The More We Serve

April 15-21, 2004
The More We Serve
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
North Shore Youngsters Reflect on the Meaning of Holy Thursday

“You addressed me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am. But if I washed your feet –– I who am Teacher and Lord –– then you must wash each other’s feet. What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so must you do. I solemnly assure you, no slave is greater than his master; no messenger outranks the one who sent him. Once you know all these things, blest will you be if you put them into practice.” — John 13: 13-17

CONSTANTIA –– St. Bernadette’s is a small country church that was filled with a faithful congregation on Holy Thursday as young and old gathered together for one of the most profound of all religious observances. Holy Thursday emphasizes the ritual of the washing of feet, an ancient tradition of spring cleaning, related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. The Holy Thursday liturgy is celebrated in the evening because Passover begins at sundown. It represents Christ’s humility of service as well as the need for cleansing with water, which is also a symbol of baptism. The occasion gives Catholics the opportunity to join in the church’s esteem for Christ’s body present in the consecrated Host in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus washed the feet of His 12 disciples on the night before the Last Supper. At St. Bernadette’s Church, pastor Father Paul Mathis re-enacted Jesus’ humility by washing the feet of 12 parishioners. More than 30 youth who attend religious education classes, witnessed the ritual and participated in the Holy Thursday service. “The Eucharist is the centerpiece of why we come to church,” said Father Mathis. “I believe it is a living memorial. [Catholicism] is the only religion in the world that has a living memorial connected with it. The more you eat His body and drink His blood, the more you become Christ-like,” he said.

Second-grader Andrew Emmons explained what he thought Holy Thursday was all about. “We are preparing for Jesus’ rise,” he said. “Jesus came out on Easter Sunday.” When asked where Jesus comes out of, Andrew replied, “the tabernacle.” After slight prompting from his mother, Andrew said, “I mean the tomb.” Andrew was looking forward to processing through the church after the Mass holding candles. He said that he and his first communion class had spent a lot of time practicing. Joe DiVirgilio is an eighth-grader at Central Square Middle School and a parishioner at St. Bernadette’s. He felt that Holy Week was a time of sacrifice, renewal and self-reflection. “You want to give something up [for Lent] because what Jesus did was the ultimate sacrifice,” said Joe. “It’s a way to thank Him for that sacrifice.” Joe said he wanted to participate in the Holy Thursday service because it was his way of making a contribution to Catholic society. “I think that kids should voice their opinions and say what they have to say,” he said. When asked what Holy Thursday meant to him, Joe explained that it is a solemn occasion in preparation for the Last Super.

During the homily, Father Mathis talked about Jesus’ humility and the message of John’s Gospel. “Jesus told his disciples, I am going to be the servant of servants. We have to be servants of everyone,” said Father Mathis. Father Mathis explained that like Jesus humbled Himself by washing His disciple’s feet, we [Catholics] have to humble ourselves. “The more we serve one another, the more we become like Christ,” said Father Mathis. Emily VanPelt, a fourth-grade student and parishioner of St. Bernadette’s, said that Holy Thursday was about washing of the feet and blessing the bread and wine. When asked whether she felt this was a happy occasion or a solemn one, she said, “It’s both. It’s happy because at the Last Supper Jesus blessed the bread and wine. It’s sad because of how He suffered and died on the cross.” Emily said that Father Mathis told her and the other children that they should be quiet when they are celebrating Jesus’ love. “Father Mathis said Christ is right there on the altar and it’s rude to talk to your friends. Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist,” added Emily. Emily wanted to thank her religion teacher, Mrs. David, for teaching her about reconciliation. “I also want to thank Mrs. David’s granddaughter, Jackie, who is a great helper and the rest of the religion class because they helped me learn more about religion,” said Emily. Emily felt very welcomed at St. Bernadette’s Church. This was her first year as a member of the congregation, having come from St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse. Emily was looking forward to attending the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. “The Stations of the Cross is one of my most favorite things in the world,” she said. “I love the songs we sing during the Stations.”

Alicia Rhoades, a sixth-grader at A. A. Cole Middle School, said that Holy Thursday is a time to prepare for Jesus’ death. She also thought that the occasion was both happy and sad. “Everyone knows that He is going to die, but they are having a nice Passover meal together,” she said. “God passed over the land of Egypt and took the first born from every family,” explained Alicia. She said that she enjoyed participating in the procession because it showed how many kids are into religion. “Also, I really liked all those little lights,” she said.

Just as the disciples stayed with the Lord during his agony on the Mount of Olives before the betrayal by Judas, so too did the congregation of St. Bernadette’s sit in silence and reverence during the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

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