Tonight is the beginning of the Triduum, the time when the Church pauses to remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. It’s hard to believe that the Mass I remember in the post below was five years ago, but it was. This was the Mass when my perception of Holy Thursday and the Lord’s Supper was changed.
Holy Week was really awesome for me. I was going through Lent, reading my three books each day, but not feeling particularly … um, holy? No, not right. Closer to God? Probably a bit closer there. But I pushed on. Got back to praying the Rosary more often, but still not back to my every-day mode. (I’ll continue to work on that.)
But then Holy Week came – or, more specifically, the Triduum.
Our family always attends the Triduum. Easter Vigil is my favorite Mass of the entire year, and I think it could only be improved if we had a wedding at the Mass, as well. But this year, the entire Triduum really moved me and made the somewhat drier time of Lent worth it.
First, Holy Thursday came. In the past at our parish, the foot washing wasn’t done properly. Everyone could have their feet washed, everyone could volunteer to wash feet, and Father did not do much of it. I did not participate, at first because I was unprepared (I’d never seen that done before), and then later because I realized it wasn’t proper to do it this way. However, this year, Father K. had the various ministries in our parish chose two people (either two in the ministry or a husband and wife) to have their feet washed; Travel Man and I were asked by the Justice and Peace ministry. We discussed, we thought, and then we accepted.
Yes, I know … vir means MEN, but we both did it anyway. Deal.
Anyway, it was going to be a bit of a penance for me. I hate feet. Hate ’em. Don’t like touching them, don’t like having mine touched. I once got a manicure and pedicure as a birthday present from my sister, and I traded the pedicure for a second manicure. So even the idea of having water poured over my foot and having it dried off was a bit … weird. But what happened to me during Mass on Thursday was much more than that.
When we got up and went to our chairs for the washing, Travel Man was one of the men in charge of placing the chairs on the lowest step going to the altar. Because he’d also be taking them away, he sat in one of the first places to be washed so that he’d be able to get up quickly and put chairs away. And because we sit on the opposite side of the church where Father K. started, I sat in the last chair.
At this point, I want to let you know (in case you’ve never been to Holy Thursday Mass – and it’s something I highly recommend, even if you’re not Catholic) what the Gospel reading is for Holy Thursday. It’s the same in all three Liturgical Cycles.
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.”
I love Saint Peter. He is my favorite saint because he spoke before he thought so often, and his love for Our Lord is so evident. When he met Jesus, he wasn’t so sure who this Guy was, but once he got a glimpse, he went whole-heartedly with Him. He never looked back, even when he was being impetuous.
So there I sat, waiting for Father to come to me. He and the deacon moved together, with the altar servers following behind, handing him towels and taking the wet ones away. Because the church is curved slightly, I couldn’t see Father until he was about halfway down the line of people. Then I noticed something.
He was not just kneeling before each person, but staying that way, crawling on his knees to each person to wash their feet.
The sight took my breath away. I looked at Father, whom I love and respect, and thought, “That’s not right! He shouldn’t be crawling to us like that! He shouldn’t be doing this! We should be honoring him!”
And I got it. For the first time, I really got Saint Peter’s reaction. I’d always known in my head that Peter thought it was inappropriate that the Lord should wash his feet, but it hadn’t really internalized for me. I didn’t know it in my heart the way I know it now. I looked down at Father as he approached my chair and thought, “No! This isn’t right!” I worked hard to choke back my tears at that point. When he got to the person two chairs down from me, I noticed something else: as he finished drying her foot, he looked up into her eyes, smiled, and then moved on.
This was almost too much to bear. Now I was really fighting the tears. I asked Saint Peter to pray for me, so I could keep from crying. I did not want to cry up there.
When it was my turn, I noticed more. First, Father had made sure the water was warm. It was comfortable. Then, it wasn’t just a matter of a little water being poured on my foot and wiped off. He acted as though I had dirt on my feet and he washed it. I think that if I had been wearing sandals and was grimy, my foot would have been clean at that point.
Never did I think it would be like that. I’m glad I said yes, because I learned something very important about Christ and Saint Peter and the apostles in that moment. And I was able to internalize another Gospel story in an entirely new way.