In a gesture meant to bring an important part of the Last Supper to life, Bishop Robert Brennan knelt at the altar of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James to wash the feet of 12 people during Holy Thursday Mass on April 6.
The moment recalled a poignant moment of the Last Supper — when Jesus washed the feet of the 12 disciples. In fact, the Holy Thursday Mass is often referred to as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The people who came up to the cathedral’s altar to get their feet washed by Bishop Brennan are all parishioners of St. James.
By taking part in the ritual, Romilla Karnati was carrying on a family tradition that started with her grandfather in her native India.
“I had messaged my parents and my family back home in India. I am carrying the pride of my family. My grandfather was asked at our parish in India almost every year, so I’ve been thinking about him, and I’m very happy that I can continue this tradition,” she said.
But Karnati was also happy for another reason: the decision by Pope Francis in 2013 to start including women in the foot-washing portion of the Holy Thursday Mass. “I’m grateful for that because this has given us as women an opportunity to participate in the service more and to be one of the 12 chosen to have our feet washed,” she said.
By washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus humbled himself in the service of others, said Edgar Ochoa, who added that he spent this season of Lent trying to do the same. He viewed the foot washing as “a physical manifestation of that” and said, “hopefully, we can continue that throughout the year.”
Another parishioner, Tim Dieterichs, called the foot washing a beautiful part of the Mass. “It’s indicative of Jesus Christ as the servant. We obviously serve Him and try to live our lives according to His grace. And it’s a nice reminder that he came for us,” he said.
Bishop Brennan said that the Mass was also a reminder of Jesus’ deep love for his disciples.
“What did Jesus want more than anything on the night before he died? He wanted to be with His friends,” he explained. “He would love them to the end and show them the depth of His love.”
Father Bryan Patterson, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James, said Bishop Brennan was setting an example by kneeling during the foot-washing ritual.
“Look at the symbolism,” he said. “The bishop is lower than the person whose feet he’s washing.”
Holy Thursday is the first event of the Easter triduum, which includes the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday and culminates on Easter Sunday.
Easter 2023 is taking place during the National Eucharistic Revival, a year-long celebration started by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with participation from dioceses all over the country. The revival is meant to remind Catholics that Communion is not a symbol but that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, there was a Lenten Pilgrimage in which the faithful were encouraged to visit a different church each day to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Participants were given passports which were stamped at each stop.
“We are celebrating the gift of the Eucharist. During Lent with our diocesan pilgrimage, we’ve been kneeling to be with Jesus and to pray,” Bishop Brennan said.
Bishop Brennan recalled that as a boy growing up on Long Island, the Holy Thursday Mass had a special meaning for him. “When I was a kid, my brother and I were altar servers. This was a big night for us. We love to serve on this night with the procession and the incense. It was one of the more interesting Masses to serve as an altar server,” he said.
In addition to the foot-washing ritual, the Mass offered other faithful moments. At one point, Bishop Brennan covered the Blessed Sacrament with a humeral veil and carried it around the cathedral leading a procession of clergy, seminarians, and altar servers.
After the procession, the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the tabernacle on the altar of repose so that people could approach the altar at the conclusion of the Mass to pray.