What Do Catholics Do On Spy Wednesday?

by Holy Week, Lent

“I spy with my little eye…a dandelion!” my tiny voice would say with excitement as my mom and I would play the “I Spy” game. This game was a joy-filled way to notice the wonderful gifts that God has given us. While this type of spying was always fun, “Spy Wednesday” has a much more sinister meaning.

Wednesday of Holy Week—also known as “Spy Wednesday”—is traditionally believed to be the day Judas betrayed Jesus based on what is recorded at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Once a friend, “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” (Matthew 26:14-16). It is Matthew 26:16 where he assumes the role of “spy” since, from the point of receiving the silver, he was searching for an opportunity for Jesus to be arrested leading, of course, to His Passion. What occurs next depends on the Gospel with both Mark and Matthew describing Judas talking to the chief priests and Luke mentioning that “then Satan entered Judas” (Luke 22:3).

History of Spy Wednesday

Since it is difficult to determine exactly when early Christians began celebrating different days due to a lack of records, the history of Spy Wednesday is not entirely clear. Bishops Athanasius of Alexandria and Epiphanius of Constantia began referencing “Holy Week” in the fourth century. This means that, most likely, Spy Wednesday was recognized between the first and fourth centuries but by a different name since it would take until the medieval period for the word “spy” to enter into the vernacular.

Even today, besides “Holy Wednesday,” the day has several names. One is “Silent Wednesday” because the Gospels do not record anything about Jesus’ activities. Other names include “Black Wednesday” or “Wednesday of Shadows,” connecting the liturgical celebration of Tenebrae that may be celebrated on this day and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

Spy Wednesday Traditions


Although the Tenebrae service is often celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the first day that it can be celebrated is Spy Wednesday. The Tenebrae service occurs in a dark room where the only light comes from candles. After each reading, one candle is extinguished until the entire room is dark. When the last candle is snuffed out, there is a loud sound that is meant to imitate the earthquake that occurred at the death of Christ. In Malta, for example, children used to drum on the chairs to create this sound. In addition to worshipping with others with through the Tenebrae service, new and old traditions can be done either as a family or individually.

Spy Wednesday Silver Hunt

Families with children might start a tradition of a “Spy Wednesday Silver Hunt”. A parent hides 30 pieces of silver—dimes, nickels, and quarters—around the house. Then, whoever finds the money gets to keep it. These silver coins can be a discussion starter to help children understand how Judas betrayed Jesus and how, ultimately, all of us as sinners, betray Him as well. 

When it comes time to eat, choosing Jidáše (Judas Buns,) a type of Czechoslovakian bread, can be the perfect way to remember Spy Wednesday. These rolls contain both lemon juice or lemon zest, symbolizing the bitterness of sin, and a honey glaze that reminds us of the sweetness of salvation and of the forgiveness of sins that we receive through the Sacraments. Some say that the buns resemble a noose shape, signifying the way by which Judas died, and others say that they look like money bags, representing the silver that Judas received. Regardless of the interpretation of their shape, these buns are traditionally eaten on either Spy Wednesday or Maundy Thursday.

Last, but certainly not least, one new tradition that Bishop Richard F. Stika from the Diocese of Knoxville is encouraging is to pray for others who are similar to Judas on Spy Wednesday. First, pray for those who are currently in prison. Also, we can pray for those who, like Judas, have known Jesus and have left Him.

Psalm 55: A Prayer For Betrayal

Listen, God, to my prayer;

do not hide from my pleading;

hear me and give answer.

I rock with grief; I groan

at the uproar of the enemy,

the clamor of the wicked.

They heap trouble upon me,

savagely accuse me.

My heart pounds within me;

death’s terrors fall upon me.

Fear and trembling overwhelm me;

shuddering sweeps over me.

I say, “If only I had wings like a dove

that I might fly away and find rest.

Far away I would flee;

I would stay in the desert.

I would soon find a shelter

from the raging wind and storm.”

Lord, check and confuse their tongues.

For I see violence and strife in the city

making rounds on its walls day and night.

Within are mischief and trouble;

treachery is in its midst;

oppression and fraud never leave its streets.

For it is not an enemy that reviled me—

that I could bear—

Not a foe who viewed me with contempt,

from that I could hide.

But it was you, my other self,

my comrade and friend,

You, whose company I enjoyed,

at whose side I walked

in the house of God.

Let death take them;

let them go down alive to Sheol

for evil is in their homes and bellies.

But I will call upon God,

and the LORD will save me.

At dusk, dawn, and noon

I will grieve and complain,

and my prayer will be heard.

He will redeem my soul in peace

from those who war against me,

though there are many who oppose me.

God, who sits enthroned forever,

will hear me and afflict them.

For they will not mend their ways;

they have no fear of God.

He stretched out his hand at his friends

and broke his covenant.

ofter than butter is his speech,

but war is in his heart.

Smoother than oil are his words,

but they are unsheathed swords.i

Cast your care upon the LORD,

who will give you support.

He will never allow

the righteous to stumble.

But you, God, will bring them down

to the pit of destruction.

These bloodthirsty liars

will not live half their days,

but I put my trust in you.

Psalm 55
How To Make The Most Of Holy Week Infographic

Image: Photo by Zlaťáky.cz on Unsplash







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