Archbishop, priests commemorate Jesus’ service on Holy Thursday as sacred Triduum begins

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron washes the feet of parishioners at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood and begins the sacred Triduum, the three days that celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

Mass of the Lord’s Supper observes Jesus’ command to ‘love one another,’ Fr. Gonyeau says

An altar server carries the crucifix in procession during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

DETROIT — As priests of the Archdiocese of Detroit knelt down to wash the feet of their parishioners on Holy Thursday night, the Church in Detroit commemorated the start of Jesus’ passion in the same way the savior himself did: in service.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper — celebrated just hours after the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament — marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the sacred Triduum, the holiest three days on the Church’s liturgical calendar.

At the cathedral, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and fellow priests heeded the example of Jesus in the Gospel of John, when Christ washed the feet of his apostles before celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples.

Fr. Patrick Gonyeau, associate pastor at the cathedral, explained the significance of the occasion to the children of the parish during his homily.

Fr. Gonyeau said during the three days of the Triduum, God takes the events of Jesus’ passion and makes them present in the form of the sacraments he left for his Church.

“We get a real taste of what Jesus did for us. It’s a mystery, but it’s real,” Fr. Gonyeau said. “Starting tonight, all the way to Easter night, these are the most holy three days for Christians.”

Fr. Gonyeau noted that the Gospel reading for Holy Thursday from John 13 is part of what is known as the “Book of Glory” because it describes how Jesus was glorified through his “hour,” or the events of his passion, death and resurrection through which he redeemed the world.

Fr. Gonyeau added that when John wrote that Jesus “loved them to the end,” it was a way to convey that Jesus had accomplished his goal and offered his “maximum love” on the cross.

“Jesus knew everything that was going on. He knew he was the son of God. He knew what time it was — it was his hour,” Fr. Gonyeau said. “It was the time to show the world how much God loves us. Jesus would rather die than live without us.”

Fr. J.J. Mech, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, kneels to kiss the feet of a parishioner during the annual foot-washing rite.

In washing the disciples’ feet, Fr. Gonyeau said, Jesus was giving them a symbol of what he would accomplish by stooping to the level of a servant.

“To wash somebody’s feet in those days was a job that was way below the status of Jesus. That’s why Peter said, ‘Oh no, you can’t wash my feet,’” Fr. Gonyeau said. Turning back to the children, Fr. Gonyeau asked a young boy named Jimmy, “Jimmy, would you wash your sister’s feet?” Receiving a vigorous “no” from the boy, Fr. Gonyeau laughed.

“As Jesus kneels down and begins washing their feet, it’s like he says, ‘What can I do to most shock them and let them know how much I love them?’ When Jesus kneels down and starts washing their feet, it’s a symbol of what he was going to do for them. As he lowers himself and lays down his dignity to wash their feet, the next day he lays down his life on the cross.

“So when Jesus says, ‘I give you an example to follow,’ he doesn’t mean that you have to go home and wash your sister’s feet,” he told the boy. “He says to love one another, to love like that.”

What followed Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet was the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist during the Last Supper, Fr. Gonyeau said, which Catholics continue to imitate every time they celebrate Mass. Without the priesthood, there would be no Eucharist, and Jesus’ gift is meant to unite the Church into one body, Fr. Gonyeau said.

“When Jesus established the new covenant, he was establishing the family of God. And he gives us his precious blood so we know what’s in his heart,” Fr. Gonyeau said. “First Jesus, present in the archbishop, will once again kneel down and wash feet and remind us of what he did on the cross. And then he’ll say those words again tonight: ‘This is my body for you.’ Because through the Eucharist, Jimmy, his heart is beating in yours.”

After Communion, Archbishop Vigneron and the priests concelebrating knelt in adoration before leading a Eucharistic procession through the cathedral to a nearby room, where worshippers could adore the Blessed Sacrament through the night in preparation for Good Friday.