3:00 pm)

Vespers (Evening prayer)

Dusk/Twilight (6:00 pm)

  

First Office: Vespers or Evening prayer (6:00 pm)

The first office commemorates the Last Supper. 

Vespers or Evening prayer is associated with the time of Dusk/Twilight, when daylight fades and darkness descends, which marks the beginning of the evening. The scriptures state that “When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve (Mark 14.17).”

Some ancient writings suggest that the retelling of the events of the Last Supper was a ritual of generations of Christians, which we also carry on today. The first office provides you with an opportunity to personally carry on this tradition.   

The events of the Last Supper includes the predictions of Judas’ betrayal, the washing of the disciple’s feet, and the passages of scripture that have been used to institutionalize the celebration of the Eucharist.

Commemorating the events of the Last Supper also includes several teachings and testaments (such as the promise of the Holy Spirit) given by Jesus praying the prayers that He prayed. In fact, one of the prayers that Jesus prayed was specifically for you (John 17. 20-26). 

 

Second Office: Compline or Night Prayer (9:00 pm)

The second office commemorates the powerful prayers of Christ at the Mount of Olives & the Garden of Gethsemane, the foretelling of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and Christ’s arrest. 

Compline or Night Prayer is associated with the time between early evening and midnight, when darkness has settled and dinner is over. The Gospel of Matthew states that at the end of the Last Supper, “they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30).” The Gospel of Mark states that at the end of the Last Supper, “When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it (John 18.1).”

The Kidron Valley is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives and it is frequently noted in the New Testament. The Mount of Olives is a place where Jesus frequently went and taught—“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives (Luke 21.37). He later ascended to heaven from the Mount as written in Acts 1.9-12.  

At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, a place where Jesus often met with his disciples (John 18.2). It was here that he asked some of his disciples to pray, only to find them asleep after each hour that he prayed. It was here that Christ stated that he was “deeply distressed and troubled and his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Mark 14.32)” and where he was also arrested.  

 

Third Office: Vigils/Matins or Midnight Prayer: (12:00 am)

The third office commemorates the time that Jesus was before the Sanhedrin. 

Vigils/Matins or Midnight Prayer is associated with midnight. In the middle of the night and upon his arrest, Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, which was presided over by high priest Caiaphas, according to two Gospel accounts. The Sanhedrin was an appointed council of men who could establish courts and preside as judges who were given full authority over the people of Israel. 

From the very beginning, the Sanhedrin accused Christ of blasphemy while spitting on him, punching him, and mocking him (Mathew 26. 59 – 67). 

 

Fourth Office: Lauds or Middle of the Night Prayer: (3:00 am)

The fourth office recalls Peter’s denial of Christ. 

Lauds or Middle of the Night Prayer is associated with the predawn hours. Each of the Gospels interweave the denial of Peter in their accounts of the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. 

When Christ was arrested and taken to the house of the high priest, Peter followed (Luke 22.54). While Jesus’ trial continued, Peter continued to remain close. After he denied Christ the third time, the rooster crowed. The Gospel of Luke states that “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly (22.61-62).

After the resurrection, it is worth noting that Jesus reached out to Peter when he appeared to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel of John states

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”
He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

(v 15 – 17)

 

Fifth Office: Prime or Early Morning Prayer: (6:00 am)

The fifth office recalls Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate.

Prime or Early Morning Prayer is associated with dawn and it was dawn when Jesus was turned over to Pontius Pilate. The Gospel of Mark states that it was

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders,
the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans.
So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate (15.1)

Each of the Gospel accounts, make it clear that Pilate is reluctant to condemn Jesus, but he sentenced him to be crucified.

 

Sixth Office: Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer: (9:00 am)

The sixth office commemorates the crucifixion. 

Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer is associated with the mid-time between Dawn & Noon which was the time of the crucifixion.

The Gospel of Mark states that

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the Jews.They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.

(Mark 15. 25 – 27)

 

Seventh Office: Sext or Mid-Day Prayer: (12:00 pm)

The seventh office recalls how darkness came over the whole land.

Sext or Mid-Day Prayer is associated with noon, which was the time that darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon for the sun stopped shinning. The Gospel of Luke states that 

It was now about noon, 
and darkness came over the whole land 
until three in the afternoon for the sun stopped shining.

(Luke 23.44 – 45a)

The Gospel of Matthew concurs

From noon until three in the afternoon 
darkness came over all the land.

(Matthew 27.45)

The Gospel of Mark concurs

At noon, darkness came over the whole land 
until three in the afternoon.

(Mark 15.33)

 

Eight Office: None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer: (3:00 pm)

The eight office commemorates the death of Christ.  

None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer is associated with mid-afternoon. The Gospel of Matthew states that 

About three in the afternoon
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?”
(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

(Matthew 27.46)

A few verses later, the Gospel also states that  

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, 
he gave up his spirit.

(verse 50)

 

Ninth Office: Vespers or Evening prayer: (6:00 pm)

The ninth office commemorates the Burial of Jesus. 

Vespers or Evening prayer is associated with the time of Dusk/Twilight when daylight fades and darkness descends, which marks the beginning of the evening. The scriptures state that 

As evening approached,
there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph,
who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.
Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body,
and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.

(Matthew 27.57-60)

You are encouraged to personally observe a Little Office of the Passion beginning with evening prayer on Holy Thursday (April 13) and ending with evening prayer on Good Friday (April 14). It is comprised of passages of scripture for reading, for reflection, and prayer.

 

Click here to download a PDF of the Little Office of the Passion

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