Holy Thursday becomes day of service as Mass
Jesus is perhaps the best model of a servant leader, a generous and forgiving, who cares for his followers and teaches by example.
For Catholics, Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. It was at that time when he instituted the priesthood and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Today, it begins the most solemn part of the liturgical year. At St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, the day was marked with an evening Mass that followed Jesus’ example of service.
“My brothers and sisters, tonight we begin our sacred triduum, the three holiest days of our Church year where we walk with the Lord in His passion,” announced Bishop Michael W. Fisher in welcoming the congregation on April 6. “Tonight, He shares His last meal with His disciples. And that meal continues today on this holy altar. We are also encouraged in His example to a life of service to God’s people. As He washed the feet of His disciples, we will do so in commemoration tonight.”
Preceding Communion, Bishop Fisher arranged two chairs, a basin and a pitcher of water to silently wash the feet of nine people including choir members and children.
Father Sean Paul Fleming, rector of St. Joseph Cathedral, gave a homily and tribute to a Cathedral volunteer who offered his own selfless service to the community.
According to the Gospel of St. Paul, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a final act of service. Following the Last Supper, He tied a towel about His waist and filled a basin with water. Then, one after another He washed the feet of each disciple, except Judas, who had already departed to betray Him.
Jesus explained His actions saying, “You should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
“Many among Jesus’ followers felt that washing of the feet was a sign of reconciliation, it was a sign of the forgiveness of sins, and as we wash each other’s feet we see a certain tenderness, forgiveness, gentleness and hope. And that helps us as we find that grace, as we find that tenderness, as we find that compassion that helps us walk that journey of discipleship, that pilgrimage that we so often hear of,” Father Fleming said from the pulpit.
Father Fleming then invited all present to pray for fellow pilgrim George Wopperer, a fixture at the cathedral, seen standing by the front door “for every single Sunday Mass, for every single event and ordination, and anything else you can think of that goes on in this church.”
“He’s on his final pilgrimage to walk home with the Lord,” Father Fleming explained. “I visited with him and prayed with him yesterday, and I can’t begin to count the number of ways in which George has supported me personally and this parish community as a whole. And he wishes he could be here tonight to celebrate with us. He shared with me not only his optimism and his joy for embracing this final journey with the Lord, but he told me that one of his favorite songs was ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee.’ I think it typifies who George is – a believer – and who we should all aspire to be as disciples, and what the Lord does for us in the Eucharist.”
He then sang the traditional gospel song.
“That song, for me tonight, sums up what Jesus is, what a gift the Eucharist is, the power it has to save and guide us, to cleanse us of our sins, and inspire us to compassionate love for each other. We need more Georges in the world. We need more who understand that gift of Jesus grace and mercy and compassion, like the gift of the Eucharist, that gift that is offered to every single one of us. Today, remember what Jesus did on the night before He died. He passed to pray, to call us to a moment that changed all of history, to give us His body and blood for our nourishment, for our salvation.”
Father Fleming asked everyone to become more fully Christ’s body. “Whether it be the first steps of our life, or on the last steps of our pilgrim journey here on earth, we may always walk more closely with the Lord, we may always stop to pray, to take those opportunities to wash each others feet, to show each other reconciliation and grace and forgiveness, and to model the example of service and justice that Jesus Christ brought to us and brought to humanity and continues to conspire in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, and continues to conspire in His church by the presence of His spirit and his biding love in the Eucharist,” he said.
Following Mass, the congregation entered the Our Lady Chapel for adoration.