in fall 1991, i had a sacraments class at chicago theological union with fr. gary reibe-estrella s.v.d. he proposed something that i had never heard before: a lay sacrament. he argued that there were two actions at jesus’ last supper– the institution of the eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet. catholic mass is composed of two liturgies: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the eucharist. one priests and bishops can preside over the the liturgy of the eucharist.
we can have mass daily but we only see the washing of feet once a year!
in the absence of a priest, many catholic parishes have communion services led by a deacon or lay person. reibe-estrella argued that it would be very powerful to highlight the second action at the last supper– the washing of feet. and that to ritualize the action led by a lay leader would bring out the full meaning of eucharist at the communal celebration.
i thought at the time– and still do– that it is a change that could happen if we had the will to do it.
today is holy thursday. it is the only time during the year when we hear the account of the washing of the disciples’ feet. we will see the action of congregants feet being washed at tonight’s mass. the lesson is that jesus came to serve, not be served– he is the model. jesus teaches us that we ought to do the same.
communion with jesus has countless graces. among these positive spiritual consequences: self giving service to one another. at every mass we experience this implicitly by the words of institution during the liturgy of the eucharist. if a lay leader washes the feet of some congregants, it would be an explicit message of self giving service.
when was the last time you had seen the ritual of the washing of feet?
most catholics do not attend the mass of the last supper on holy thursday. is not self giving service and jesus’ mandate a message that we as a church and world need to hear all the more today? would not this message help transform our sinful world by love and grace?
would there be any question about how to treat the unaccompanied children at our southern border? would we respond to our sisters and brothers experiencing homelessness differently? would not racial tensions in our society decrease significantly?
self giving service is love because communion with our God is love
may we have grace-filled conversions in our lives and our world as we enter these most holy of days!
The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet John 13: 1-15
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced* Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed* has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.