Scripture Readings:
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 13: 1-15

The liturgy of Holy Thursday moves us into the celebration of “The Three Days” – the Easter Triduum, during which we make memory of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These three days are really one solemn liturgy. If you participate in the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper you will notice that there is no dismissal at the end. Neither is there a welcome or dismissal at the liturgy of Good Friday. The liturgy from Holy Thursday through the Easter Vigil is meant to be a continuous memorial and celebration of the climactic moments in the life of Jesus and in the life of the Christian community.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper plunges us into the drama of the final moments of Jesus’ earthly journey. You can feel the tension of this “hour” of which John speaks in his Gospel. It is a sobering, even frightening, time when danger lurks on the horizon. We know that Jesus’ anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, and the arrest of Jesus lie just around the corner. For most people, it would be a time to withdraw, to isolate oneself out of fear. We see Jesus, however, as one who in this hour continues to be present and to offer himself to his disciples. As we hear in the Gospel account, “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”

The liturgy links Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist with his action of washing the feet of the disciples. Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth contains the earliest written reference to the institution of the Eucharist. It reflects an ancient tradition about Jesus’ celebration of a distinctive meal with his disciples before his death. In this meal, Jesus does not only share bread and wine with them; through these gifts he offers his very self to them to be their nourishment, their ongoing strength. Whenever they celebrate this meal, as often as they do this in memory of him, they will again experience his personal gift of self in their midst.

In the Gospel of John, the distinctive action of Jesus at this meal that is recalled is his washing of the feet of the disciples. It is an act of humble service usually performed by a slave. In washing their feet at this moment, Jesus is summing up a life of service to the God he called “Abba” and to God’s people. What he does at this table is emblematic of what he has been doing all along as he walked with his disciples. This act, too, anticipates the meaning of the cruel death he is about to undergo. As unjust and senseless as his crucifixion may be, his death will be invested with meaning because it will become one final act of service to God and to the human family.

After he finishes washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus tells them, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” As people of the Eucharist, we are privileged to receive Christ’s gift of self to us – the greatest gift we could ever receive on this earth. We are blessed to experience real communion with Jesus, a genuine sharing of presence that is the heart of this wonderful sacrament.  The Risen Christ, who shared this meal on the eve of his own passion, hosts us and serves us each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. As people of the Eucharist, you and I are also called to be people of the basin and towel. We are invited to emulate this Jesus through lives of loving service to others. We are called to wash the feet of one another.

Bread and wine, basin and towel.  This is the “stuff” of Catholic Christian life. These symbols are at the very center of our identity as followers of Jesus. For young adults, and for adults of all ages today, these symbols represent an ongoing challenge. They are countercultural because they challenge the “Me First” thinking that often prevails in our society. They signify an approach to life different from the one that tells us to look after the needs of others only after we have taken care of our own needs. Jesus tells his disciples, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This “model” he has given us to follow is one that sets the bar very high. It is a model that we can never emulate purely on our own. We need the grace of Christ present and at work within us to take us even one step toward this way of living. It is, though, a way of living in which we walk beside Christ and in which he gives us rest when we are weary. It is life lived to the fullest.


Robin Ryan, CP