Tonight we begin the Sacred Triduum, the holy three days in which we celebrate the central mysteries of our faith. Today’s liturgy establishes the theme for the Triduum: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The liturgy centers around four meals: the Passover meal eaten by the Israelites as they prepared to depart Egypt; the supper in which Jesus “took bread” and “broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you;’” the Eucharistic meal in which we “proclaim the death of the Lord; and the meal we hope to share in your eternal kingdom.” This attention to food should cause us to reflect on those who perhaps do not have a “share in the supper,” either because they are distant from Christ and deprived of “the fullness of love and life,” or because they are hungry and malnourished.
The meal that brings this all together for us is the Eucharistic meal, which we are to “eat like those who are in flight and celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord.” In other words, the meal is part of a journey, and that is why Jesus washes the feet of his disciples: they are about embark on a journey. But that is not his only reason. He also washes their feet to teach them that “you must wash each other’s feet.” We must serve those in need, we must help those who are also on this journey. “As I have done, so you must do.” When Jesus encountered poverty, hunger, discrimination, and suffering, he didn’t turn away; he did something about it. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
There is a dark side to tonight’s liturgy, for this is “the night in which he was betrayed” by someone who was close to him. How often we betray the one we “address as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’” by our refusal to serve others.
Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity” (John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 3). This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 2013: 192.