Praying with Holy Thursday at Home
During this time of social distancing during the Corona Virus pandemic, it will be sad that we will not be able to participate in person for the celebration of Holy Thursday. If the Liturgy is being streamed by our parish, or from the Vatican News site, it appears that it will not involve the traditional washing of the feet - so much a part of this celebration. We offer resources to Prepare for Holy Thursday's Liturgy, but it seemed appropriate to offer some reflection and some ideas for enhancing our at home experience of this special celebration.
On Holy Thursday we commemorate the gift of the Eucharist, given to us at the Last Supper. We pass over from sin and death, to mercy, communion and the fullness of life, through Jesus' total gift of himself. And, by using John's account of the Last Supper for our gospel on this day, the Church reminds us of the meaning of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus is broken and poured out for us, and gives us his Body and Blood in this Eucharist, he calls us to see this gift as "an example." Jesus said, "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." This is dramatically acted out for us in the Washing of Feet. Jesus washed his disciples feet as a symbol of his self-giving love. And, he, in effect, saying "This is myself given for you. Do THIS in memory of me." And, in this liturgy, under normal circumstances, the ritural of washing of feet after the gospel dramatizes the example he gave us. We are to love one another as he has loved us.
But, on Holy Thursday, at home, even watching the liturgy on TV or over the internet, we won't see the washing of feet. This is where praying with our imaginations can be a tremendous blessing.
In preparing to celebrate with our parish community online or with the Holy Father, we could take the time to pray through the Gospel carefully. After we've got the scene clearly in our mind, we can then go through it with the full power of our imagination. We can let ourselves be one of the Twelve there that night or one of the women who supported Jesus and the apostles, and made their ministry possible. We can picture the scene and feel the excitement and anxiety of being with Jesus - in John's Gospel, this is Thursday night, the night before the preparation day for this Passover. In this gospel, Jesus will die as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed in the temple. The scene has an air of danger. Some in the group warned him from going back to Jerusalem for the feast.
Jesus takes off his outer garments. We can imagine everyone wondering what he was doing. He wraps a towel around his waist. Only those serving at table do that. Then he pours water into a basin, presumably getting down on his knees, and begins to wash everyone's feet, as a servant would do. We must pause here and experience the surprise in the room - our surprise. We can feel our heart race. We've been with him enough to know he is doing something very profound here and something that is a "teaching" for us.
Then, Peter protests. We all know Peter and figured he'd do something like this. But, inside, each of us are feeling what Peter was impetuous enough to say. Each of us can feel our discomfort with Jesus washing our feet. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the intimacy of it - uncomfortable with his tenderness and total readiness to serve me in this lowly manner.
I can imagine letting Jesus wash my feet. My feet feel dirty. We'd been walking the dusty streets and it had been a while since I'd really washed them. No one had really washed them for me, since I was a child. I feel embarrassed at first. But, his touch is so careful and gentle and calming. He cleans them completely. And he dries them with his strong hands. This isn't just ritual. He'd cleaned my feet. And, it feels so good and so moving. My heart is really beating now and when we make eye contact, my eyes fill up and the emotion wells up and my tears overflow. I say "Thank you, my Lord. Thank you."
When he tells us all that we must wash each other's feet, we each sense that we understand that he's calling each of us to that lowliness, that kind of care, that manner of tenderness and intimacy. "Do THIS," he's saying to us. We feel missioned. We feel that, though we can't imagine what's next, our lives, our purpose would be different from now on.
If we can contemplate this passage, in our own way, with our own imaginations and engaging our own feelings, we will be prepared to celebrate Holy Thursday at home, watching the liturgy on TV or online. We'll have a vivid sense of what the gift of the Eucharist means. He is being broken and poured out for us, and given to us. He is also mandating us to take up his example - something we have let ourselves really experience and be moved by, formed by and transformed by.
Let us pray that throughout this very troubled world, this Holy Thursday will be a very special celebration at the beginning of this very holy week.
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