Most of us who live now think of the Last Supper in terms that are familiar to us. In our imagination Jesus and his apostles sit around a square table on chairs. Jesus is a the center and his apostles arrayed around him. The famous painting of Leonardo Da Vinci (See right) is uppermost in most modern minds when thinking of the Last Supper.
But the real Last Supper was different in many significant ways.
Some of the following I am about it present is still a matter of debate other aspects of it are undisputed.
1. Jesus and the Apostles did not sit on chairs at a table. Rather they reclined on ground or on mats and pillows, leaning on their left elbow (leaning either forward or on their left side) and eating with their right hand. Their legs were stretched out behind them. (See picture at left, click to get a bigger size) This was the typical fashion for eating in the ancient world. That they reclined to eat is made plain in the Gospel of Mark: While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me (Mk 14:18).
This setting also explains some things that seem strange to us moderns. First of all why did John lean back on Jesus’ chest to ask him a question? (Jn 13:25; 21:20) This would be strange and physically awkward in a modern upright table setting. But reclining on one’s side on a mat meant you had to lean back to talk to the person next to you. Thus, while many see the act as a tender one, it may also have had a practical dimension.
There is also explained another strange scene (to us moderns) where Jesus is reclining to eat in the home of a Pharisee and and a woman begins to anoint his feet (Luke 7:38). In a modern upright table setting this would mean she’d have to be under the table. Strange indeed! But in the ancient setting, the posture was such that one’s feet were behind and thus the woman could approach Jesus from behind and begin to anoint his feet without his prior knowledge.
2. The Place of honor in modern western settings at a typical long rectangular table is either at the center or at one end. Everyone is seated upright and facing in to the center and can generally see all the others well. However, in the ancient meal setting the table was “U” shaped, either as a half circle, or with 90 degree arms. Instead of sitting at the center of the table (as in DaVinci’s painting above) the host or honored guest sat at one corner. Further, everyone sat on one side on the outside of the table allowing the inside of the table to open for servers.
The picture to the right is from a very early mosaic in Ravenna, probably made well before the 5th Century. At this early time, artists still had access to more of the memory of the actual practices at the time of Jesus and thus depicts the Last Supper as it was more likely arranged. Notice that Jesus is at the head of the corner and his disciples are arrayed in a sloping ark behind and sloping to his left. This was the usual setting for the ancient meal and especially something as formal as a passover meal.
It would seem however, for John to have been able to lean back on Jesus’ chest to ask him the question, that Jesus would have to been on the opposite side of the “table” from that depicted in the Ravenna mosaic. But we still get the basic point of what ancient meal settings looked like.
3. It would seem (though this is debatable) that the place of second honor was at the other end of the U shaped table on the opposite corner. This would help explain why Peter is not at Jesus’ immediate side and has to motion to John across the room to lean back and ask Jesus a question (Jn:13:24-25). Since Peter would like have had the other place of honor it makes sense that he would be across the room and unable to ask Jesus himself.
Here too the Ravenna Mosaic seems instead to picture Peter right next to the Lord, which would not comport with the likely biblical evidence that John was in fact to the Lord’s right. But the mosaic does capture well the reclining at a U shaped low table.
Thus the whole setting of the Last Supper was rather a different setting that most modern people imagine. Leaning on elbows and eating with one hand would all be very awkward to us. But I suppose they’d think what we do strange as well. Nevertheless, the ancient practice, DaVinci and modern notions notwithstanding was that people reclined to eat.
The following clip is a humorous scene from the Passion of the Christ. Mary is puzzled over Jesus making a tall table to eat at. She cannot imagine that anyone would want to eat sitting up. She says, “This will never catch on!”
55 Replies to “The Seating Plan at the Last Supper”
“…begin to anoint his feet without his prior knowledge.”
So it would have seemed, but of course He knew what was going to happen.
Fair enough, if we are talking about his Divine Knowledge or also if this were part of his infused human knowledge.
Do you really think so?
Do you think He knew what everyone was going to say or do before they said or did it?
That would mean He did not live a human life at all, but was merely acting out a rehersal on a stage.
Fully human and fully God, means being subject to human restraints while at the same time thinking like God.
Hence the dual nature.
Surely He had the ability to see things others did not, and know things others did not, but every word, act and gesture before it happened?
