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A reflection on the Washing of the Feet

A reflection by Abbot Timothy Wright, OSB, on the Washing of the Feet  

Art by Sieger Köder                                                                   

“Washing feet is a very menial task, a sign of the host welcoming a guest;

a sign of the recognition that you are important to me.

You are important because of who you are, not because of what you have done for me;

not because you are a sinner or a saint, but because in you there is the unique presence of God” the Abbot says.

He explains that Jesus tells the disciples that with this service

“I will wash your feet because you are going to be the leaders and it is you who then have to wash other people’s feet”.

Service – he says – is at the heart of the Christian Gospel.

My service – Jesus was saying – is “to die and to rise and to give new life.

Your service is to go forward and wash people’s feet to show that it is love that really counts”.

Abbot Timothy explains that the washing of the feet is a very particular moment in the ceremony.

It happens after the readings, after a homily and before the celebration of the Eucharist.

It is a moment when 12 people gathered in the Church come together near the altar

and the chief celebrant washes each foot: “water is pored over, the foot is dried and sometimes the foot is kissed” he says.

It is done in silence, the congregation is singing but no prayers are said: it is the gesture that counts.

For him, Abbot Wright says, part of the tradition is to see behind the gesture itself and look at the value of the feet….

“My feet are my way to God, I walk the path to God; my feet are that part of my anatomy which enables me to move…

they are the way to love. We are all pilgrims on the way…” he says.

Abbot Timothy pays tribute to the twelve very different pairs of feet that sat around the table on that eventful evening of Jesus’ last Supper:

-    The feet that never walked – the feet of people who have never had the opportunity of experiencing the walk in any

other way than “being walked by someone else”…

-    The feet that never wore shoes; that are so poor that they haven’t got shoes…

-    The feet that are always shackled; the feet that have been put in prison…

-    The feet of those who are so talented; who use those feet in a magical way…

-    The feet that give pain as we get older…

-    The feet crushed in accidents; feet that are lost through no fault of our own…

-    The feet that spend hours training to run a marathon for charity…

-    The feet that are blown off by landmines…

-    The feet of those who have walked and have never found; the ones who doubt…

-    The feet that have always taken the wrong turnings…

-    The feet of strangers who have come to this Church…

-    The feet that long to walk to Heaven…

Abbot Timothy Wright, OSB.