Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
First Corinthians 11:23-26
In the Catholic tradition, on this day, in each community, there may be only one celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This is such a special celebration, a liturgy that sums up so much about our Lord’s love for us, so much about who we are. It has always amazed me that this isn’t a holy day of obligation. I imagine this celebration was so central to a community’s life, that it didn’t seem necessary to oblige members to join in the celebration.
I will never forget the first time I had the privilege of presiding at the Holy Thursday liturgy. What I remember most of all is when we were setting up the pitchers, bowls of water, and the towels for the washing of feet. We practiced, slowly and reverently: how an assistant would hold the pitcher, where the bowl would be, how we would hold the person’s feet, how we would carefully pour the water over the feet, and how we would gently dry the feet. We wanted to let the ritual reveal, as powerfully as it could, the tenderness with which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and how tenderly he wants us to follow his example, in loving as we are loved. With this desire, some of my defenses melted. I found myself not only practicing this ritual, I was experiencing leaving behind my resistance to intimacy. I wanted to practice loving as Jesus loves. There is something almost awkward and embarrassing about holding someone’s feet, caressing them, and treating them with such reverence. Yet, in this ritual, the gospel comes alive.
John 13 seems to take the place of the Last Supper scenes in the other three gospels. We won’t find the words “This is my body” or “This is my blood” or “Do this in memory of me.” Here we find the Last Supper acted out in a ritual of self-giving love – Here I am, giving my self to you as servant for you. I have given you an example so that you might be a servant for others as I have given my self for you. After that first experience of washing feet, I can never take part in the Holy Thursday celebration of the Lord’s Supper without seeing in the foot washing a reminder of the meaning of love, a re-focusing of our call to discipleship, and a powerful symbol of the meaning of the Eucharist.
At that same first practice of the foot washing, there were several of us who were going to wash feet, so we could take our time, and draw on the power of the ritual further. So we had several members of the parish council, a parish trustee, a member of the parish staff washing feet with me as a sign of our role as servants in the parish together. It just came to us that we should all be vested in albs (the white garment the priest wears and the white garment all of us receive at the time of our baptism). Then we just “got it” that we should ritually put on the white garments that those to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, just two nights away, would soon receive. So, before Mass we draped these special albs over the end of the font that was there in the sanctuary. After the foot washing, we returned the albs to this place.
It was with great joy that I could tell those about to be baptized,
and the whole congregation, that these white garments, which we all wear
since the day of our baptism, symbolize our common priesthood in the dying-to-self
love of Jesus. When we eat his body and drink his blood we partake
in a common mission as servants for one another.
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