No. That would be cheating.
I love this kind of information. It brings it home just a little more, makes it just a bit more real. To close my eyes and picture something like this… I don’t know, just like I said – makes it so much more real or tangible. One of the biggest mysteries to me is how the apostles could look Jesus in the eye and NOT know Him for who He was.
Yes, but one of the truths of resurrection faith is “Jesus is Lord” SO it would seem that it took that for them to begin to get it.
Count me as not convinced.
the Gospel of Mark: “While they were reclining at the table eating . . .”
Of course, it is universally recognized that Mark was writing for a predominately Roman audience. And lying on one’s stomach (as in the picture) or side is positively Roman. But even so, the word “recline” means to “lean back.”
It also does not seem very practical for a real meal, much less a solemn one. More fitting for lounging around drinking and munching (like a Roman). It would be rather difficult, too, for Jesus to break the bread on one elbow or while entirely on His stomach. Lifting it up in blessing would be rather hard too.
Over at New Advent, the Latin says, “17 Vespere autem facto, venit cum duodecim. 18 Et discumbentibus eis, et manducantibus, ait Jesus : Amen dico vobis, quia unus ex vobis tradet me, qui manducat mecum.” This is translated as, “17 And when evening had come, he comes with the twelve. 18 And when they were at table and eating, Jesus says: Amen I say to you, one of you that eats with me shall betray me.” (There is also, “17 Καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης ἔρχεται μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα. 18 καὶ ἀνακειμένων αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσθιόντων ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἷς ἐξ ὑμῶν παραδώσει με, ὁ ἐσθίων μετ’ ἐμοῦ.” but that is all Greek to me.)
What is the best translation for “Et discumbentibus eis“?
Does Deutoronomy or other sections of the Law say how the Passover is to be eaten? The first one required eating with a staff in your hands — did subsequent ones require this?
Well of course you’ve tripped over lots of debated issues including the great question of whether it was a Passover meal or not. The directive to eat it standing with loins girt and staff in hand may or may not still have been observed at the time of Jesus but I suspect it is like Jews of today who do the initial ritual standing with the question “Why is this night different….” and then they sit (in the modern western tradition) and continue.
As for the Greek, the word ἀνάκειμαι (anakeimai) is a very straight-forward word meaning to lie or be reclined. Some times anaklino is used elsewhere in scripture, sometimes katakeimai but they all have a very straight forward meaning “to lie or be reclined” . The Latin “discumbentibus” is usually translated “table” or “at table” but this in no way denies that they were reclined in the usual Mediterranean manner.
So I think really there is little to your point other than you suspect they were trying to appeal to a Gentile audience. An interesting theory, and quite central, in a very general sort of way to the historical-critical method, but not strong enough here to overthrow the plain meaning of the word.
Charles Pope asks: “First of all why did John lean back on Jesus’ chest to ask him a question?”
Of course, your fine post answers that question. John, we believe, is this one: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23, Douay) He was already in ‘a place of honor’ and took advantage of this to ask a question about Judas. (13:24 ff., ibid.)
Well, note that John doing this was after Jesus had washed their feet. And that, presumably, was after they had eaten the main meal, after Jesus had instituted the Eucharist because he leaves shortly after John asks his question and Jesus gives the morsel to Judas, but Matthew has Judas present for the Eucharist. Moreover, Matthew and Mark record they sang a psalm, which would have been done standing.
All of which is a long way to say that maybe the seating arrangements had changed? Maybe they had formal dining seating (with place of honor, etc.) for the main meal / Eucharist, and then had moved around to different places afterwards?
Thanks to David below for another reason for wondering if maybe they had moved around by the time John asks his question — the women.
We know that Mary and other women were in town because they were there at the Cross the next day. So where were they for the meal? One would think that they would be with Jesus, it being the Passover.
But the Gospels and Tradition suggest that the women were not there for the institution of the Eucharist, not even Mary. But does that preclude them from being present earlier? Might there have been two parts to the festivities? The first part, in which the women were present, and then they left the men alone, at which point the Gospels take up the story and Jesus institutes the Eucharist?
All of that, again, would suggest a lot of moving around to different positions by the time John asked his question.
“One would think that they would be with Jesus, it being the Passover.”
