In the Jewish celebration of the Passover meal, the youngest member of the family would ask, “Why is this night different than all the other night?” We as Christians could ask the same question tonight as we are gathered here to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass. This is the night when it all began. This is when Jesus gathered with His disciples to celebrate a farewell meal the night before He died. This is the night when He blessed and broke the bread, and blessed and shared a cup of wine with His disciples saying, “Do this in memory of me.”
Using another powerful symbolic ritual, Jesus in tonight’s Gospel of St John gets up at the farewell meal, wraps a towel around His waist, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the feet of His disciples, and wipe them with a towel. Jesus then asks His disciples, “My friends, do you understand what I have done for 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 and example so that you may follow what I have done to you . . . then you will have shown the ‘perfect love’ that I have shown to you all.”
A good friend of mine (let us call her Maria), shared with me some of her primary school experiences. Maria’s parents could only afford to give her $10 for every 15 days for her bus fare and food in school during recess time. Although she came from a poor family she had school friend who was even poorer. Feeling sorry for her friend, Maria would give her friend $5 of the $10 she had.
Because she gave her friend her $5, each school day, Maria would have to take a very early bus and then get off along the way and walk for another 20 minutes to school as she could no longer afford the whole bus fare. And when her friend did not have food, which was quite often, Maria would share her food with her. Maria did all of these for her friend without telling her parents. In fact, Maria continued to support this friend till she completed her studies in the poly.
In the Last Supper when Jesus gave His body and blood to nourish His disciples, He reminded them, “Do this in memory of me.” In the washing of the feet ritual, Jesus also reminded His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done to you? . . . go now and wash each others feet. Maria’s true story is a good example of what “washing of the feet” of one another means.
In the celebration of the Eucharist Jesus expresses His total self-giving love through giving us His Body in the bread that we eat, and His Blood in the wine that we drink. When Jesus nourishes, He does not want us simply to be nourished and over time become sluggish, superficial and contented in the living a routine faith.
Jesus wants us to share what He has given us because what He gives us will only grow and build His Kingdom if we share them with others and for the good of others. In the washing of the feet, Jesus emphasises this further; He wants our love for others to be full, radical and as complete as what He has shown us. Jesus wants each of us to say to one another, “Eat of me and drink of me” so that in our mutual generous sharing of what we have, our mutual nurturing will make us become one body, one spirit, one community that is united by God’s love, as Christ has shown us.
It is easy enough to come to Mass every Sunday, and for some annually on big Feasts like this. It is another thing and surely more challenging and the real test of our love for Jesus if we can live concretely the total self-givinglove that Jesus shows us in the washing of the feet. To be self-giving inevitably demands that we deny our comforts and die to our needs in life. Maria, a young girl of her primary school days, had to walk for 20 minutes every day to school and had often to go hungry for a friend that she did not even know very well.
We have to remember that the Last Supper and the Eucharist that we celebrate are not just empty rituals. Jesus was also offering Himself to be “broken through the scourging that ripped His sacred body, to be pierced in the crowing with thorns, and to be mocked and spat at as a blasphemer when in fact He is the Son of God. And finally, to be crucified cruelly as a criminal for our sake, even though He was perfectly innocent and trying to save the whole world from eternal damnation.
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, the ritual of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with His disciples, are not separated from the reality of His living and mission. When we hear the words of consecration of Jesus, at every Eucharistic celebration, “Take this bread and eat it, this is my Body, and take this cup and drink it, this is my Blood” we must consciously and in faith, connect the reality of the consecration to our daily living.
And as we are nourished and strengthened by Jesus through receiving His Body and Blood at Holy Communion, we must never forget that Jesus is also commissioning us to “Do this in remembrance of Me.” In saying this Jesus wants us to be His bread for others that we care for them, even if we have to be “broken” and have to suffer humiliation and pain. And also to be the selfless Christ to others even to the point of having to spill our blood for the good and salvation of others, as the saints and martyrs of our Church has shown us.
Fr Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit priest once wrote. Archbishop Romeo of El Salvador said words that make us shiver even to this day. When his fellow Salvadoreans were being exploited, persecuted and killed by the thousands, he preached, “I am glad, brothers and sisters, that they (referring to the evil authorities and militia), have murdered priests in this country. This is because it would be very sad if in a country where they are murdering the people so horrifically there were no priests amongst the victims.
These words, are so brutal at first sight, are far seeing. There can be neither faith nor Gospel without incarnation. And with a suffering and crucified people there can be no incarnation without the cross. Fr Ignacio Ellacuria, another Jesuit priest in El Salvador, said many times that the specifically Christian task is to fight to eradicate sin by bearing its burden. This sin brings death, but taking it on gives credibility. By sharing in the cross of the Salvadoreans the Church becomes Salvadorean and thus credible. And although in the short term this murder is a great loss, in the long term it is a great gain: we are building a Church that is really Christian and really Salvadorean. Christians have shown truly that they are Salvadoreans and thus that Salvadoreans can really be Christians.
We all know that eventually, Fr Ignaticio, the Jesuit rector of the community of the most prestigious University of Central America in El Salvador, together with six other prominent Jesuit priests were brutally murdered with their domestic helper of the house and her daughter, on November 16 th, 1989, by those who could not bear to hear the voice of Justice; the Truth of the Gospel of Christ being proclaimed.
Where do all these leave us? One thing is clear. To come for Mass and to participate in it is only fulfilling half of what Jesus at the Last Supper is celebrating. This is because at the Last Supper, Jesus also washed the feet of His disciples and reminded them, “My friends, do you understand what I have done for 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 and example so that you may follow what I have done to you . . . then you will have shown the ‘perfect love’ that I have shown to you all.”
The Last Supper is more than a fellowship meal or a farewell meal between a Master and his disciples. The Last Supper was a Sacrificial Meal, and it has also be a Sacrificial Meal for us that as we partake in the Body and Blood of Jesus to nourish and strengthen us to live the challenges of our faith, we too must then concretely “wash each others feet;” we must, like Christ, serve one another not in any authoritative manner, but with great humility; to be a servant of all servants; even to lay down our lives for the sake and salvation of others.
The martyrs of El Salvador and even Maria, the little primary school girl has shown us that we are capable of living the Eucharist in our daily living, if we allow God to give us the strength to live, love and serve in His ways.
And so, as we next move on the ritual of the “Washing of the Feet,” let us remember that as we are re-enacting what Jesus did during the Last Supper, we are also reminded and challenged that Jesus expects us to do the same for each other with humility and for those who are in great need in this world, in our daily living
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
4,604 visitors since 04 May 2011
Mass of Last Supper at St Ignatius Church, Singapore
Washing of Feet
Presentation of Holy Oils
(Blessed earlier in the day at Chism Mass
Archbishop Nicholas Chia
at the Church of Holy Spirit)
Procession of Blessed Sacrament to Altar of Repose
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