By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis presided over the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica. He recalled how Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles and invited the faithful to allow the Lord to love and serve them.
The Pope thanked God for the ministry of so many unnamed priests, several of whom have sacrificed their lives – especially those who have died recently while serving the sick in hospitals and clinics amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The liturgy known as in coena Domini, takes place on the first day of the Easter Triduum and commemorates the institution of the Eucharist.
In unscripted remarks during the homily, the Pope recalled three key words for Holy Thursday: Eucharist, Service, Anointment.
'Allow the Lord to serve you'
Pope Francis reminded Christians that only by allowing the Lord to love us will we be saved. Jesus Himself says: “If we don't eat His body and we don't drink His blood, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”, said the Pope.
“It is difficult to understand that we need to allow the Lord to serve us,” continued Pope Francis. He then reflected on St. John’s Gospel which describes the exchange between Jesus and Peter who told the Lord: “You will never wash my feet”. Jesus answered: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me”.
“You must ask the Lord to allow you to grow,” the Pope said, “to forgive you.”
Giving thanks for the priesthood
Pope Francis then gave thanks for the priesthood.
“I want to be near to priests,” he said, “all of them: from the newly ordained all the way up to the bishops and to the Pope.”
“You have been anointed to confer the Eucharist, you have been anointed to serve,” he added.
Noting he had not been possible to celebrate the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning, the Pope said he hoped it could be celebrated before Pentecost.
Referring to the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, he said, “I can't allow this Mass to pass by without mentioning the priesthood and all the priests who offer their lives for the Lord.”
Pope Francis recalled that in these dramatic days marked by the coronavirus pandemic, many priests have died here in Italy while caring for the sick, together with doctors and nurses in the hospitals.
“They are our ‘next-door-neighbour’ saints,” who have given their lives to serve the Lord and the faithful, he said.
Pope Francis then turned his thoughts to the many parish priests and prison chaplains who take the Gospel into small towns and into prisons, and to the scores of anonymous priests in mission territories, many of whom die and are buried far from the eyes of the world.
“No one knows their names,” the Pope said. “They are good priests and I carry them in my heart.”
He also spoke of the many priests who have suffered calumny and insult, “who cannot walk the streets” because of the shame brought about by the discovery of some of the awful things some priests have done.
“Today you are all with me at the altar,” he said. “Don’t be hard-headed like Peter: allow the Lord to wash your feet, learn to forgive the other. Just as you have forgiven, you will be forgiven. Never be afraid to forgive.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily giving thanks to God for the grace of the priesthood: “I thank God for you, priests. Jesus loves you. I ask only that you allow your feet to be washed.”
Contrary to tradition that normally sees the Pope celebrate Holy Thursday Mass outside the Vatican, this year’s ceremony took place at the Altar of the Chair in an almost empty St. Peter’s Basilica. The liturgy did not include the washing of the feet, out of respect for directives intended to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Mass was streamed live and Christians across the world were invited to participate.