Not necessarily. I’ve been told that it’s not unusual for Jewish people today to have a separate Passover meal with co-workers and other close non-family members the night before Passover and another with their family at the traditional time. So this one was for the 12 and the following night (Friday night) the 12 would go to their own family’s Passover.
Many people do the same at Christmas time. They celebrate it with gifts, dinners and parties, multiple times around Christmas.
Here and everywhere except in Israel the Passover meal, known as the Seder, is held twice; first on the evening before the first day (which counts as the first day, the day beginning at sunset) and again on the following evening.
People often try to hold them in different company each night; commonly with the wife’s relations one night and the husband’s the other.
But the two-meals tradition stems from uncertainty in the Diaspora in earlier times about when the festival would fall in Jerusalem, and there is only one Seder night in Israel. At the time we are speaking of the first day of each new month was proclaimed by the Sanhedrin when the new moon was sighted and identifying the fifteenth day – at sunset on the fourteenth – was of course just a matter of counting forward. So no, John F. Kennedy, that explanation won’t fly. The Last Supper was the Seder of the year or it was nothing.
To Bender, assuming his reply was to me.
John 13: And when supper was done … knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands and that he came from God and goes to God, he rose from supper and laid aside his garments and, having taken a towel, girded himself.
… Then after he had washed their feet and taken his garments, being set down* again, he said to them …
When Jesus had said these things, he was troubled in spirit; and he testified, and said: Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you shall betray me. The disciples therefore looked one upon another, doubting of whom he spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him and said to him: Who is it of whom he speaks? He therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, said to him: Lord, who is it? Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which you do, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew to what purpose he said this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus had said to him: Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor. He therefore, having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night.”
No ‘changing of places’, supernatural or otherwise.
Note “And when supper was done”, so whether or not women had been present they were not present at the institution of the memorial and the new covenant. The N.C. was between Jesus and the eleven faithful ones, representing the whole of Jesus’ new heavenly government. This, of course, now includes many women, including Jesus’ mother. (“And when they had come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus and Simon Zelotes and Jude the brother of James. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”) Acts 1. All quotes Douay.
*”set down” As noted elsewhere, orientals reclined at table; I’ve seen this myself in the Middle East.
Msgr Pope: I am Jewish, I went to the Seder last night and I will go again tonight, as I have done for many years in many different homes. Leaning on sofas has indeed gone, it would not be practical. But I have never seen the Four Questions done with everyone standing. The youngest person present, or to be precise the youngest capable, usually a child of four or five if there is one (and it’s much more enjoyable with children around!) asks the questions, and as a matter of convenience may stand up to be heard; but everyone else sits. Similarly the “leader” – usually the host or another good Hebraist, although the task can be shared – may stand up, although it is unusual. Everyone else sits.
Please forgive a sophomore seminarian’s joke about Da Vinci’s depiction.
“While they were eating” is the setting. We also hear that Jesus gave instructions about the preparations. We don’t hear about the ones who prepared the room, cooked and served the food, and then cleared the dining area.
At the seminary, we all sat at table together and we shared the ministry of meals. Some tilled and harvested, some prepared and cooked, some served, some cleaned. And some presided. All participated and were fed.
We all joked, from sophomore year through the final years of theology and philosophy, “If you want to be be in the picture, get behind the table.”
We all now know that if you come to the Table, you will be the picture.
Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.
