Cardinal Wuerl washes the feet of lay people during a March 29 Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (ADW photos)
Cardinal Wuerl washes the feet of lay people during a March 29 Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (ADW photos)

At a dramatic Holy Thursday Mass, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said that Jesus at the Last Supper gave his followers the gift of his enduring presence in the Eucharist, and by washing his disciples’ feet, Christ offered an example of how to love and serve others as he did.

“Jesus instituted a unique sacrament… so he could be present to us,” Cardinal Wuerl said in the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper that he celebrated on March 29 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. “That’s what the Blessed Sacrament is all about – Jesus’s continuing presence with us, so we would always have him with us, no matter where we are, he’d never be apart from us.”

For Catholics, Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum, three holy days, that continue with Good Friday and culminate with Easter, commemorating Jesus’s Last Supper, his suffering and death on the cross, and his resurrection.

Washington’s archbishop celebrated the Mass with three of the cathedral’s priests – Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, St. Matthew’s longtime rector who this year will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood; Father Agustin López, a parochial vicar; and Father John Hurley, who is in residence there.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl noted how it is striking to see photos of Pope Francis riding in his popemobile through St. Peter’s Square, just as he did in his 2015 visit to Washington, and see crowds of people holding up cellphones to take pictures of that moment.

“Everyone wants to remember… Memory has the power to make present again the experience of something important to us,” he said, adding that long before the time of cameras, iPhones or camcorders, Jesus instituted the Eucharist for his disciples. “He wanted to make sure they had some way of remembering him, of making his presence felt.”

Beginning at the Last Supper and continuing at each Mass, Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, the cardinal said, adding that the members of his family of faith in the Church are united in Christ, as brothers and sisters to each other.

Jesus’s call to his disciples then to be his witnesses is also the call of today’s disciples, said Cardinal Wuerl, noting that after receiving Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, they are called to go back to their communities, their homes and their families and share the truth and love of Jesus with others.

The cardinal said Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples “is a sign and symbol of how we are supposed to love one another and care for one another.”

After his homily, Cardinal Wuerl repeated the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, first by kneeling and washing the feet of 12 people seated in front of the sanctuary, then later by consecrating the Eucharist at the altar, following Christ’s command to “Do this in memory of me.”

The Mass concluded with the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which Cardinal Wuerl carried in a solemn procession to the cathedral’s St. Anthony Chapel. As the cathedral’s Schola Cantorum choir sang Tantum Ergo, the ministers of the Mass silently departed from the chapel, and then members of the congregation knelt and prayed there in adoration, until the cathedral closed at 10 p.m.

On Good Friday, March 30, the cardinal will celebrate a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and Veneration of the Cross at St. Matthew’s at 1 p.m.

Cardinal Wuerl will celebrate an Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Saturday March 31 at 8 p.m., and people preparing to become Catholic will be baptized and confirmed at the Mass, joining 1,300 adults, teens and children across the archdiocese who will become full members of the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil Masses.

Then on April 1, the cardinal will celebrate Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. at the cathedral and at noon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The basilica Mass will be broadcast live by EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, and the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM satellite radio.