Many agree that this act symbolizes Jesus’ impending sacrifice on the cross in which he takes on sin and cleanses humanity, opening the gates of heaven for the faithful. However, in his second part of the Jesus of Nazareth series, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Jesus’ act points to the entirety of his life and death. And by allowing his spirit to enter into us, we are cleansed and renewed and given new life in him. The pope-emeritus writes, “The command to do as Jesus did is no mere moral appendix to the mystery…it follows from the inner dynamic of gift with which the Lord renews us and draws us into what is his.” (Ratzinger, 62). Therefore, we, his disciples, also take part in building the kingdom of God.
Another aspect of the Holy Thursday liturgy that has always caught my attention is the New Commandment, mandatum novum. The Gospel of John continues, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35). Many times, we hear the phrase “Love others as you love yourself.” Jesus, though, is very clear: love as I have loved. I think his words become clearer when we remember St. John’s declaration, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jn 4:16). To truly love others, then, one must imitate the love of Christ. This ties directly back to the Washing of the Feet, which was done out of Jesus’ love for his disciples and, hence, all of us faithful today. To build the kingdom of God, we must go out and love as Christ loved, by “washing the feet” of others. It is through acts of charity (love in action) that we love as he loved.
Below is a beautiful choral piece that narrates the Washing of the Feet and the New Commandment:
Victor David is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.