In her “Life of Our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ” (vol. 4, pp.60-62), Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich relates (from her visions), “The table [of the Last Supper] was narrow and only high enough to reach one half foot above the knee of a man standing by it. In form it was like a horseshoe; and opposite Jesus, in the inner part of the half-circle, there was a space left free for the serving of the dishes. As far as I can remember, John, James the Greater, and James the Less stood on Jesus’ right; then came Bartholomew, still on the right, but more toward the narrow end of the table; and round the corner at the inner side stood Thomas, and next to him Judas Iscariot. On Jesus’ left was Peter, Andrew, and Thaddeus; then on the opposite side, came Simon, and round at the inner side, Matthew and Philip. In the center of the table lay the Paschal lamb on a dish, its head resting on the crossed forefeet, the hind feet stretched out at full length. All around the edge of the dish were little bunches of garlic. Nearby was another dish with the Paschal roast meat, and on either side a plate of green herbs. these latter were arranged in an upright positoin and so closely together that they looked as if they were growing. There was another plate with little bunches of bitter herbs that looked like aromatic herbs. Directly in front of Jesus’ place stood a bowl of yellowish–green herbs, and another with some kind of a brownish sauce. Small round loaves served the guests for plates, and they made use of bone knives. After the prayer, the master of the feast laid on the table in front of Jesus the knife for carving the Paschal lamb, placed a cup of wine before Him, and from a jug filled six other cups, each of which he set between two of the Apostles. Jesus blessed the wine and drank, the Apostles drinking two and two from one cup. The Lord cup up the Paschal lamb. The Apostles in turn reached their little loaves on some kind of an instrument that held them fast, and received each one a share. They ate it in haste, separating the flesh from the bone with their ivory knives, and the bones were afterward burned. They ate also, and that very quickly, the garlic and green herbs, first dipping them into the sauce. They ate the paschal lamb standing, leaning a little on the back of the seats. Jesus then broke one of the loaves of unleavened bread, covered up one part of it, and divided the other among the apostles. After that they ate the little loaves that had served as plates. Another cup of wine was brought. Jesus thanked, but drank not of it. He said: “Take this wine and divide it among you, for I shall henceforth drink no more wine, until the Kingdom of God cometh.” After the Apostles had drunk, two and two, they chanted, and Jesus prayed and taught. After that they again washed their hands, and then reclined on the seats. During the preceding ceremony, they had been standing, or at least supporting themselves somewhat, and everything was done in haste. Jesus had also cut up another lamb, which was carried to the holy women in the side building where they were taking their meal. The Apostles partook of the herbs, the salad, and the sauce. Jesus was exceeding ly serene and collected, more so than I ever before saw Him. He bade the Apostles forget their cares. Even the Blessed Virgin was bright and cheerful as she sat at table with the women. It was very touching to see her turning so simply to the other women when, at times, they approached her and drew her attnetion by a little pull at her veil. While the Apostles were eating the herbs, Jesus continued to converse with them still quite lovingly, though He afterward became grave and sad. He said: ‘One among you will betray Me–one whose hand is with Me in the dish.'”
Interesting. Though Peter’s place makes it hard for me to understand how he could gesture to John as Scripture says he did.
Oh easily! Peter and John weren’t reclining, and so they could in fact be slightly canted towards each other (“cheating in,” in theatre talk).
x = Table;
J = Jesus; Jo = John; JG = James the Greater; JL = James the Lesser; B = Bartholomew; T = Thomas; JI = Judas Iscariot; P = Peter; A = Andrew; Th = Thaddeus; SZ = Simon the Zealot; M = Matthew; Ph = Philip
I find significance in John’s leaning into Jesus to talk to him. In ordinary circumstances, the Bible may just say that he spoke. Because the setting was the Last Supper, John may have been overwhelmed by emotion and simply wanted to be near Jesus.
Nonetheless, the cultural implications are still important as these men who, were in as relaxed a situation as possible, were sharing a meal with Jesus right before most of them walked away (and essentially helped to turn Him over in these actions.).
Yes, the human capacity to change on a dime.
You left the best part of the scene off!! Jesus playfully splashes
Mary with water and then hugs her. Such a loving, tender and human moment. It is my favorite in the movie and reminds me that God wants to be a joyful part of life. And I do believe He teases us sometimes!
Yes, I thought I HAD included that. Not sure why it is not there.
The seating arrangement at the Last Supper gives another credible reason to why the priest should be celebrating Mass Ad Orientem. At the Last Supper, Everyone was facing the same direction during he meal!
Yes, during Mass, everyone should face the altar because the altar should be at the center of our worship.
Why are fish on the table?
Bread and fishes are symbols of the Eucharist in the ancient Church. The Ravenna mosaic is clearly theologizing here.
I long for that time when we will get back to bishops and priests having all males having their feet washed. Speaking as a woman, I feel something is lost in what the act was when Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. The greatest way to re-present this would be for a bishop to wash the feet of priests and seminarians. This is not practical in most parishes, but I would say here, the pastor should seek out single men, especially those discerning. That would have a richer meaning, imho. I just think that we need to get back to this. We don’t see the Holy Father washing the feet of women. I don’t find this insulting, nor do I feel excluded when I see all males having their feet washed. In fact, I feel like it is patronizing. Jesus was instituting the priesthood and I think that washing the feet of women, obscures this fact.
