To commemorate the beginning of the Holy Triduum, the summit of the Church’s liturgical year, faithful gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., on April 18 for the solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper. 

Holy Thursday Mass commemorates Christ’s institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist before his death. The readings recounted the institution of the ancient Hebrew Passover, by which God brought his chosen people out of slavery in the land of Egypt, and the institution of the Eucharist by Christ. The Gospel told of Christ washing the feet of his apostles in an act of love and service. 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, apostolic administrator of Washington, celebrated the Mass. In his homily, he spoke of how this “great Christian memorial” is not just an event that happened in the past, but an enduring and ever-new sacrifice. 

“Imagine what it would have been like, imagine had we been there at the Last Supper, or physically present at the Passion and death of Jesus, or again in the Easter garden,” he said. “That is what happens in the Eucharist… the spiritual reality and power of those events become present to us.” 

Through this great mystery, the cardinal said, the faithful become one with Christ, knowing, loving, and serving Him and others. 

“We actually become caught up in that mystery,” he said. 

Such service is not limited to strictly washing of the feet, the cardinal said, but can be demonstrated in less dramatic ways. 

“Maybe it takes the form of a thoughtful gesture to a spouse, or maybe a grandparent helping a grandchild learn a prayer,” he said. “And the list can go on and on.” 

Love for God nurtured through participation in the Lord’s Supper translates then into love and service of others, as exhibited in the washing of the feet, the cardinal said.

“Share that love, be a font of that love, so that God’s love can fill the world,” he said as he concluded his homily.

Cardinal Wuerl washes the feet of people during the April 18 Holy Thursday Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

After the homily, Cardinal Wuerl washed the feet of 12 parishioners in memory of Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his apostles. The women and men were chosen by the cathedral and reflected the diversity of peoples and ministries that make up the parish community. 

After the Mass, the Eucharist was moved in a solemn procession to the altar of repose for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The altar and sanctuary are stripped of all ornamentation such as crucifixes and holy water after Mass on Holy Thursday to reflect the emptiness and darkness of the world without Christ when he died on the cross on Good Friday.