On Holy Thursday in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle that commemorated what Christ did at the Last Supper.
Repeating what Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday, Cardinal Wuerl knelt to wash the feet of 12 people – seven women and five men – and later stood at the altar to consecrate the Eucharist, which was followed by people, also from many different backgrounds and walks of life, lining up to receive Communion.
“What brings us to the table of the Lord is our love of the Lord, and what brings us to our knees to wash the feet of others is the recognition that we must see in one another Jesus Christ, and thus love one another,” the cardinal said.
In his homily, he noted that Washington is a city of monuments, including landmarks of faith like the Cathedral of St. Matthew and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Cardinal Wuerl said the Mass of the Lord’s Supper harkened to two great memorials so people could remember God’s love – the Passover for the Hebrew people in the time of Moses “from slavery to new freedom in the Promised Land” – and the Eucharist that Jesus established at the Last Supper as a living memorial to his passion and death on the cross and his resurrection that offers new life to those who follow him.
“Today, Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is a retelling of the story of God’s love, a love for each one of us individually. By his passion and death – by his self offering on the cross, Jesus would show us how limitless that love is,” the cardinal said. “In his blood, he would wash away all of our sins, all of our failure, everything that would keep us from God. But Jesus also knew that within one generation, the story of love and redemption could be lost. Thus, he instituted the Eucharist.”
The washing of the feet, like the Eucharist itself, is intended to help people hear and experience the continuing story of God’s love, Cardinal Wuerl said.
“During this washing of the feet ceremony, I ask each of us to think of all of the ways in which we are capable of showing love for others – maybe not as dramatically as washing their feet but in a way that truly shows we care: by a word of forgiveness, a gesture of welcome, a sign of caring,” he said.
Cardinal Wuerl noted “other ways in which we can show our love for others: a visit to someone we know who is sick or a shut-in, a kind word of counsel or encouragement to someone we know is going through a difficult time.”
That love, he said, can also unfold at home. “Sometime that love is simply a patient response to the many, varied and insistent needs of children. A kind word or thoughtful gesture to a spouse can be every bit as beautiful as kneeling and washing feet.”
The cardinal said that later in the Mass, and at each Mass, when people step forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, “Jesus Christ is truly with us.”
The Mass ended with Cardinal Wuerl leading a Eucharistic procession to the altar of reposition in the cathedral’s St. Anthony Chapel, transferring the Blessed Sacrament there. The cathedral’s Schola Cantorum choir led the congregation in singing the hymn Pange lingua gloriosi in English and then Latin verses. As the evening continued, people quietly knelt and prayed in the chapel for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The cathedral’s main altar was stripped in preparation for the next day’s solemn Good Friday liturgy and veneration of the cross that would commemorate Christ’s suffering and death.