By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Twenty-four children from St. Ann Parish in Long Grove had their feet washed by their pastor before making their first Communion at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
The second-graders took turns sitting in the presider’s chair and watched as Msgr. Drake Shafer poured water on each child’s foot and wiped it with a towel.
John’s Gospel for the Holy Thursday Mass focuses on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, a symbol of Christians’ call to service. “Every year we choose a different group for the foot washing,” Msgr. Shafer explained. “We thought, ‘What better day to make your first Communion than when we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper — the night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist?’”
He believes the children experienced a wonderful moment of catechesis. “… We thought it would reinforce an understanding of Eucharist: to be nourished by Christ and to take Christ out into the world; we do this in service.”
Earlier this month, the children practiced the foot-washing ritual with their pastor. The children took off their shoes and Msgr. Shafer pretended to pour water on their feet. “We didn’t use actual water because we wouldn’t want to give away what the experience would be like,” said Joyce Kloft, the parish’s minister of faith formation for grades Pre-K through sixth. “That monsignor would bend down to wash their feet; they thought that was so cool!”
Following the actual foot-washing ritual, Msgr. Shafer presented each child with a cross depicting an image of the Good Shepherd and resembling the cross that Pope Francis wears. Both the Holy Father and Bishop Martin Amos have blessed the crosses, which excited the children, Msgr. Shafer said.
“I feel just like one of Jesus’ disciples; I wonder what they were thinking the night that Jesus washed their feet?” a second-grader named Collin asked.
Kloft said another child observed: “I wish everyone would want to come to this special celebration; do they know how special it is to walk in the path of Jesus?”
The children also participated in the Eucharistic procession that concluded the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, following Msgr. Shafer as he carried the Eucharist into the Chapel of Reservation for Eucharistic Adoration.
Because of the solemnity and lateness of the evening, the parish decided to forgo the traditional cake and punch reception that usually follows a first Communion Mass. Instead, each child took home an individual-sized cake inscribed with the child’s name and Communion date.
Planning for this unique first Communion celebration began last year when Msgr. Shafer and Kloft were trying to choose a date for the Mass. Trying to schedule a first Communion Mass outside of Holy Week proved challenging, so they decided to incorporate the celebration into the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Some parents expressed reservations at first, but eventually came to appreciate the plan, Msgr. Shafer said.
Many people assisted the pastor and Kloft with the celebration — catechists, ushers, photographers and Fourth-Degree Knights of Columbus.
“It made sense to wash the feet of the first Communicants who are on the road to discipleship,” Msgr. Shafer said.