The Intimacy of Washing
Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.—John 13:4-5
One of my favorite liturgies of the year is the Holy Thursday Mass, when all are welcome to come forward to get their feet washed and wash the feet of another person. I know not all churches invite everyone in the pews to do this, and I’m convinced they miss out on a powerful ritual.
As an RCIA Director, it falls to me to invite, encourage, and sometimes give a little push to the candidates, catechumans, and their sponsors to come forward to be a part of this ritual. If you have ever washed the feet of small children, an elderly parent, a partner, a patient, or a stranger at Mass, you know what an intimate act it can be. Every year there are people in my RCIA group who are hesitant to do this, and every year they are all touched by the beauty and simplicity of this reenactment. One year, a sponsor who had attended Holy Thursday mass for decades without ever getting her feet washed finally worked up her courage to go forward. She came back to the pew beaming, nudged her candidate and said loud enough for many to hear, “Now we’re foot buddies!” I don’t think she quit smiling until after communion. The foot washing service is one of those sacramental rituals whose power can’t be described in words. That’s why Jesus did it—instead of only telling the disciples to do it. It gets its power from the doing.
FOR ACTION: If your church offers foot washing for all, screw up your courage and go for it! If they don’t offer it, consider creating your own foot washing service at home tonight. Get a bowl of warm water and a towel. Read John 13:1-15 aloud and then take turns washing each others’ feet. If you have children, by all means, include them. Children naturally grasp the beauty and reverence of this act.