Participating in the Mission of Jesus through Loving Service
Today Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with inmates at Paliano Prison. Based on past practice, we can expect that he will wash the feet of a diverse group of men and women. Looking to the readings of both Holy Thursday liturgies (the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Chrism Mass) sheds light on his practice of washing feet as an embodiment of discipleship.
At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we hear as the Gospel acclamation Jesus’s call to “love one another as I have loved you.” The community remembers in action the account from the Gospel of John of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an expression of loving service. Days after being elected pope, Francis did not wash the feet of 12 men at St. Peter’s Basilica. Instead, he celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Casal del Marmo Youth Detention Center and washed the feet of 12 young people, including two young women and two Muslims. The next year he celebrated the Mass at the Don Gnocchi Center for the Disabled and washed the feet of 12 people ranging in age from 16-86, including four women and people in wheelchairs. In 2015, Francis visited Rebibbia Prison and washed the feet of six men and six women from a variety of countries, including Ecuador, Brazil, Congo, Nigeria and Italy. Last Holy Thursday, he celebrated Mass at a center for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto and washed the feet of men and women refugees, including Nigerian Catholics, Muslims from Syria, Pakistan and Mali, a Hindu from India, and Coptic Christians from Eritrea. Through both witness and word, Francis has reinterpreted a ritual that had excluded women to one that embodies God’s inclusive love for all.
The readings from the Chrism Mass shed light on his choices of location: prisons, a center for people with disabilities, and a center for refugees. Rooted in the first reading from Isaiah, the Gospel of Luke describes Jesus’s mission in terms of bringing good news to the poor and liberty to captives. Further developing the description of God’s reign, this gospel includes sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. Disciples participate in the mission of Jesus, making God’s reign present to the poor, prisoners, people with disabilities and those who have experienced oppression, like the asylum seekers. Pope Francis’s example reminds Christian disciples of the importance of engaging in loving service focused on those most in need of experiencing God’s reign.
Dr. Angela Senander
Associate Professor of Theology