One of my favorite liturgies of the year is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. I first went as a fairly new Catholic, three years into the adventure and in my first year as a parish secretary. When my nieces asked me if I would take them up to get their feet washed, I hesitated for two seconds and said yes. That’s the kind of aunt I am. I don’t think I would have gone up if it hadn’t been for them.
I don’t remember how many times I’ve been to the Holy Thursday Mass, but it’s been only a handful of times — three times, I think — in the eight years since I’ve been Catholic.
Each time, I come away immensely moved, changed a bit more.
What is it about the simple act of having my right foot washed that impacts me so much?
Every time I’ve gone, I’ve had my foot washed. In our small parish, there’s no formal listing of people who will represent the twelve apostles; they tried that one year, but it wasn’t a year I attended Mass. Last night, when my four-year-old — who was asking through the entire beginning of Mass just when the foot-washing would be — and I went to the front, I found myself moved before I even sat down. Father was on his knees, with our deacon assisting to his right, and he was so gentle. When it was my turn, after my four-year-old rather triumphantly finished (her flair is unparalleled, I tell you), I wondered if there were tears in Father’s eyes, or if I was projecting through the haze in my own eyes.
I didn’t want to cry, with a short line of people and the rest of the congregation looking on. It’s one thing to cry during Communion, which I do on a regular basis; no one’s really paying attention. To find myself so moved during this foot-washing ceremony was as humbling as having Father wash my foot, maybe more so.
Humility isn’t my strong suit, but it’s one I’m learning to wear. There’s a beauty in having your priest wash your foot. Though our feet aren’t nearly as disgusting as they must have been back in Jesus’ time, mine are still not the body part I’d offer forward if I was choosing. I mean, they’re in my shoes all day, sweating and soaking and, well, being feet.
After Father poured the warm water over my foot and dried it off with a towel, he…kissed it. This time was no different than the other two times I’ve participated. After kissing it, he said something meaningful to me, and off I went.
Changed. Renewed. Inspired.
How could I not be? I know so well what an incredible man our priest is. In the nine years since my Catholic journey began, he’s been a mentor, a shepherd, a friend, even to the point of being a godfather to one of my children. I trust him as much as I trust my husband, and I tell him things that only Bob has heard, and not just under the seal of Confession.
He teaches me through his example, through his unwavering faith, through his ever-present smile. When I’m taking myself or my job or my vocation just a tad too seriously (in the wrong way), he doesn’t hesitate to set me straight with something that’s sure to make me laugh first, ponder later.
And he washed my foot. And then he kissed it.
He’s told me before — whether in a conversation or in a homily, I can’t remember — that this is one of his favorite liturgies too. Last night, during his homily, he talked about the importance of each of us learning to accept the service of others.
I’ve learned that before, from the time I broke my arm to the many times I’ve had to ask for or accept help. There’s a gift that you give to others when you accept their offer of help, and it is humility. We would all rather be the ones giving, Father reminded me last night, but Jesus didn’t just give. The night before he washed the apostles’ feet, he accepted the gift of a woman washing his feet.
I noticed something last night, something that’s never struck me before at the Holy Thursday Mass: most of the people in line were children. There were a few adults, though they were mostly accompanying the children. My daughter didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity to go up there. She loves Father and this was a chance to see him up close, during Mass. She was there. Very few adults unaccompanied by children went up, but did I imagine that the adults — with or without children — came away with a funny look on their faces?
The children know. They know this is an opportunity to be blessed, to cooperate with the great graces around us (though they wouldn’t be able to articulate it that way). When Father kisses our feet, Jesus is right there, smiling. He’s so glad we humbled ourselves, so glad we stopped by, so glad we swallowed our pride to let him show his love for us.
Today, as I meditate on Good Friday and prepare for Easter, I’m going to treasure this gift too, this gift of service. I’m going to pray in a special way for Father, and for all of our priests. And, once again, I’m going to reflect on the importance of humility.
Other posts on humility:
Image from Wrecked for the Ordinary