Holy Thursday


What follows are reflections from Emmanuel Monastery (Lutherville), St. Gertrude Monastery (Ridgely), and St. Benedict Monastery (Bristow) on ways in which this day is celebrated. What is most notable is the focus on “humble service” amidst all the rich  symbolism of this feast.

Readings:  Exodus 12: 1-8,11-14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

Emmanuel MonasteryGeneral foot washing


Holy Thursday is a day filled with symbols central to the Triduum and central to our Christian faith.  In the Passover ritual that we recall in the first reading, the children ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  It is different because we REMEMBER many things: Jesus’ last meal with his friends before he died; the sharing of bread and wine that gave birth to our Eucharist; betrayal and rejection by friends; words of encouragement, hope and grief, prayer-filled agony in the garden; arrest and condemnation.

Yet what is most touching and telling is where we find Jesus this night: kneeling at our feet!  In one of the simplest and most intimate of gestures, Jesus kneels before us and washes our feet.  The re-enactment of this gesture at our Liturgy this night is one of the most profound rituals of the Church year. It is a gesture that is foreign to our culture today, while still being one of the most tender, loving and humbling experiences.  In the scriptures it is a gesture followed by words equal to its intimacy: “As God loves me, so do I love you.”  “I call you friends.” “Love one another as I love you.” “When you do these things, remember me.”

At Emmanuel Monastery there are two stations set up for the washing of the feet as the Gospel is read and enacted.  The Prioress takes the role of Jesus and washes the feet of her sisters in community. Participants are invited to come to this station or the other, which is open, providing the opportunity for friends, families, spouses to come forward together and wash each other’s’ feet.  Remembering Jesus, we kneel at one another’s feet tonight, as we sing:

I your Lord and Master, now become your servantLutherville foot washing

I who made the moon and stars will kneel to wash your feet.

This is my commandment: to love as I have loved you.

Kneel to wash each other’s feet as I have done for you.  (Dan Schutte)



Kathy McNany, OSB, Emmanuel Monastery, Lutherville, MD

St Gertrude Monastery, Ridgely

Ridgely foot washingHoly Thursday is a day of memorable institutions.  This is the day when we come to know the power of friendship, the pain of betrayal and the giving of one’s life for the salvation of humankind. On this night, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” as He changed wine into His blood and the bread into His flesh, and so we also commemorate this action.

We begin the day with a special Morning Praise and keep a respectful silence throughout the daylight hours.  In the late afternoon, we gather to share a simple supper and sit in a seating arrangement similar to the many replicas of the Last Supper.  As a sign of their humility and respect for all, the Prioress and her council serve us our meal.

At the end of our meal, we process to our chapel and enter into the revered time and space of the Paschal Mystery.  We begin with the Blessing of the Holy Oils.  The Holy Chrism represents the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Oil of the Sick, the compassion of Christ and the Oil of the Catechumens, the saving waters of Baptism.

After the Liturgy of the Word, we conduct the ritual of the washing of the feet.  This ritual is performed by the Prioress and her Sub-Prioress.  It is a humbling experience for them as well as for those of us who have our feet cleansed.  It takes one out of one’s comfort zone.  I am sure Jesus was taken out of His comfort zone on that Holy Thursday because He knew what was to come. Such was the humility shown by God to save us, to feed us, to wash our feet (a dirty job by no means) and to die for us.  There is indeed no greater love.

After the ritual of the foot washing, we continue with the Eucharistic prayer, Communion, and then we process with the Blessed Sacrament to our side chapel of repose.  The Sisters then spend some quality time in prayer, in gratitude and in adoration.  Their quiet departure concludes our Holy Thursday celebration and readies us for the holy days to come and the awesome glory of the celebration of the day of Resurrection.

Marlies Tomczyk, OSB, St. Gertrude Monastery, Ridgely, MD

St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA

Bristow (2)One of the clearest enactments of Jesus’ words happens during Eucharist on Holy Thursday at the Washing of Feet. To ensure the orderly progression as well as the fullness of the number 12, the hospitality director distributes twelve numbered index cards before Mass and invites some worshippers   to come forward for foot-washing at the appropriate time.

Immediately after the Gospel, three sisters leave the chapel to bring in a large ceramic washbowl, a pitcher of warm water and a basket of rolled towels, and place them near the four chairs reserved for those having their feet washed: sisters, lay women, men and children.  Meanwhile, ushers place two chairs opposite for Sister Cecilia, the prioress, and Father Raymond, the presider, who will do the washing and drying of feet.  Before being seated, Father Raymond removes his chasuble.

As the twelve move to and from the places reserved, the congregation sings an appropriate hymn, e.g. “As I Have Done for You”. Upon completion of the washing of feet, the servers remove the towels, basin and pitcher; ushers replace the two chairs; the prioress returns to her place; the presider replaces his chasuble and continues with the Eucharistic Prayers.

Andrea Verchuck, OSB, Bristow, VA

For Reflection:

  • Remember where we find Jesus today….kneeling before us! Spend some time reflecting on the wonder of that act.  Do an act of humble service for someone today.
  • Participate in the washing of the feet if the opportunity is available to you.
  • For you, what do the words of Jesus mean: “to love one another as I love you?”

Author: 3osb

We are Sisters and Oblates of three Benedictine Monasteries who work together on communicating the Benedictine charism: Emmanuel Monastery, Lutherville, MD St. Gertrude Monastery, Ridgely, MD St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA

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