Liturgical Year
Part 3 Easter

Chapter y34 Holy Thursday

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Foot washing

Seder Meals

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

The Roman Missal (in a rubric following the heading "Liturgy of the Word" on Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord's Supper) states that "The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ's commandment of brotherly[sic] love."  -- How do you understand this rubric in the light of what you have learned about the history of the Eucharist being an act of the post-Resurrection Church, and the non-existence of ordained priesthood in the first centuries of the Church?

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Bibliography

The statement of the USCCB regarding foot washing on Holy Thursday can be found at   http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/q&a/general/feet.shtml

 

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Foot washing

Foot washing and the Eucharist   (From Eucharist:  Jesus With Us, "Chapter 8:  Meal Sharing"  by Thomas Richstatter) 

Throughout this book we have said that the mystery of the Eucharist is rooted in the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection--the mystery we celebrate in a most solemn way during the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Each year when we begin these liturgical rites that bring us into contact with the origins of the Eucharist and the origins of our Church, we gather for the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and we wash feet. Washing feet! Isn't this a rather strange way to begin these holiest of days? Perhaps the Church proposes this ritual foot-washing to remind us of a dimension of the Eucharist that we might neglect: The Eucharist is a sacrament of humble service.  It is wonderful to be inspired by beautiful vestments and monstrances of gold and silver, and it is helpful to understand anamnesis, epiclesis and transubstantiation.  But we can never forget that the Eucharist transforms us into the Body of Christ so that we might think and act like Christ. This transformation is at the heart of the mystery.

Jesus commands: "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" (Jn 13:14-15).  Humble service to one another! The Eucharist forms us for this mission and strengthens us to realize it. This is why Pope John Paul II (echoing the words of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church at Vatican II) called the Eucharist "the source and summit" of Catholic life and mission.

Footwashing and Christian Service   "Tonight at the Holy Thursday Liturgy, many of the poor were present, having their feet gently washed... When I saw it all in front of me -- the poor, the washing basins, the awkwardness of the washers, the faces of the silent reverent congregation -- I realized once again what the sanctity of service is...  I remember thinking... that if I had to choose some relic of the Passion, I wouldn't pick up a scourge or a spear, but that round bowl of dirty water. And I would want to go around the world with that receptacle under by arm, looking only at the people's feet; and for each one I'd tie a towel around me, bend down, and never raise my eyes higher than their ankles, so as not to distinguish friends from enemies. I'd wash the feet of atheists, drug addicts, arms dealers, murderers, pimps, abusers of all kinds -- and all in silence, until they understood."  (Gary Smith, Radical Compassion.  As quoted in Nathan D. Mitchell, Meeting Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments, New York: Maryknoll, 2006, p 245)

Footwashing and Women    "(4)...the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the footwashing rite in the United States over the last decade or more.  In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world.  Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.  (5)  While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men ("viri selecti"), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, 'who came to serve and not to be served,' that all members of the Church must serve one another in love."    (BCL Newsletter NCCB, 1987 (Vol, XXIII) February.  35 Years of the BCL Newsletter, p 1043-1044)

In class during 2008 there was considerable discussion of this rubric.  I went to my own library where I actually have a copy of the Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae Instauratus [ the Latin Missal for the Revised Holy Week] printed January 16, 1956 and looked up the rubric. The 1956 rubric naturally says "viri" [men, not women] and not "homines" [men and/or women] -- in 1956 no one imagined a woman on the other side of the communion rail. And when the Missal of Paul VI was published, the rubric was simply copied without being re-examined. When one considers the amount of texts that needed to be published in the years immediately after the Council, it is not surprising that not every word received scrutiny.  

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Seder Meals

1.  Seder Meal   Is it advisable or useful for Catholics to celebrate a Seder Meal on (or around) Holy Thursday to help them understand the Eucharist? How would you feel if the local Synagogue got together at Passover and among themselves celebrated a "Eucharist" to help them better understand the Seder? -- Can you list elements for and against the Catholics celebrating a Jewish Ritual? 

In 1988, the Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy issued Guidelines on the presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching, entitled: God's Mercy Endures Forever  http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/godsmercy.shtml which specifically address this question; an excerpt is reprinted in the United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops  Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, Volume XLIII, February/March 2007, page 9.

28. It is becoming familiar in many parishes and Catholic homes to participate in a Passover Seder during Holy Week. This practice can have educational and spiritual value. It is wrong, however, to "baptize" the Seder by ending it with New Testament readings about the Last Supper or, worse, turn it into a prologue to the Eucharist. Such mergings distort both traditions. The following advice should prove useful:

When Christians celebrate this sacred feast among themselves, the rites of the haggadah for the seder should be respected in all their integrity. The seder . . . should be celebrated in a dignified manner and with sensitivity to those to whom the seder truly belongs. The primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation. Any sense of "restaging" the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided .... The rites of the Triduum are the [Church's] annual memorial of the events of Jesus' dying and rising (Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, March 1980, p. 12, quoted in God's Mercy Endures Forever, #28).

A deeper issue:  "Recent scholarship has rightly seen that the identification of the Last Supper with Passover is theologically motivated. After all, the Gospels themselves have the authorities resolve to deal with Jesus before the crowds of Passover arrive (Matthew 26:1-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2). The basic elements of the Seder -- lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs (see Exodus 12:8) -- are notably absent at the Last Supper. By identifying Jesus' Last Supper with the Passover meal, the Jamesian group [disciples of James] managed to limit participation in the Eucharist to Jews, since circumcision was a strict requirement for males who took part in a Seder (Exodus 12:48-49)."  ("The Eucharist: Exploring Its Origins" by Bruce Chilton)

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To Think About

 

 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/06/13 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org