By Peter Jennings.
The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, was the Principal Celebrant and Preacher at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, held at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on Maundy Thursday, 28 March 2013.
Canon Gerry Breen, Cathedral Dean, the new Rector and priests on the staff of St Mary’s College, Oscott, the Diocesan Seminary, concelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop of Birmingham.
During his homily, Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “The particular focus of Maundy Thursday is on the last evening of Jesus’ life, eating the Passover meal with the apostles in the upper room and transforming that meal into his abiding Eucharist.
“When we describe today as Maundy Thursday we highlight the mandatum or commandment that we should follow our Lord’s example in washing the apostles’ feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done.
“The washing of feet by Jesus demonstrates the radical nature of his service. It is the same as saying that there is nothing he will not do to serve us out of love and it is always linked in our minds with what he says very soon afterwards: I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This kind of love goes beyond washing feet – it shows itself in the extreme gesture of giving everything, even life itself, out of love for others.
The quality of love that we see in Christ as he takes off his outer garment, bends down and washes the feet of the twelve has a powerful impact on our faith and on our own view of Christian service. It reminds us that as we receive the sacrificial gift of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist we change from within and we reflect more clearly the Lord whom we follow.
The Archbishop of Birmingham concluded: “The Lord’s way of thanksgiving lies in service and self-giving. Our thanksgiving finds its source and summit in the Eucharist and its abiding image is the washing of feet. This tender gesture of Christ calls to mind the words spoken by Pope Francis at the outset of his Petrine ministry, following Peter who imitated the Lord.
“The Holy Father was reflecting on St Joseph who was first to show a father’s love to our Lord as a child. Pope Francis said: I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”
Archbishop Longley added: “May the tenderness of Christ always inspire our service and our thanksgiving.”
Throughout the stark, simple and deeply symbolic ceremony of the Washing of the Feet, the Cathedral Choir sang the “Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam”, (Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your great goodness.”
Archbishop Longley, assisted by altar servers, knelt on the floor and slowly washed the right-foot of twelve men, who sat in chairs at the bottom of the sanctuary steps. As he moved along the row, the Archbishop paused briefly in front of each man and presented him with a gift of a rosary and special card.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of twelve prisoners in a youth detention centre in Rome. In a remarkable break from tradition, they included two girls – an Italian Catholic and a Serbian Muslim.
The Holy Father told the inmates that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of service.