Clarification: I feel like it is patronizing when women are having their feet washed. I have never felt comfortable with this.
Yes, the whole foot washing things has gone off the hook in recent decades and became a real battleground for ideologues. Of course this is the exact antithesis of what it is supposed to represent (charity, humility, service). At one time I proposed a ten year moratorium on the foot washing (which had become silly: hand washing, shining shoes etc) and a flash point for feminist demands. But my proposal (more in jest than serious) did not get through the priest council. These days, thought the rubric is clear, almost no diocese enforces the norm and most priests are just too tired of the loud complaints to follow it.
I heard on Catholic Radio that the foot washing is a sign of ordination and the priesthood. It goes back to Moses and Aaron.
I suspect, like many things, we will see a return to the proper sense of the ritual when the next generation of bishops take the throne. I think some have already made this change, as are younger priests – who “get it”. Many current bishops seem overly concerned with the self-esteem of those who would be offended rather than with catechizing people and helping them to make connections between that ritual and Sacred Scripture. It’s a form of false-charity, IMHO. Bishops and pastors are also giving way too much power to worship committees and “liturgists” rather than taking the role of teacher and setting things right. The “service” emphasis has superseded the emphasis on the priesthood on Holy Thursday. I really think that if priests and bishops explained to the people, in their columns and in their homilies, that the ritual is getting more in line with what happened in Sacred Scripture with the use of all males, all but a few, angry feminists, would understand (and unfortunately, those who are fine with it would be silent). I don’t think any priest can be forced by the diocese to allow women in those chairs. Hopefully, they exercise that right in the coming years.
At our parish, for the 16+ years I have attended, the priest has washed the feet of the 12 youngest altar boys. It is very moving. And some of those I’ve watched are now in seminary.
Papa Joseph wrote about this in his ‘Jesus of Nazareth. Volume 2’ writing that the arrangement.
Both this and his writing do well to dispel historicism, ‘all that smacks of mythology’ in things liturgical.
For more on the phrase refer to Abbot Vonier who coined it specifically about this very subject.
I am not sure of your exact point here. But I had forgotten that the Pope had made any mention of the seating arrangement in Vol 2. Is there a page # you can supply. I am surely fascinated to read what he wrote, but a quick look didn’t make it jump out for me.
Here is the relevant excerpt:
“Let us return to our text. Understandably, the prophecy of the betrayal produces agitation and curiosity among the disciples. “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus: so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, ‘Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.’ So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him: ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered: ‘It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it’ ” (13:23–26).
In order to understand this text, it should be noted first of all that reclining at table was prescribed for the Passover meal. Charles K. Barrett explains the verse just quoted as follows: “Persons taking part in a meal reclined on the left side; the left arm was used to support the body, the right was free for use. The disciple to the right of Jesus would thus find his head immediately in front of Jesus and might accordingly be said to lie in his bosom. Evidently he would be in a position to speak intimately with Jesus, but his was not the place of greatest honor; this was to the left of the host. The place occupied by the beloved disciple was nevertheless the place of a trusted friend”; Barrett then makes reference to a passage from Pliny (The Gospel according to Saint John, p. 446).”
This is an interesting article from an Orthodox Jewish website that discusses their custom of reclining for the Passover meal. It’s always hazardous to read contemporary practices back into the time of the Lord, but I believe this is one custom that is well established at the time of our Lord.
Very interesting article, thanks.
What I find most interesting is your focus on certain details, and those you decided to not include, when talking about how “the real Last Supper was different in many SIGNIFICANT ways”.
You make no mention of the religious aspects of the meal, nor that the meal would have been eaten facing East.
However, I am sure you are aware of the significance of these facts to the Last Supper and His Sacrifice of Crucifixion.
A great evil entered the Sanctuary when the Norvo Ordo changed the orientation of The Mass. The ego of the priest and the human nature dynamic of the audience was introduced to the celebration of His Bloodless Sacrifice.
How often we see priests who clearly joined the priesthood out of a desire to “freely” pursue their love of fighting for Social Justice issues and of preaching their understanding of how the Gospel should be applied to the same.
