The Challenges of ‘Maundy Thursday’
(A Reflection for today)
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
The world today is agog with the news that Pope Francis will celebrate the Maundy Thursday Eucharist with the juvenile detainees of the Casal del Marmo prison on the outskirts of Rome. He will wash the feet of twelve of the inmates, kiss them and bless them in a true imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper.
However, for Pope Francis, this ‘very special gesture’ is nothing new! As an Archbishop and Cardinal, he always celebrated Maundy Thursday washing the feet of inmates in a jail, in a hospital, in a home for the elderly or just of poor people. One year, he washed the feet of new born children and of pregnant women.
Washing another’s feet as Jesus did, symbolises for a Christian the greatest form of service. It exemplifies the mandamus (mandate) that Jesus gives to each of his disciples during the Last Supper. ‘A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34) and in this special act, Jesus exhorts his disciples ‘to do unto others as I have done to you’.
Therefore, in washing the feet of the juvenile prisoners today, Pope Francis sets a new tone and gives a definite direction for Christians all over. In his inaugural homily, he emphasized that the role of the Pope is to open his arms and to protect all humanity but “especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those who Mathew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison’.
By reaching out in very human and tangible ways, Pope Francis necessitates that Sacrament of love in service must be the outward sign of inward grace for all followers of Jesus – transcending, in fact, narrow, exclusive, parochial and patriarchal attitudes that characterise so many of us.
Catholic priesthood today has come in for much bashing and ridicule, thanks to the many cases of child-abuse and other scandals that have come to light all over! On the day that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Priesthood, Pope Francis reminds all priests that the primary duty of the priesthood is to reach out to all just as Jesus himself did. Priesthood is not about short-cuts and compromises, privileges, power and position but about a high degree of commitment meant to serve others in unselfish and unconditional love.
Maundy Thursday, above all, is the celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread which is taken from what people have, which is blessed, broken and shared and in the words of Jesus, ‘take and eat, this is my Body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me’ and later ‘this cup is the new covenant, in my blood which is poured out for you’. Jesus making a clear connection that giving of oneself in service to others is paramount to living the Eucharist in our daily lives.
The triple feast of Maundy Thursday, therefore poses a serious challenge: the challenge of ensuring a servant-priesthood and of sharing oneself in a genuine service of love, to those who need us the most in today’s world.
28th March, 2013
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052