'As I Have Done For You' -- Father David Swantek, pastor of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, kneels to wash the foot of parishioner and St.  Vincent de Paul conference member Pam Miller, during the Mass of the Lord's Supper celebrated March 24. John Blaine photos
'As I Have Done For You' -- Father David Swantek, pastor of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, kneels to wash the foot of parishioner and St.  Vincent de Paul conference member Pam Miller, during the Mass of the Lord's Supper celebrated March 24. John Blaine photos

Before the faithful who gathered in St. Martha Church, Point Pleasant, March 24, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in his homily, spoke with conviction on how the Mass of the Lord’s Supper expresses the “unambiguous and non-negotiable core of our Catholic faith, intrinsically and integrally sown together as the one fabric of our Christian lives: one divine cloth that can never be torn or ripped apart because this is what the Church is and why the Church was established and what the Church does.”

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During the Holy Thursday Mass, which recalls the last meal Jesus shared with his apostles before his Death and commemorates Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, the Bishop recalled “the dramatic events that make this day in this week ‘holy.’”

“There was a gathering, a Passover meal and celebration complete with prayers and hymns. There was a sharing of bread and wine, the anticipation of the end of one life and the beginning of a life that would never end. And there was an example given from a ‘teacher’ that was instructive and unambiguous and forever: ‘do this in remembrance of me.’

 “My sisters and brothers, this night is holy not because of the things we do but, rather, because of the things he did – the Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who gathers us. It is he who gives us food and drink. It is he who drops to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples. He, the Lord Jesus Christ, makes this night holy. And what we do, we do in his memory,” said Bishop O’Connell, who was present for the Mass and preached the homily. The Mass was celebrated by Father David Swantek, pastor.  

Speaking on a personal level, Bishop O’Connell acknowledged that what he has come to regard as especially meaningful about the celebration of Mass on Holy Thursday is example of Jesus taking on the role of servant as he kneels to wash the feet of his disciples.

Prior to his surgery in December, 2014, during which he had his lower left leg amputated, the Bishop recalled that for more than four years, he would travel each week to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia for treatment of the bone infection in his foot. The treatment involved placing a large cast on the foot and leg after examination by a surgeon.

“Each week after the old cast was removed and before it was replaced by a new cast, one of the staff would wash my ulcerated foot. I went through this process every week. To have someone wash my feet is a very humbling event.”

At each weekly treatment, the Bishop said he would reflect on the Gospel that’s proclaimed at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Although the treatment was physical, the Bishop said he “found something spiritual” in the actions of his caregivers.

“For the hospital staff, however, it is just part of their job. And they do it a dozen or more times a day to their patients,” the Bishop said.

Bishop O’Connell reflected on how in Jesus’ day, the custom of washing someone’s feet was regarded as a “gesture of hospitality.”

“When someone visited in someone’s house after traveling, it was customary to wash the visitor’s feet. It was a practical thing to do as well as a humble sign of respect for the guest,” said Bishop O’Connell.  “Jesus was aware of the custom. But in tonight’s Gospel and the liturgy based upon it, the gesture has special significance. As with so many other practices, Jesus used what was common to make it a holy, teaching and symbolic moment intended to make the point that we owe each other great respect and care.”

After the homily, the congregation watched as Father Swantek followed in Jesus’ footsteps and solemnly knelt to wash the feet of 12 parishioners, all of whom are members of the parish's St. Vincent de Paul conference. At the conclusion of the Mass, the faithful witnessed the ancient ceremony of the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel of repose set up in the parish’s all-purpose room. During the procession, in which the Bishop carried the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation chanted “Pange Lingua” (“Sing My Tongue”). Once at the chapel of repose, all were invited to quietly pray in silent adoration.