Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., washes the foot of a parishioner during the Mass of the Lord's Supper he celebrated on Holy Thursday in St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction. John Blaine photo
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., washes the foot of a parishioner during the Mass of the Lord's Supper he celebrated on Holy Thursday in St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction. John Blaine photo

The way Debbie Roble of St. David the King Parish, Princeton Junction, sees it, Holy Thursday begins the three days of what she calls the “Super Bowl” of the Church’s liturgical year and this year, she was very pleased that her parish was able to welcome the “best quarterback there is” to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper – Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Mass of the Lord's Supper in St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction

Photo Gallery: Mass of the Lord's Supper in St. Catherine Laboure Church, Middletown

“This is what we as Catholics are all about,” said Roble, as she reflected on the great gifts that Jesus instituted at the first Holy Thursday more than 2,000 years ago, that of the Eucharist and the priesthood. “I’m very appreciative that the Bishop came here to St. David the King. It’s wonderful to have him here.”

Parishes around the Diocese including St. David the King and St. Catherine Laboure, Middletown, quietly concluded the Lenten season and prayerfully ushered in the shortest, yet most sacred season of the liturgical year, the Paschal Triduum with the celebration of Holy Thursday Mass the evening of April 18. The Mass, as they know it, would be different  that night, as they witnessed the added movements such as the procession  of the newly blessed and consecrated oils, the washing of parishioners’ feet and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to a chapel of repose.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell recalled the dramatic events that make “Holy Thursday ‘holy.” Reiterating that the Mass commemorates the last meal Jesus shared with his apostles before his Death, his institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Bishop O’Connell told the faithful of St. David the King Parish how the Mass had been “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.

“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,” said Bishop O’Connell. “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.”

Focusing on the meaning of the washing of feet and the Eucharist, Bishop O’Connell explained that the “gesture of foot washing has special significance…Jesus used what was common to make it a holy…symbolic…teaching moment intended to make the point that we owe each other great respect and care.

“The symbolism of respect for another person by humbling oneself, showing humility by washing feet, and the sharing one’s life by giving it totally to another — Jesus’ gift of his own Body and Blood — is the essence of what we celebrate together on this Holy Thursday evening as a community of faith in St. David the King Parish.”

The presence of Bishop O’Connell and his thoughtful homily resonated in various ways among the parishioners.

Nicole Dunne, smiled as she spoke of how humbling it was to watch Bishop O’Connell wash the feet of her fellow parishioners, then spoke of how Holy Week and Easter are times for people to become closer to Jesus and to each other. She made special note to say that she is a student in The Catholic University of America, Washington, where Bishop O’Connell had served as president prior to his being named bishop of the Trenton Diocese.

“Holy Week and Easter is the foundation of our faith, everything which we as Catholics believe,” said parishioner Joe Lamendola, “and tonight to have the Bishop here just lends whole special meaning to this service; his presence made it all more special.”

Lamendola said he was especially struck on how the Bishop’s homily  focused on the humanity Jesus showed “even though Jesus knew what was coming” – his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Reflecting on the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in St. Catherine Laboure Church, Middletown, where Father Daniel Hesko, pastor, was celebrant, and Father Michael Lankford, a priest of the Diocese, was concelebrant, parishioner John Wilczewski also spoke of Holy Week being one of the most special times in the Church’s year, especially on how the focus will ultimately be on the Lord’s promise to eternal life.

“It was profoundly humbling to participate in [tonight’s Mass],” said Wilczewski, noting that the events of Holy Week have been continuous in the Church for hundreds of years. And to be able to witness the commemoration of the events, he said, “is a very special blessing.”