(Vatican Radio) 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.
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.
Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci: