Holy Thursday

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Holy Thursday
Memorial of the Last Supper and the Foot Washing


First Reading

Exodus 12,1-8.11-14

Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 'This month must be the first of all the months for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, "On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock for his family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small for the animal, he must join with his neighbour nearest to his house, depending on the number of persons. When you choose the animal, you will take into account what each can eat. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may choose it either from the sheep or from the goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel will slaughter it at twilight. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on both door-posts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh must be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This is how you must eat it: with a belt round your waist, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. You must eat it hurriedly: it is a Passover in Yahweh's honour. That night, I shall go through Egypt and strike down all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike, and shall execute justice on all the gods of Egypt, I, Yahweh! The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are. When I see the blood I shall pass over you, and you will escape the destructive plague when I strike Egypt. This day must be commemorated by you, and you must keep it as a feast in Yahweh's honour. You must keep it as a feast-day for all generations; this is a decree for all time.

Psalmody

Psalm 115

Antiphon

Trust in the Lord all ye who are afraid.

I trusted, even when I said :
'I am sorely afflicted,'

and when I said in my alarm :
'No man can be trusted'.

Now can I repay the Lord
for his goodness to me?

'The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord's name.

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people.

O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful.

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds

A thanksgiving sacrifice I make :
I will call on the lord's name.

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people,

in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in the midst, O Jerusalem.

Second Reading

1 Corinthians 11,23-26

For the tradition I received from the Lord and also handed on to you is that on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.' Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes.

Reading of the Gospel

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

I am the good shepherd,
my sheep listen to my voice,
and they become
one flock and one fold.
.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

John 13,1-15

Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end. They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' Jesus answered, 'At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.' 'Never!' said Peter. 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus replied, 'If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.' Simon Peter said, 'Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!' Jesus said, 'No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.' He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, 'though not all of you are'. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. 'Do you understand', he said, 'what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.

 

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Homily

"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you" (Lk 22:15), Jesus says to his disciples at the beginning of his last supper, right before his death. In truth, for Jesus, this desire had always been there, and on that evening too he wanted to be with his disciples, those of yesterday and those of today, including us. Jesus sat at table with the Twelve, took the bread, and gave it to them, saying: "This is my body, which is given for you." He did the same with the cup of wine, "This is my blood, which is poured out for you." These are the same words that in a little while we will repeat at the altar, and it will be the same Lord who will invite each one of us to take nourishment from the consecrated bread and wine. Jesus becomes food for us, in order to become the flesh of our flesh. This bread and wine are the food that has come down from heaven for us, pilgrims on the roads of this world. They make us more like Jesus, they help us live as he used to live make feelings of goodness, service, affection, tenderness, love, and forgiveness flow from us.
These are the same feelings that lead him to wash his disciples' feet like a servant. After the dinner, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer clothes, and wraps a towel around his waist. He then takes water, kneels down before the disciples and washes their feet. He does the same even with Judas, who is about to betray him. Jesus knows what Judas is going to do, and yet he still kneels before him and washes his feet. As soon as Peter sees Jesus approach him, Peter reacts immediately: "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
For Jesus, dignity does not mean standing straight and tall, rather loving his disciples to the end and kneeling down, all the way to their feet. This is the last great lesson that he teaches while still alive. "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13:12-15). The world teaches people to stand up and encourages them to remain standing, even making others bending. The Gospel of Holy Thursday urges the disciples to bend down and wash one another's feet. This is a new commandment and it is a great gift that we receive this evening. The washing of the feet that takes place during the Holy Liturgy this evening is only a sign, an indication of the way we should follow: we should wash one another's feet, starting with the weakest, the poorest, and the most defenceless. Holy Thursday teaches us how to live and where to start living: true life does not come from standing tall and secure in our pride. Life according to the Gospel means bending down in front of our brothers and sisters, beginning with the weakest. It is a path that comes from heaven, and yet at the same time it is the most human path we could want. We all need friendship, affection, and understanding; we all need to be welcomed and helped. We all need someone who will bend down for us, just as we need to bend down for our brothers and sisters. Holy Thursday is truly a human day. It is the day when Jesus' love lowers itself all the way to his friends' feet. And everyone is his friend, even the one who is going to betray him. For Jesus, no one is an enemy, everything for him is love. Washing feet is not simply a gesture; it is a way of life.
When the supper has ended, Jesus walks to the Garden of Olives. Here he kneels down again - indeed, he lies down on the ground and sweats blood out of his pain and anguish. Let us be drawn in - at least a little - by this man who loves us with a love that had never been seen before on earth. And while we stop in front of his tomb, let us tell him about our affection and friendship. Today the Lord needs companionship and affection more than we do. Let us listen to his plea: "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me" (Mt 26:38). Let us bend down over Jesus and not deny him the consolation of our presence. Lord, in this hour we will not give you the kiss of Judas, but like poor sinners we kneel at your feet and, imitating Mary Magdalene, we continue to kiss them with affection.