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Pope Francis illustrates his role of servant by washing the feet of the disabled

Celebrating his second Holy Thursday Mass, Pope Francis put on an apron, kneeling to wash the feet of twelve people with disabilities. According to Vatican Radio the Mass of the Lord's Supper took place at Coena Domini, a long-term care facility.

Pope Francis washes the feet of disabled during Holy Thursday celebration
Pope Francis washes the feet of disabled during Holy Thursday celebrationAlberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis celebrates Holy Thursday
Pope Francis celebrates Holy ThursdayAlberto Pizzoli

Pope Francis was visibly fatigued and required assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came to the end of the rite. It was a gesture of humility and service, and in imitation of Christ, Pope Francis wore an apron as he washed the feet of the twelve patients of the long-term care facility at the Holy Thursday Mass.

Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person's foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze which was sometimes reciprocated. The state of health varied as well as their age which ranged from 16 to 86. They all suffered from various disabilities. All were Italian and the Mass was celebrated in Italian. Three were of a different ethnic origin and one man was Muslim.

The Mass was celebrated in the chapel of the Santa Maria della Provvidenza Centre, which is one of more the two dozen healthcare facilities run by the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation. The usual Sunday choir sang hymns in Italian. Many of the patients were sitting in wheelchairs in the front rows.

Holy Thursday Mass recalls the Passover meal celebrated by Christ with the twelve Apostles. Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles saying "Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them." (John 13:16)

Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Easter Triduum.

In Pope Francis' homily he focused on how God made himself a servant in Christ and that this is the inheritance of all believers. Christ came to love and his followers, in turn, "need to be servants in love".

Pope Francis stated that to wash the feet of another was, in Jesus' time, the task of the slave or the servant of the house. In executing this gesture, Jesus tells his followers that they are called to be servants to each other. "Everyone here must think of others.. and how we can serve others better."

The Mass ended after the Pope carried the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. He remained there in prayer until the end of the Pange Lingue hymn, which is a hymn of adoration. After the hymn he processed out of the the chapel in the usual silence with which the Holy Thursday evening liturgy concludes.

The Holy Triduum begins with Holy Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper. It is followed by Good Friday services, which remember the crucifixion. It ends on Holy Saturday with the lighting of the Easter Candle before the Easter vigil.

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