Today, the Church celebrates Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Paschal Triduum which the long season of Lent has been preparing us for.
The three-day long celebration of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection begins today with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which commemorates the Last Supper where Jesus models loving service by washing the feet of the Apostles and instituting the sacramental priesthood and his continuing presence in the Holy Eucharist. Much attention is rightly given to the institution of the Eucharist and of the priesthood, but integral to both is Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet. For in this act of loving service, Jesus again shows in a concrete and visible sense what he means when he says,
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)
It is in his disciple’s faith in him and in their conformity with him in serving others that he sanctifies them and brings them into communion with himself and his Heavenly Father.
“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.” (John 13: 15)
We rightly focus on his sacrifice on the cross on Good Friday which was pre-presented in the Eucharist of the Last Supper and re-presented at every Mass. We rightly focus on how this is the definitive sacrifice toward which the whole mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God points and in which it is fulfilled. But at Calvary, it is easy for us to think of ourselves as passive onlookers and recipients of the salvation he wins for us there. We are called to follow him to Calvary, and to lay down our lives for others, but few of us will do that in a literal or physical way as the martyrs did and do. Yet we all can lay down our lives for others in humble service as Jesus did in washing the feet of those who were his followers and disciples.
Here, again, Jesus shows that good works of service, done in faith, are not optional for his followers. In order to “take on Christ,” to be saved by his sacrifice, we need to be conformed to “him through a death like his, [so that] we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Romans 6: 5)
“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Tim 2: 11-12)
So, even if today, because of our social distancing, we cannot receive communion with Jesus at the Mass of his Last Supper, we can yet be in communion with him in performing acts of loving service to those with whom we are in contact. We can make that effort to help with cooking or cleaning, the act of patience toward those we have been cooped up with for far too long, we can send a text or call or message to one who feels alone and forgotten, or any number of other ways we can follow and be conformed to the love Jesus modeled for us in washing the feet of his disciples. “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” (John 13:17)
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has online resources for participating virtually in the Paschal Triduum at https://www.archgh.org/holyweek