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Why is today called Spy Wednesday?

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You might hear today referred to as “Spy Wednesday.” What does that mean and why do some people call it that?

The name actually derives from the Gospel reading for today — also called Holy Wednesday, as it is the Wednesday of Holy Week — in which Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver:

“One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mt 26:14-16).

At that point, Judas “spies” on Jesus, secretly plotting the most opportune time to turn him in to the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish elders at the time who sought to condemn Jesus.

Today’s reading follows yesterday’s account of the incident from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Jn 13:21). Simon Peter asks John — “the one whom Jesus loved” — to ask Jesus what he means. Jesus replies:

“‘It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.’ So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’” (Jn 13:26-27).

Now the stage is set, so to speak, for the events of the night of the Last Supper through the Lord’s passion and death on Good Friday.

Use of the term “Spy Wednesday” for this day appears to have originated in England and Ireland in the 1800s, according to WordHistories.net. The website noted mentions of the term in Irish newspapers on several occasions throughout the century, with a clear definition given in 1881.

Pope Francis referred to the day as Spy Wednesday in his homily at a Mass on April 8, 2020.

Many use this day to discuss Judas’ betrayal, asking how and why someone who was so close to Jesus could do what he did.

“Judas gave up everything to follow Jesus for three years … Why would he betray him?” asked Dr. Edward Sri in a March 2021 podcast. “Perhaps a more important question we should all ponder is: Could something like that ever happen to me? Is it possible that I could turn away from Jesus?”

Bishop Robert Barron observed in an April 4 reflection: “Those of us who regularly gather around the table of intimacy with Christ and yet engage consistently in the works of darkness are meant to see ourselves in the betrayer.”

In his general audience catechesis on the Twelve Apostles in 2006, the late Pope Benedict XVI said God used Judas’ betrayal as part of his plan for salvation.

“The word ‘to betray’ is the version of a Greek word that means ‘to consign.’ Sometimes the subject is even God in person: It was he who for love ‘consigned’ Jesus for all of us (Rm 8: 32). In his mysterious salvific plan, God assumes Judas’ inexcusable gesture as the occasion for the total gift of the Son for the redemption of the world,” the pope said.

“We draw from this a final lesson,” Benedict concluded. “While there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to each of us to counterbalance the evil done by them with our clear witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”

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Why is today called Spy Wednesday?