Meditations for Each Day of Lent
by St. Thomas Aquinas
Monday in Holy Week
It is necessary that we be wholly clean
1. If I wash thee not, thou shaft have no part with me (John xiii. 8). No one can be made a sharer in the inheritance of eternity, a co-heir with Christ, unless he is spiritually cleansed, for in the Apocalypse it is so stated. There shall not enter into it anything defiled (Apoc. xxi. 27), and in the Psalms we read, Lord who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? (Ps. xiv.) Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord; or who shall stand in His holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart (Ps. xxiii. 3, 4).
It is therefore as though Our Lord said, If I wash thee not, thou shalt not be cleansed, and if thou art not cleansed, thou shalt have no part with me.
2. Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head (John xiii. 9). Peter, utterly stricken, offers his whole self to be washed, so confounded is he with love and with fear. We read, in fact, in the book called The journeying of Clement, that Peter used to be so overcome by the bodily presence of Our Lord, which he had most fervently loved, that whenever, after Our Lord’s Ascension, the memory of that dearest presence and most holy company came to him, he used so to melt into tears, that his cheeks seemed all worn out with them.
We can consider three parts in man’s body, the head, which is the highest, the feet, which are the lowest part, and the hands which lie in between. In the interior man, that is to say, in the soul, there are likewise three parts. Corresponding to the head there is the higher reason, the power by means of which the soul clings to God. For the hands there is the lower reason by which the soul operates in good works. For the feet there are the senses and the feelings and desires arising from them. Now Our Lord knew the disciples to be clean as far as the head was concerned, for He knew they were joined to God by faith and by charity. He knew their hands also were clean, for He knew their good works. But as to their feet, He knew that the disciples were still somewhat entangled in those inclinations to earthly things that derive out of the life of the senses.
Peter, alarmed by Our Lord s warning (v. 8), not only consented that his feet should be washed, but begged that his hands and his head should be washed too.
Lord, he said, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. As though to say, “I know not whether hands and head need to be washed. For I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified (i Cor. iv. 4). Therefore I am ready not only for my feet to be washed, that is, those inclinations that arise out of the life of my senses, but also my hands, that is, my works, and my head, too, that is, my higher reason.”
3. Jesus saith to him: He that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly. And you are clean (John xiii. 10). Origen, commenting on this text, says that the Apostles were clean, but needed to be yet cleaner. For reason should ever desire gifts that are better still, should ever set itself to achieve the very heights of virtue, should aspire to shine with the brightness of justice itself. He that is holy, let him be sanctified still (Apoc. xxii. 11).