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
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.
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.”
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
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.