This day is also called Maundy Thursday because Jesus gives a command (mandatum) to his followers to be an example of service to others. He does so by washing his apostles' feet (John 13:34). The Triduum begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. This Mass preserves several traditions that were once common to every Eucharist - and in a sense are ideal for evey celebration - but now seem special and different. The Mass begins with the tabernacle entirely empty, for we receive Holy Communion this evening from the Bread and Wine consecrated at this Mass, not from a previous Mass. Oils which were blessed by the Bishop for use in the diocese are presented to the parish. The opening prayer reminds us that "we are gathered here to share in the supper which your only Son left to his Church to reveal his love." The first reading (Exodus) gives the background and details for the Passover meal. The Hebrew people in Egypt are saved by the blood of the lamb which causes the wrath of God to "pass over" the houses marked with its blood.+ + + + + + + + + +
The second reading (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) contains the earliest written account of the Lord's Supper. "I received form the Lord what I handed on to you, namely, that the Lord Jesus on the nigt in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you. Do this is remembrance of me.'
The Gospel proclaimed, (Jn. 13:1-15), Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Not only do we hear about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, but we see and experience it. The leaders of the parish community take water and a towel and wash the feet of members of the parish. This is a humble yet glorious service, for it is the service of one who reigns triumphant from the cross. After the washing of the feet, Jesus turns to us and says: "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me "teacher" and "master," and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet" Then the altar is stripped in silence, symbolic of the stripping of Jesus before his crucifixion. The Holy Thrusday liturgy flows into a time of adoraiton recalling the words of Jesus, "Could you not watch one hour with me?"
[Source: Supplement to the Sunday Bulletin of February 3, 2008; St. Paul Parish, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.]
WASHING OF THE FEET
"No shirt, no shoes, no service."
Restaurants often display this sign to show who's not welcome at their table.
A sign at the Last Supper could have read, "No shirt, no shoes, service." It would have shown who was welcome at the table.
One of the most striking scenes at the Last Supper happens when Jesus pulls off his tunic, has the disciples remove their sandals, and begins a service like none other - washing feet. The episode, which occurs only in John's Gospel, comes where we expect to find Jesus' most famous line from the Last Supper. "This is my body. This is my blood." Instead of pointing at teh bread and wine, he gives an example of service. We begin to see the Eucharist involves more than food and drink - it involves commitment, community, faith and selflessness. Other New Testament writers tell us Jesus said, "Do this," in reference to the celebration of the Eucharist. John's Jesus says it in reference to the service of washing feet.
For this reason, the liturgy of Holy Thursday invites us to imitate literally the example of Jesus. The presider may wash the feet of members of the community. In this act, the local church witnesses the selfless service of Christ and sees an example of faith in action. If we are believers, if we share in the bread and the cup, then we also share in service.
Sometimes we hear the complaint that the washing of the feet is too old-fashioned, that it doesn't fit our modern culture. Sometimes we search for a more meaningful adaptation washing hands, or shining shoes! But it's hard to beat the shocking humility of the original gesture. It didn't fit Jesus' culture very well either. Peter objected to the whole idea. The service to which Jesus calls us also doesn't fit the culture. Businesses may call it service, but they change us even if it's self-service. The service of the Gospel is freely given.
Holy Thursday invites us to the table not as guests who dine and run, but as hosts who eat and serve. The meal isn't over till the cleanup.
[Source: Supplement to the Sunday Bulletin of April 4, 2009; St. Paul Parish, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.]