Footwashing, the Holy Thursday Mandatum: God is Love and Love is a Verb
wounded world that is waiting to be reborn.
This is the same world which He still loves. It is being recreated anew as He continues His Mission through the Church, His Body, of which we are members. The early Christians spoke of the Church as the "new world" and the world in the process of being transfigured.
We are a part of that Mystical Body of Christ, that Communion of Love called the Church. That Church still brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. It is by coming to grasp this mystery - or rather be grasped by it - that we come to understand that Love is a verb.
Our Priest, stands, to use the Latin phrase, "in persona Christi" (in the Person of Christ). He will rise and take the basin, towel and washcloth. Then he will wash the feet of twelve people chosen to symbolize the members of the Body of Christ, the Church.
The Love of the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is expressed in a symbolic action. Love is a verb. Love is a command, a mandate. The foot-washing is more than a re-enactment of an actual historic event; it is an invitation to participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ by making it real. We do that by washing one another's feet.
The Gospel I proclaim as the Deacon at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper ends with these words: "So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "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 13:1-15)
The Eucharist is the "Sacrament of Love", in the words of Benedict XVI. In that Encyclical letter he underscored the depth of the Mystery revealed in that penultimate Sacrament, and connected that Sacrament to our choice to live lives of sacrificial love in the world. That is what I mean by the expression Love is a verb.
Foot washing expresses what living a Eucharistic Life, a life of self emptying love, is meant to look like. This Holy Thursday footwashing has been traditionally referred to as "the Mandatum", the Command. It is a command to become a man or woman poured out for others.
Through our participation in the Mysteries of these three Holy days, this one day; we encounter the Lord. In that encounter He calls us afresh to follow Him and to make Him present for others.
In order to truly be a Christian - it helps us to remember what names mean in the biblical sense. They communicate identity. We bear the name of Christ. Through grace we are capacitated to become a manifestation of the self emptying love of Jesus the Christ in our daily lives.
In his encyclical, Pope Benedict wrote of an inner dynamic which happens when we participate in the Eucharist: "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.
"Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own."
"Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become "one body", completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself...."
"So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist."
"So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table ..."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." (St John, Chapter 13)
Here, in this poignant scene we encounter Jesus the Servant. After He washes feet, he shares a final meal with his closest friends. All of this before He would suffer and freely stretch out His sacred arms to embrace the entire world and join heaven to earth, showing the depth and substance of true love.
During the Supper, Jesus inaugurates the holy exchange, the Eucharist. He gives Himself as food for those who will make the journey with Him back to the Father and then sends them out to bring the whole world with them, by continuing His mission.
The next day He walks the way of suffering and mounts the altar of sacrifice on Golgotha's Hill to fully pour Himself out - every last drop of blood and water flowing from His wounded side - for us all. Through His death and Resurrection he begins creation anew, overcomes the power of sin, pays the debt of justice and defeats the devil and the last enemy death.
As we enter into these three days, the one day, we make this mystery our own. No mere spectators in this Act of Love we become participants. We who bear the name "Christian" are to pick up that basin and towel, to climb upon that Cross and learn to live the Way of Love in service.
Our faith and love are to be active and incarnate. We live in the One who continues to love through us. Jesus washes his disciples feet, using our hands. We make the mystery real in a world that awaits the fullness of redemption. God is Love and Love is a Verb.
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Holy Thursday, Mandatum, Footwashing, Pope Benedict XVI, Christianity, Triduum, Deacon Keith Fournier
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