Washing of Feet & Eucharist

(Homily Holy Thursday)

This evening's liturgy has two unique features: the Washing of the Feet and the Transfer of the Holy Eucharist. Each one brings out an important aspect of the Mass and helps us understand why the Vatican Council calls the Eucharist the "source and summit of the Christian life." (LG 11)

In the Washing of the Feet we see the humility of Jesus. His disciples were taken by surprise. When I was in Peru, I once selected twelve men at random to wash their feet. They were a little embarrassed because they had not prepared their feet the way the twelve chosen tonite have - at least I hope so! Still, in Peru I was much closer to Jesus' experience.

The Church Fathers saw the Washing of the Feet as an indication of post-baptismal cleansing: "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over." (Jn 13:10) For us Catholics this refers to the forgiveness of sins we receive thru the Sacrament of Reconciliation - and the Eucharist itself.

Jesus gives us a model, "I, therefore, your master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet." (Jn 13:14) This verse has been terribly misinterpreted. Jesus is not proposing a "theology of good works." Or worse, saying the purpose of the Last Supper is to teach us to do nice things for each other. The point of foot washing is humility not self exaltation.

Let me give a comparison. To reduce the Last Supper to a motivational seminar for good works is like saying the meaning of the sun is to be the energy source for the light bulb in my room. True enough, solar energy makes possible the fossil fuels and rivers used to produce electricity, but it is so much greater than the few watts I make use of. I can even start thinking that what really counts is whether or not I choose to flip the light switch!

What counts is Christ - his self-offering to the Father. My own efforts are so puny, so half-hearted, so mixed with pride. For that reason they often backfire and I am left hurt, "Why don't they appreciate all I do for them?"

Tonite we have the opportunity to put things in their right perspective. After admiring Jesus' humility in washing his disciples' feet, we have the chance to worship him as he is. At the end of Mass comes the beautiful procession for the Transfer of the Eucharist. We will take some time to adore Jesus. He is the sun. We are flickering bulbs who depend totally on him for our energy.

Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail;
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present
When our human senses fail.



From Archives:

2010 Homily: Foot Washing & Celibacy
2009: Join the Nearest Household
2008: Grandma, Can I Wash Your Feet?
2007: The Passover Lamb Must Be Eaten
2006: A New Friend at the Banquet
2005: Our True Companion
2004: A Girl's Heroic Holy Hour
2003: Do This!
2002: Humiliation of Priesthood
2001: Super-Abundance of Mercy
2000: Washing of Feet & Eucharist
1999: Family Struggles & Strengths
1998: In Remembrance of Me

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Easter Message

Holy Family Pilgrimage

See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven

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