The Darker Side of the Eucharist

When I was looking for the scripture passage to accompany the Institution of the Eucharist for my newest book, The Luminous Mysteries, I had in mind to recreate the sort of Eucharistic feast that we participate in every Sunday. You know, as a kind of a nod to the actual Eucharist that we celebrate! A joyful feast that we all come together and break bread! So I would put in a scripture to remind people of the Eucharist, find some wonderful artworks of the Last Supper, and then that would be good.

Right?

So, when I was rereading the scripture of the Last Supper, I was startled to find that Judas often takes a very prominent role in the scripture of the Last Supper. Check it out:

NABRE

Matthew 26

17 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’” 19The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. 21And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” 23He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. 24 The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” 25 Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.” 30 Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

In our own Eucharistic feast, mind you, we don’t say that. But in the actual bible? It’s disturbing to see that Judas is present in that scene and that Jesus acknowledges Judas before He breaks bread.

So I thought about cutting out that part… briefly. That way, it would make it easier to concentrate on the glory of the Eucharist… or so I thought!

And then I started looking at images of the Last Supper.

And I changed my mind.

As uncomfortable as it makes me, Judas absolutely plays a pivotal role in the Last Supper. And the art traditions portray this, often showcasing Judas in a way to reminder viewers to follow Christ and the Apostles… and not Judas.

For instance, take a look at this painting. A lovely picture of the Last Supper, right? Jesus is even holding what looks very much what we recognize as a communion wafer! All the Apostles have halos which state their names.

Except for Judas. He has no halo. And, just in case you don’t know his name already from that distinct lack of halo, he is sitting on his name.

The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1555-62. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1555-62. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Then there’s the one that I featured on the cover of my book, The Luminous Mysteries. This one is a beautiful image that is wild and dream-like! Christ seems to be emitting light — after all, He is the Light of the World! All His disciples watch Him in rapt attention.

Except for Judas. He is turned away from Jesus, his eyes firmly shut.

The Last Supper, by William Blake, c. 1799. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Last Supper, by William Blake, c. 1799. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States.

But these artworks, which were included in my book, were less hard on Judas than a lot of Last Supper pictures.

For instance, just take a look at this one:

The Last Supper, by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, c. 1664. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Last Supper, by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, c. 1664. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

This Last Supper painting is dark — so dark that, even though I tried to include it in my book, it just didn’t look good in print. Christ and the Apostles are gathered together for the Last Supper. But, while they are with each other, Judas stands up, covered in darkness, his hands gripped ominously on the money bag.

I tried so hard to fit that last artwork in my book! But, no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to lighten it enough for print, without losing the ominous effect of the darkness. I wanted to have it as the second to last painting of the mystery, as it would logically lead to the next set of mysteries — the Sorrowful Mysteries.

So, instead I replaced it with this image, which has better lighting and it portrays the same sort of spirit as the first… perhaps a little more so:

Last Supper, by Benjamin West, c. 1786. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, United States. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Last Supper, by Benjamin West, c. 1786. Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, United States.

In this picture, Judas is shrouded in darkness. But his face also has a visibly green hue to it, which calls to mind the phrase, “Green with envy.” Which is fitting! After all, it was envy and greed that caused Judas to betray Jesus.

Even though Jesus Christ was willing to share everything with Judas — remember that Judas ate at the Last Supper with Jesus! — Judas still turned on Jesus because he wanted more.

And that is a sobering reminder that calls to mind this letter by St. Paul:

NABRE

1Corinthians 11

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. 31If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; 32but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

And who is the poster boy of receiving Communion unworthily?

Judas.

It is tempting to think  of the Last Supper as simply a meal between the Apostles in which there was Communion with Christ — which is true! But it is also true that it is very possible to receive Christ through Communion unworthily, as Judas shows us.

Today, this still holds true. When we commit a mortal sin, we need to abstain from Communion and seek out forgiveness before we can receive Communion again. Otherwise, we receive Communion unworthily. And there is a chance for forgiveness for even the worst sin! Everybody talks about Judas betraying Jesus, but St. Peter also betrayed Jesus in a way, and yet Jesus forgave him. There is a chance for redemption if we go to Christ with our hearts and confess our sins!

So let us follow the path of the saints and seek to be with Christ. And let us strive to always be ready to receive Christ.

This blog is the last part of a blog series about the Luminous Mysteries. This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Luminous Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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