In a gesture of humility and service, and in imitation of Christ, Pope Francis put on an apron and knelt down to wash the feet of 12 patients at a long-term care facility, during the Missa In Coena Domini, or the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on Thursday evening.
Visibly fatigued and requiring assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came close to the end of the rite, Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person’s foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze, sometimes reciprocated, depending on each person’s state of health. The patients ranged in age from 16 to 86, and all suffer from a variety disabilities. All of them are Italian (though three were of a different ethnic origin), including one Muslim man.
The Mass was celebrated in Italian in the chapel of the Santa Maria della Provvidenza Centre, one of more than two dozen healthcare facilities, run by the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation. It reflected the character of the healthcare centre and of the local Christian community, with the centre’s usual Sunday choir, consisting of patients, volunteers and staff, singing popular Italian hymns. Many of the centre’s patients sat in their wheelchairs in the front rows of the assembly.Rome Reports:
The Mass, which recalls Christ’s last Passover meal with this Apostles, his washing of their feet in a gesture of service, and the institution of the Eucharist, begins the Easter Triduum.
The Pope’s selection of the location and his gesture of washing the feet of 12 people with disability was intended to underline the forms of fragility, in which the Christian community is called to recognize the suffering Christ and to which it must devote attention, solidarity and charity.
In his brief homily, the Pope recalled that God made himself a servant in Christ and that this is the inheritance of all believers. Christ came to love and his followers, in turn, “need to be servants in love”.
Speaking extemporaneously, he said to wash the feet of another was, in Jesus’ time, the task of the slave or the servant of the house. In executing this gesture, Jesus tells his followers that they are called to be servants to each other.
“Everyone here must think of others… and how we can serve others better,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, the Pope carried the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. He remained there in prayer until the end of the Pange Lingue hymn, after which he processed out of the chapel in the usual silence with which the Holy Thursday evening liturgy concludes.
This is the second year the Pope celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper among a group of people usually marginalized by society. Last year, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper at a youth detention centre.
Pope Francis preached an extemporaneous homily during the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which was held at S. Maria della Provvidenza, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility in the suburbs of Rome. The following is an English translation of Pope Francis’ reflections on the Lord’s loving act of service, an act which the Pope himself imitated later in the Mass, kneeling down to wash the feet of twelve patients of the centre.
We have heard what Jesus did at the Last Supper: It is a gesture of farewell. He is God and He makes Himself a servant, our servant. It is like an inheritance. You also must be servants of one another. He crossed this path by love. Also you must love each other and be servants in Love. This is the inheritance that Jesus leaves us. And He makes this gesture of washing feet, which is a symbolic act. The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine because at that time the streets were made of dirt, and when they entered in a house it was necessary to wash one’s feet. And Jesus made performed this action, a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this He leaves like an inheritance amongst us. We must be servants of each other.
And for this reason, the Church, today, commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, also—in the ceremony—performs the action of the washing of the feet, which reminds us that we must be servants of one another. Now I will perform this act, but all of us, in our hearts, let us think of others and think in the love that Jesus tells us that we have to have for the others and let us consider also how we can serve better, other people. Because Jesus wanted it this way amongst us