Bishop William F. Medley washes a person’s feet during the March 29, 2018 Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. FILE PHOTO
Holy Thursday: Do this in memory of me
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As April begins we are within sight of the last days and hours of Lent. Palm Sunday is April 2, so Holy Week is here and Easter but days away. The heart of our observance of Holy Week is the Sacred Triduum, when the Church “solemnly celebrates the greatest mysteries of our redemption, keeping by means of special celebrations the memorial of her Lord, crucified, buried, and risen.” (From the Roman Missal)
The 40 days of Lent conclude with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. But we are reminded that this is immediately followed by the Paschal Fast to be celebrated everywhere on the Friday of the Lord’s Passion. This day of fast and abstinence presents us with a way of coming, with spirit uplifted, to the joys of the Resurrection.
In the midst now of a three-year Revival of the Holy Eucharist, (eucharisticrevival.org) I want to write particularly of Holy Thursday. On this day we remember, as Eucharistic Prayer I illustrates, “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples.”
The evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate, very similarly, the story of the institution of the Holy Eucharist: “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is the cup of my blood. Do this in memory of me.”
Interestingly, however, the Church chooses on this night the Gospel account of the Last Supper as told by the evangelist John. John tells the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during the meal. Peter, always bent on saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, protested, “Never, you shall never wash my feet.” But Jesus persists and Peter consents.
Jesus then says to them all, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly, so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example, so that you may copy what I have done to you.”
At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the priest washes the feet of selected members of the community to remind us of Jesus’ own action. This feels like an awkward expression to those in Western culture and like Peter many may be inclined to protest. But let this once-a-year gesture remind us that when we serve others, we are serving Jesus.
In other words, do this in memory of me. John’s Last Supper account thus ties together those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Eucharist involves imitating the action of Jesus. Imitating the action of Jesus in eating bread and drinking wine that has become his Body and Blood, the Real Presence of Christ. But imitating Jesus in washing other’s feet, imitating Jesus in service to others. This too signifies a presence of Christ, distinct indeed from the sacramental presence, reminiscent of Jesus’ reminder that when we feed the hungry, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned that we are in fact doing these acts for Jesus.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.