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Music Considerations for Holy Thursday Foot Washing

The foot washing rite during the Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper demands musical support. While parishes embrace their own tradition for how the rite specifically unfolds, musical choices can enhance the moment in different ways. Let’s explore a few options for how to approach choosing music for foot washing.

Sing the act of Jesus

Typically, music planners choose songs that reflect the action. Songs like Michael Guimont’s “Serving You,” (GIA) Marty Haugen’s “So You Must Do” (GIA) or Dan Schutte’s “As I Have Done for You” (OCP) are a few of many that draw on scriptural texts representing Jesus washing the feet of his disciples the night before he was crucified.

Another text aligned with this scripture is found in the many arrangements of “Ubi Caritas.” One of the simplest is the Taize refrain Ubi caritas, et amore / Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est. This translates to: Where charity and love are, there God is. The use of a repetitive refrain such as this allows the assembly to engage in the visual action — or even in the foot washing act if that broader invitation is part of the parish’s interpretation of the rite.

If time permits the use of two songs, a first musical selection with a washing of the feet text or the ubi caritas mantra seem a perfect fit. But what about the second song?

Sing the cosmic Christ

Instead of another song with the same foot washing text, consider a piece that depicts the Christ who was both human and divine and sent to heal and save the world. Christ gave us the ultimate example of how to love each other — through servanthood and washing each other’s feet — so using a song that speaks of the entirety of Christ, especially as the rite is concluding, is a great choice.

One such song that offers this greater image of Christ is Rory Cooney’s “Christ the Icon” (World Library). Each verse of the song depicts different images of Christ’s earthly ministry but captures the immensity of Jesus’ divinity. These images of Christ aid the worshipper’s understanding that the one who washes feet is also the redeemer of all humanity.

The refrain of the song continues supporting this cosmic understanding of Christ: “Christ is the image of the unseen God, our life, our peace and our lasting. Praise and thanksgiving to the crucified, who endured while the mighty are passing.”

As we enter this time of Triduum during the Holy Thursday liturgy, the use of this piece reinforces that Christ is at the very center of our faith journeys. “Christ the Icon” can help make real this “image of the unseen God” during the most sacred time of our Catholic faith life.

Written by Steve Petrunak, a founding board member of CLEF and director of music at St. Blase Catholic Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Copyright © 2023 Catholic Liturgical Ensemble Formation

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