Mass of the Lord's Supper
On Holy Thursday afternoon, 18 April 2019, Pope Francis visited a correctional facility in Velletri on the outskirts of Rome, where he presided at the Mass of the Lord's Supper and the traditional rite of the washing of feet. The following is a translation of the Holy Father's homily, which he delivered in Italian.
I greet you all and I thank you for your welcome.
I received a beautiful letter a few days ago, from some of you who today will not be here, but who said such beautiful things, and I thank them for what they have written.
In this prayer I am very united with you all: those who are here and those who are not.
We have heard what Jesus did. It is interesting. The Gospel says: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power”, or rather, Jesus had all the power, all of it. And then he begins to perform this gesture of washing the feet. It is a gesture that slaves performed in that time, because there was no asphalt on the streets and the people, when they arrived, had dust on their feet, when they arrived in a house for a visit or for lunch, there were slaves who washed their feet. And Jesus performs this gesture: as a slave. And then He advises them all: “You should also wash one another’s feet”. That is, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, not as one who dominates the other or tramples the other, no, be brothers in service. You need something, a service? I will do it for you. This is fraternity. Fraternity is humble, always: it is service. And I will perform this gesture — the Church wants the bishop to do this every year, once a year, at least on Holy Thursday — to imitate Jesus’ gestures and also to do good by example and also to oneself, because the bishop is not the most important, but must be the one who serves the most. And each one of us must be a servant to others.
This is Jesus’ rule and the rule of the Gospel: the rule of service, of not dominating or doing harm, humiliating others. Service! Once, when the apostles were quarrelling between themselves, arguing about who was the most important among them, Jesus took a child and said “The child. If your heart is not the heart of a child, you will not be my disciples”. The heart of a child, simple, humble but serving. And there He adds something interesting that we can connect to this gesture of today. He says: “Beware: heads of nations dominate, but among you it must not be thus. The greatest must serve the smallest. He who feels he is the greatest, must be the servant”. We too must all be servants. It is true that in life there are problems: we argue among ourselves … but this must be something that passes, a transient thing, because in our heart there must always be this love of serving the other, of being at the service of the other.
And may this gesture I will perform today be for us all a gesture that helps us to be better servants to each other, friends, brothers in service. With these sentiments, let us continue the celebration with the washing of the feet.