Holy Thursday begins the Triduum, the last three sacred days of Holy Week. The celebration of Mass on this day is in late afternoon or early evening. This liturgy has several rites peculiar only to this Mass.
After the homily, the washing of the feet takes place (in most churches). This form varies from place to place. At the offertory of the Mass, in addition to the presentation of the bread and wine, the holy oils blessed during the Chrism Mass at the local Cathedral of the diocese are carried in procession to the front of the church and placed in a prominent location.
These holy oils will be used throughout the year for baptism, confirmation and holy orders. At the conclusion of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament will be taken from the church and placed in another location called the altar of repose. This symbolizes Christ’s leaving the Passover meal to begin his night of intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The altar and sanctuary are then stripped of all adornments.
Jesus asked his disciples to prepare the Passover supper (Seder). He was anxious to eat this last meal with his closest friends.
Now let’s become one in this intimate circle of Jesus’ friends.
While we are reclining around the table, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer tunic, wraps a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and then gets down on his knees and begins washing feet! We are all amazed. When Jesus gets to Peter he blurts out, “Rabbi, you’re not going to wash my feet!”
Peter’s protests cease when Jesus tells him he will have no part with him if he refuses. Then blustering Peter wants his whole body washed! When this ritual is completed, the meal begins.
Early on in the conversation, Jesus says that one of us will betray him. This created quite a stir among all of us. Then Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to us saying, “Take this and eat it. This is my Body.”
Taking the cup, he gave thanks and gave it to us saying, “Drink from it. This is my blood which will be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus also warns us that we’ll all walk away from him. Once again, Peter is protesting loudly that the others might, but he would never do that. Jesus replies, “The truth is before the cock crows twice tonight, you will deny me three times.” Peter again protests loudly. All of us agree we will stick by Jesus.
We know of Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal and John the only faithful one at the foot of the cross along with Mary and the other women. BETRAYAL! DENIAL! FEAR! ABANDONMENT! Traits no one of us wants attached to our name.
However, we know Christ comes to us in the guise of others. Do we ever deny recognizing the full humanity of others who are different from us? Do we feel and act in a superior way toward them? Do we ever betray others by our silence when their reputations are being maligned by inaccuracies or gossip? Do we ever turn away from someone who needs our help because we’re too busy, or we really don’t want to get involved? Do we refuse help from others because we are too independent, too proud? Christ lived his life in SERVICE to ALL, excluding NONE!
Joan Chittister, in a reflection on the First Eucharist says: “At the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus models service to one another and nourishment of their sprits. He gives himself as both their reason to exist and the source of the strength they will need to go on giving themselves in his name. We are not alone but we are not here for our own sakes either. We are here to give of ourselves and to build the kind of human community — that congregation of foreigners and lepers and women and outcasts that are indeed the ‘people of God.’”