Archbishop, priests wash feet on Holy Thursday as example of Christ’s service

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron washes the feet of the faithful at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the Mass of the Lord's Supper during Holy Thursday (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron washes the feet of the faithful at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper during Holy Thursday (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — They were men and women, black and white, young and old.

But they all sat together, shoes off, feet bare, ready to be served by the shepherd of the Church in Detroit.

On Holy Thursday night, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where he and cathedral rector Fr. J.J. Mech washed the feet of the faithful before sharing in holy Communion.

The annual gesture harkens back to the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of his apostles before sharing in the Passover meal.

During his homily, Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Fr. Dan Jones said Jesus washing his disciples’ feet serves as a precursor for what he did for them, and all of humanity, the following day when he suffered and died for the world’s sins on Good Friday.

Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament rector Fr. J.J. Mech washes feet during the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament rector Fr. J.J. Mech washes feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

“This action by Jesus condenses in one particular action the whole thing Jesus does in the Paschal Mystery,” Fr. Jones said. “John in his Gospel sets the tone for the beginning of the Passion. The feast of the Passover becomes the hour of his Passover — the celebration of Christ’s Passover.”

Fr. Jones said the washing of the feet symbolizes the washing away of sin that occurred when Jesus, the son of God, humbled himself as a servant of man, ready to die on a cross for the sins of the world.

“Jesus shows how this action will bring about a cleansing of sins,” Fr. Jones said. “Jesus took off his outer garments, stripped himself, replacing them with a towel, something cheap we use to clean up our messes.”

Lowering himself and taking on the role of servant, Jesus is fulfilling the purpose God chose for him to become man.

“As Jesus bends low to serve us, what’s his disposition?” Fr. Jones asked. “God is love, so God’s supreme joy is to give Himself to suffering for us. It’s Jesus’ joy to serve us. That was his vindication. Yes, the suffering was real and he resented the pain the Passion brought, but he was in it to love you to the ultimate degree.”

The purpose for this is to help man learn to trust in God, even when there is doubt, Fr. Jones said.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron prays before the Eucharist at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the Mass of the Lord's Supper. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron prays before the Eucharist at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

“We focus too much on what we can do for God, but we need to realize it’s up to us to trust in God,” Fr. Jones said. “St. Therese of Lisieux said, ‘We can never have too much trust in God, never doubt His love for us.’ This is why Jesus reasons with Peter to wash his feet, to set an example so we become more capable to love with the same love He had for us.”

After celebrating the Eucharist, Archbishop Vigneron led a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, leading the faithful to a room in the cathedral where people had the opportunity to adore the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night.

Elsewhere around the archdiocese, priests brought the sacred oils consecrated earlier in the day during the Chrism Mass at the cathedral to their parishes before the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

At St. Daniel Parish in Clarkston, Fr. Aaron Smith explained that Holy Thursday celebrates two integral signs of Christ’s love: the institution of the twin sacraments of the Eucharist and holy orders.

“Two expressions of that love of Christ we celebrate today: the first expression is the Eucharist. We’re celebrating the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, when Christ gave us his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The second expression of his love is the priesthood,” said Fr. Smith, a member of the Legionaries of Christ.

Fr. Smith said it wasn’t enough for Christ to simply say “I love you,” or even to die on the cross.

Fr. Aaron Smith, LC, preaches during the Mass of the Lord's Supper at St. Daniel Parish in Clarkston. (Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)

Fr. Aaron Smith, LC, preaches during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Daniel Parish in Clarkston. (Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)

“He said, ‘I am going to show my love is real because I’m going to sacrifice myself every single day on the altar for those whom I love,’” Fr. Smith said. “His love is real, and it’s humble. And in the form of bread and wine, it’s simple.”

In the priesthood, Fr. Smith said Jesus not only gives himself in the form of bread and wine, but in the form of the personal touch of another human being.

“He wanted to give us human beings, people who would be able to symbolize and show you his love,” said Fr. Smith, who along with Fr. Ron Babich and Fr. Joe Hindelang washed the feet of 12 parishioners during the Mass. “A priest is called to give that love, a personal love, the same love of Jesus Christ.”

“How great is the calling we are given,” he said.


Michigan Catholic managing editor Mike Stechschulte contributed to this report.