Foot Washing, Family Style!

My children particularly love Holy Thursday Mass. There is the surface reason — a chance to stay up late on a school night; and then there is the deepest reason — a not so subtle hope against hope to be selected for the foot washing ceremony. I can never bring myself to explain that the 12 foot-washees are pre-selected (and not children).

Perhaps it goes without saying that this is not a typical Holy Week — and there is no longer such a thing as school nights. But, hope against hope for foot washing fulfilled: this year, all 5 of my kids were selected!

By my husband and I.

It sounds paradoxical, but the limitations of the pandemic have actually provided a great opportunity — to participate in the Holy Thursday liturgy in a profoundly personal way, intimately united as a family. Do you want to join us? Here’s how:

Prepare Ahead:

  • Ascension will live stream Holy Thursday Mass beginning at 7:00 PM — so be certain to make preparations earlier in the day.
  • Set a row of kitchen or dining room chairs in front of your television or computer; one for each member of the family.
  • Locate a basin — which could be a large serving bowl, a pot, or a plastic storage container.
  • Locate a pitcher or vase for pouring water (if you don’t have a pitcher, you could use a washed out milk or juice jug).
  • Gather a stack of hand towels — one for each member of the family, if possible.
  • Optional: Place candles (baptismal candles, Christ Renews candles, and candles from First Reconciliation work particularly well) around your home-Mass location.
  • Optional: Print the readings for Mass, one for each member of the family. (Note: a prayer of Spiritual Communion for children and the script for your family foot washing ceremony are included in the printout).

Just before Mass Begins:

  • Fill water pitcher(s)
  • Light candles
  • Get your “tweenage” son to figure out how the YouTube application works on your television. (Okay, maybe this reminder is just for me!)

Celebrating Mass

  • Participate in live stream Mass as you typically would. (If you have not yet found your family groove with online Mass, check out 12 tips for digital family Mass here).
  • At the conclusion of the homily, our priests will prompt you to participate in foot washing at home. At this point, “pause” the live stream Mass and insert your own family foot washing ceremony into the liturgy.
  • Introduce your at-home foot washing ceremony with a simple explanation. You can speak in your own words, or say this: “Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in a spirit of love, humility, and service. I wash your feet today because I want to love you as perfectly as Christ loves you. I want to humbly serve you as our entire family learns to serve each other, particularly during this season when we are so closely united at home.” (Note: this text is included in the printable readings; see link above)
  • If you are married, you may wish to work together, with one parent pouring and washing and the other parent drying.
  • If you are a single parent, or married to a spouse that does not participate in the faith, you can wash and dry on your own.
  • Resist the urge to rush through the process. Be intentional, take time, and demonstrate the same reverence that our Priests do during Holy Thursday Mass.
  • Recite the traditional antiphon during each washing: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so also you should love one another.” (Note: this text is included in the printable readings; see link above)
  • Resume Mass, and continue with your typical participation.
  • Optional: make some time after Mass to reflect on this experience with your family.

Family Reflection:

The liturgy of Holy Thursday (and of the entire Triduum and of every Mass!) uniquely expresses – re-presents or makes present – the events of the Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Holy Thursday simultaneously reaches backwards and forwards through time. We are invited backward, to participate with Jesus and His disciples in the first Eucharistic meal. Simultaneously, the gifts and graces of the first Holy Thursday apply forward into our homes and hearts; Jesus offers to wash our feet in perfect love, humility, and service.

Why do you think that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples?

Why do we reenact the washing of the Disciples’ feet during Holy Thursday Mass? Can you think of other Gospel accounts that we reenact during Mass or the liturgical year?

How did it feel being “chosen” for the foot washing ceremony this year?

In what other ways does Jesus serve His Disciples? How can we serve each other during this time?

Jesus demonstrates His humility by doing an undesirable job — washing feet! In what ways can we demonstrate the virtue of humility at home?

Adult Reflection:

Read this personal reflection on the importance of (metaphorically) washing the feet of family members during this unique time. Click the image below;

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