The month of April is traditionally dedicated to the Holy Eucharist. Much like February, this month is unusual in that the feast usually connected to the monthly devotion does not occur during it. The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, usually referred to by the Latin name Corpus Christi is a movable feast that usually occurs in June. Traditionally, the feast was held on the first Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost, which ended on Trinity Sunday, though now it is usually held on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday. However, also like February, there are links between the feasts usually held during the month and the devotion assigned to it.
The earliest possible date for Easter is March 22 while the latest is April 25. This means the Paschal Triduum, the three days immediately preceding Easter, usually fall in April. The most recent year in which this was not the case was four years in 2018, when Easter fell on April 1. Before then, in 2016, Easter was on March 27 and before that, Easter fell on March 31 in 2013. So in the last decade, the Paschal Triduum occurred in March three times therefore a percentage rate of 30%.
The first day of the Paschal Triduum is Holy Thursday, on which the Church commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist by Christ, as the institution narrative states, “on the night before He died.” Although the word triduum is Latin for “three days,” liturgically Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Paschal Vigil on the night of Holy Saturday are considered one day. This is why there is no final blessing after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, no sign of the Cross is made at the beginning nor the end of the Liturgy of Our Lord’s Passion on Good Friday (making it the only day of the year on which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not offered) and the Easter Vigil does not begin with the Sign of the Cross either.
The Fourth Cup
The Last Supper is often referred to as the “first Mass” but it is important to remember that the Mass makes present again, for all the time, the sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross at Calvary. However, the sacrifice starts the night before at the Last Supper. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper is described as a Passover meal but there is no mention of a lamb, as required by God in Exodus, only bread and wine. In fact, the Gospel according to St. John, which does not include an institution narrative, points out that the time at which Jesus was being condemned and crucified was when the priests in the Temple were beginning to sacrifice the Passover lambs.
As Dr. Scott Hahn explains in his book The Fourth Cup, the Passover seder usually ends with the “Cup of Consummation” which is drunk after a hymn is sung. In his account of the Last Supper, St. Mark writes that Jesus and the Apostles left for Gethsemane after singing a hymn, indicating that they did not have the customary Cup of Consummation. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, after Our Lord has consecrated the wine into His Blood, He tells His Apostles “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (26:29) For this reason, along with His desire to suffer fully in His Passion, Jesus refuses the cup of wine mixed with gall that is offered Him before His crucifixion. Later, on the Cross, after saying “I thirst,” He drinks the vinegar that is offered Him, which was likely a very cheap wine drunk by Roman soldiers, and states words that are variously translated “It is finished!” and “It is accomplished!” but in Latin are consumatum est, literally “It is consummated.”
April, anno Domini 33
Most interestingly, the events recorded in the Passion narrative most likely occurred in April. According to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified by the order of Pontius Pilate, praefectus of Iudaea. Pilate is recorded by history to have governed the province from A.D. 26 until A.D. 37. The Gospels also record that Jesus was crucified on Passover, which occurs on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, and that it was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, which means it was on Friday. The years on which Passover fell on a Friday in the time frame are A.D. 27, 30 and 33. Based on other information from Roman history and the Gospels, as well as the age of Our Lord recorded in the Gospels, the most likely date of His crucifixion was April 3, A.D. 33. This would put the first Holy Thursday, the night on which He instituted the Eucharist, on April 2.