Holy Thursday Mass celebrates servant leadership

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Jackie Ku ’23

Holy Thursday commemorates Jesus Christ’s Last Supper, when he instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion before his arrest and execution. It also remembers Christ’s establishment of the priesthood. However, one specific practice, one particular rite of this Mass not present in any other during the liturgical year tends to catch our attention: the Holy Thursday Mandatum, more commonly known as the ceremony of the washing of the feet.

After the homily, the priest, who performs the role of Christ, selects members of the congregation to sit and have their feet washed. The priest will wash each participant’s feet using a basin and a towel one by one. 

It is stated that in the ancient world, a host would offer guests water to wash their feet. This practice may seem unusual to us today, but unclean feet were fairly common as sandals were the main footwear of choice. Unpaved roadways served as sewers and routes for all types of waste, and as such, maintaining clean feet was essential, especially while entering a location.

Why did Jesus wash the feet of the Disciples? It appears to be a degrading duty, yet it is also personal, even intimate in nature. The fact that Jesus completed this duty as one of His final acts on Earth sends a powerful message about how Christians should behave. Are we willing to wash the feet of our neighbors?

Indeed, Jesus once proclaimed in the Gospel, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it” (John 13:1-17).

As a result, washing feet is a gesture of hospitality—of warmth and consideration. It’s also a sign of humility, as it is known that servants used to wash one another’s feet. 

For recipient Joey Sigler ‘23, the experience was “an excellent moment of humbleness within the Strake Jesuit community.” Later, Joey explains that participation in the rite firsthand allowed him to discover the “true meaning of being a Strake Jesuit student and living life as a servant leader,” a call to serve others, to lower oneself to assist others with humility.

For Fr. Wegenka, performing the rite was quite the newfound joy. “It was the first time I had washed feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy. I found it particularly moving,” according to Fr. Wegenka S.J. Like Joey, Fr. Wegenka found that “physically washing someone’s feet was a great reminder of service.” This Holy Thursday serves as a reminder that we are members of Christ’s Body, and as such, we are required to serve others in humility, even if we have no initial inclination to do so.