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The washing of the feet: ultimate act of love and service

The washing of the feet: ultimate act of love and service

(Vatican Radio) Holy Thursday is the day when Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was a very special meal for them and for Him. 

As Benedictine Abbot Timothy Wright explained to Linda Bordoni, it was his last and he wanted to make sure it endured, and so he did a number of things.

First of all he reminded those around the table – his disciples – that this was going to be the last meal, it was going to be a definitive moment and he was not going to partake fully of it until he had been through the process of dying and rising.

They didn’t understand – who would? They celebrated the meal in the traditional Jewish way as a Passover meal.

Throughout that whole journey they were commemorating this great event, when pursued by the Egyptian army; they had to cope with what was effectively God’s intervention on their behalf.

That event is traditional for the Jews and has been ever since.

Christ took it up as his last meal and he did a number of things which were particular.

First he took bread and said: “this is my body”.  Who would understand what that really meant?

He took wine and said: “this is my blood”. 

A new Covenant for the forgiveness of sins – a new life.

But, Abbott Timothy says:  “before he did that, he sat the disciples down and said: ‘right – I’m going to wash your feet’”.


“Washing feet is a very menial task. A sign of the host welcoming a guest; a sign of the recognition that you are important to me. You are important because of who you are, not because of what you have done for me; not because you are a sinner or a saint, but because in you there is the unique presence of God” he says. 

The Abbot explains that Jesus tells the disciples that with this service “I will wash your feet because you are going to be the leaders and it is you who then have to wash other people’s feet”.

Service – he says – is at the heart of the Christian Gospel.

My service – Jesus was saying – is “to die and to rise and to give new life. Your service is to go forward and wash people’s feet to show that it is love that really counts”.

Abbott Timothy explains that the washing of the feet is a very particular moment in the ceremony. It happens after the readings, after a homily and before the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a moment when 12 people gathered in the Church come together near the altar and the chief celebrant washes each foot: “water is pored over, the foot is dried and sometimes the foot is kissed” he says.

It is done in silence, the congregation is singing but no prayers are said: it is the gesture that counts.

For him, Abbot Wright says, part of the tradition is to see behind the gesture itself and look at the value of the feet….

“My feet are my way to God, I walk the path to God, my feet are that part of my anatomy which enables me to move… they are the way to love. We are all pilgrims on the way…” he says.

Abbott Timothy pays tribute to the twelve very different pairs of feet that sat around the table on that eventful evening of Jesus’ last Supper:

–    The feet that never walked – the feet of people who have never had the opportunity of experiencing the walk in any other way than “being walked by someone else”…

–    The feet that never wore shoes; that are so poor that they haven’t got shoes…  

–    The feet that are always shackled; the feet that have been put in prison…

–    The feet of those who are so talented; who use those feet in a magical way…

–    The feet that give pain as we get older…

–    The feet crushed in accidents; feet that are lost through no fault of our own…

–    The feet that spend hours training to run a marathon for charity…

–    The feet that are blown off by landmines…

–    The feet of those who have walked and have never found; the ones who doubt…

–    The feet that have always taken the wrong turnings…

–    The feet of strangers who have come to this Church…

–    The feet that long to walk to Heaven…


(from Vatican Radio)

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