How infrequently we see priests who proclaim the Gospel in relation to saving of souls.
So often we see priests whose behavior is like that of junior high school students safely surrounded by their “peeps”.
How different all this is than when the Apostles and Church Fathers went out into the world and were punished by the authorities for saying the very things we no longer hear in Homilies.
What the heart treasures is often what it proclaims as significant…
Boy we priests sure are a disaster
For the Love of God, Listen Centurion, it was a meal amongst brethren!
Not a 2 dimentional postcard.
People moved about, spoke, ate, laughed and cried. Some even went to the bathroom.
These guys were living and breathing flesh and bone. They were not posing for the sears catalogue.
Christianity is about making the best of it, regardless of the circumstances.
If you`ve got bread, share it with your brethren, and make sure they know you love them.
Stop bitching about choreography.
Thanks to you and your brethren for kicking ass for nearly two millenia, Monsignore.
Much, much, much apreciated.
I have always wondered when it became common for people to eat in the modern upright position. Where and when did it originate?
Thank you for a beautiful and very informative article.
So, should priests then recline at every mass during the liturgy of the Eucharist? That might bring in a few more vocations 🙂
Well it is important to recall that in the Mass we are not per se reenacting the Last Supper. Rather, it makes present the paschal mystery
Hopefully if you sign this, there will be a lot more people around:
According to researchers “The Shroud of Turin”, the clothe that was used for the burial of Our Lord was the cloth used for the Last Supper. These findings are the latest and the “painting ” itself can be the imagination of one or few people who never researched, but gave an impressive idea. The replica available The Benedictine Monastery, Monte Fano,Kandy Sri Lanka, gives details of Our Lord’s height and the clothe is about 12 ft. Long and about 3 ft. wide.
Let the Holy Eucharistic mass be a “solemn celebration” while the priest pronouncing the words of consecration, Lord Jesus comes down on to the alter to fulfill the everlasting Covenant, as GOD almighty descended upon the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. Let us not dilute but hold everything Holy.
I have not heard this. But I must say, I have my doubts.
First, it does not matter what we think about the seating, the table, etc.; all that matters is that we believed what Jesus told us and as His and Our Mother said: ‘DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU”. Second, try reading Mary of Agreda’s “Mystical City of God”, which was told to Mary by our Blessed Mary at the time that the world and the Church, were in turmoil, to say the least. These volumes were highly endorsed and praised by various Popes and the Holy See has given blessings on those that read a few pages every day. Have a Holy Easter. +JMJ+
Yo! Monsignor, the NCRegister picked up your blog, see?! We’re not surprised you’re becoming famous because your writing is very good, faith-based, and much appreciated…readers and/or one good editor can readily see that. ;O) Congratulations!
The Seating Plan at the Last Supper, Traditional Names for Holy Week Days, and much, much more!
The Best in Catholic Blogging The Seating Plan at the Last Supper – Msgr. Charles Pope,…
Ratzinger also makes mention of this table arrangement in his “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, in the context of the orientation of the priest during Mass. The idea of the priest facing the people in the 20th century seems to have gotten a lot of support from the mistaken assumption that a modern seating arrangement like ours was used at the time of Jesus. This boardroom arrangement, with priests and ministers on one side, and the assembly facing from the other is well exemplified in the DaVinci painting with Christ and the apostles on one side and the viewer of the painting on the other. Unfortunately, historical research no longer supports this view as you explain. The ad orientem orientation of both the priest and the assembly is likely of apostolic origin as Ratzinger suggests, and may be based on the manner of the priestly sacrifice in the Temple. This orientation towards the liturgical East regards the Mass first and foremost as a sacrifice, and a meal only as a consequence. With this added historical information, It makes a lot more sense, rationally, symbolically, and of Beauty (Truth), to return to the traditional orientation for the priest during the Sacrifice towards the Sun of Justice for whose return from the East we all await.
With regard to the comment above about the table cloth of the Last Supper also being the Shroud of Turin, this was published in a research paper from the Shroud Center in Colorado Springs, run by Dr. John Jackson and his wife (John was leader of the first team allowed to do scientific examination of the Shroud; he was on the faculty of the Air Force Academy at the time) and the paper is published in the 1999 Proceedings of the Conference on the Shroud of Turin held in Richmond, VA.
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