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Maundy Thursday: The Two Great Manifestations of Love

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, celebrated Maundy Thursday mass at Westminster Cathedral on 28 March.

The Maundy Thursday mass remembers Christ’s washing of his disciple’s feetand his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In his Homily the Archbishop focused upon the “two great manifestations of his (Christ’s) love in which we participate.” In continuation of Christ’s example of service this year, the Archbishop washed the feet of twelve Chelsea pensioners during the mass.

In his homily he explained the single reality of the celebration of the Last Supper: It is “the gift of the total love of Jesus for us, His Body and His Blood, a love flowing from the deepest reality, from the very being of God, which Jesus, the Son of God, makes visible in our midst.”

The Body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit

He continued with a reflection on the physicality of Christ’s actions and how they transform and redeem our own reality: In the washing of feet and in his offering of his body and blood “Jesus transforms our way of understanding our b

Chelsea Pensioner at Maundy Thursday

odily reality. In the first, he washes the feet, the flesh and blood, of his disciples. In the second, he gives himself entirely. He gives his flesh and blood, his bodily reality, in death on the cross, in the sacrament of the altar. In this way, Jesus transforms our way of understanding our bodily reality.”

He said that our bodies may be a source of temptation, pain and suffering and that many today feel dismayed and preoccupied by their bodies, wishing to conform to some stereotype but “to follow this pathway, to harbour such feelings in our hearts, is to fail to see the work of God and the gifts Christ brings.”

Christ strikes the hardness of heart

He went on to say that redemption from hardness of heart comes from Christ’s action in our lives: “Only when Christ strikes our hearts with the rod of his grace does that hardness break open, and our bodies become what God created them to be: channels of life-giving compassion and love.”

Christ’s Offering

“In offering us his Body and Blood, Jesus renews in us the flow of generous self-giving, inviting us to imitate him in our tireless service of others, especially of those closest by in whom we know every failure and every weakness.”

BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought

Earlier on Maundy Thursday the Archbishop gave the reflection on BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought in which he explained the richness of meaning of Maundy Thursday: “‘Maundy’ – it’s a funny word. Some say it comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ meaning command. After all Jesus said, ‘A new commandment I give you: you must wash each other’s feet.’ In this he’s telling us not to be too proud to serve one another lovingly with complete humility.

Others say that the word ‘Maundy’ comes from an old English word ‘maund’ meaning to beg. This makes sense, too, because today’s the day when the English monarch, in a tradition going back 800 years, gives a gift of money to those in need. In 1213, King John gave 13 pence to 13 poor men. Today, in Christ Church Cathedral Oxford the Queen will give Maundy money to 87 men and 87 women, to mark her 87th year.

Maundy Thursday, then, is a day rich in meaning. It’s another step on our journey to Good Friday, when we commemorate the greatest gift of all: the gift of Jesus’ death on the cross, freely given, to bring us God’s love, and then his rising from the tomb on Easter Sunday itself.”

A full copy of Archbishop Nichols’s homily is available here

More photographs of the Maundy Thursday mass are available here