Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homily for Thursday of the Lord's Supper

In just a couple of minutes, I will do what the rubric of the Missal tells me and, removing my chasuble, kneel down and wash your feet.  But there’s a strange rubric which precedes this one, which reads: “After the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows.”1

The first time I read that rubric I wondered what would make it pastorally inappropriate to wash feet.  If people didn’t have feet?  If they had no water?  Or Abishai had forgotten to buy a pitcher and basin?

Perhaps.  But I suggest what the rubric really has in mind is that it would be totally inappropriate for me to wash your feet now, if I had not washed them throughout the year.  If I had not listened to you, worked for you, agonized to make the right decisions about you, stayed up late to worry about you, prayed incessantly for you, been willing to give whatever it took for you to discern and be formed as God wants you to be.  To be willing to wash your feet, to be a priest for you that you might grow into being a priest for others.

When Peter resists having his feet washed, it is because the God he believes in is too small.  He wants a Messiah of majesty and grandeur who is too important to wash feet.  But, in the words of our beloved Pope emeritus, “God's greatness is different from our idea of greatness…it consists precisely in stooping low, in the humility of service, in the radicalism of love even to total self-emptying.”

This Messiah desires to wash us clean, as he sleeps the sleep of death upon the cross and from his pierced side there flows forth water and blood and thus the Church is born.

All foretold in the washing of dirty feet. All foretold in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  For by our participation in the Mass we participate in the Sacrifice of the Cross, and in both instances, which are the same instance, we are washed clean.

Washed clean of what?  Of dirt.  Not just on our feet, like kids who’ve just come in from playing in the mud, but like big old adults, who having rolled around in all the filth the world has to offer, caked with dirt, hearts stained by dirt, minds clouded by dirt.

We pollute our minds with pornographic delusions, lies and deceits. We foul our hearts with the devil’s pomps and imaginings, and contaminate our souls with all his lusts and empty promises.

But then each time time we gather to fulfill the Domincal command and celebrate this perfect Sacrifice, this source and summit of our lives, Christ washes us here, cleanses us, purifies our souls and restores the lost innocence of our inner selves.

He does it through his life giving Word, proclaimed from this Ambo each day for our salvation, as mercy flows from his word,2 and as the Deacon, kissing the Gospel, prays: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”

It is here that our selfishness is washed away when our hearts hear again the story of his passion and death, our grasping for power and pleasure by remembering his birth as a child in a manger, our longing for revenge by his love for even those who nailed him to a tree, and our despair, by the story of a prodigal embraced and forgiven.

Each day we bring to this Ambo our filth and our fears, and Christ, ever present in his word, “carries out the mystery of salvation, sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship.”3  We are washed cleansed by “living waters,”4 by his word. 

But as Pope Benedict has reminded us, it is not only water that cleanses, but blood as well.  For from the pierced side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon cross, the water was mixed with Blood.5  And we who have washed our robes in the Blood of the Lamb are the ones who drink of the Blood poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins; the “noble and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of Jesus Christ, [which washes] away the sins of all the world.”6  

That is why we pray in the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood “that we may always be bathed in the Blood of our Savior, so that it may become for us a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”7

This is the place where we are washed clean, where our salvation is accomplished, where “the Lord kneels ever anew at our feet and purifies us.”8

So now I will take off this chasuble and kneel down and wash your feet, just like he did.  That we might drink deeply, you and I, of the power which “dispels [all] wickedness [and] washes faults away.”9

1 - Roman Missal, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, no. 10.
2 - Cf. Roman Missal, Collect, December 23.
3 - Lectionary for Mass, no. 4. Cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 7.
4 - General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, no. 5.
5 - John 19: 34; cf. I John 5: 6-8.
6 - Roman Missal, Prayers Before Mass.
7 - Roman Missal, Prayer over the Gifts for the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood.
8 - Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 2008.
9 - Roman Missal, Paschal Proclamation.