An acolyte pours water over the priest’s hands before the priest consecrates the bread and wine for Holy Communion.
I watch this tiny part of the Mass with as much intensity as I do any of it. It is no less important than the consecration, the serving or even the consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ.
We come to serve with clean hands.
In rural Haiti, where there is no place with running water to clean up before eating, I often am approached with someone holding a pitcher, a sliver of soap and a container to catch the stream of water as I rinse my hands. The person holding the pitcher and soap pours enough water so I can wet my hands, then offers the soap, takes it back and pours again for me to rinse.
The water is cool against my warm hands. The pourer watches carefully so he or she does not waste water. As I shake my hands dry, I always feel the emotion of this ordinary moment.
It is intimate, deeply personal, almost holy.
The first time someone poured water for my private hand washing, I had just arrived at Papa Luc Celestin’s home. I felt overwhelmed with all that being an honored guest entails, and I still was struggling to deserve such attention.
Papa Luc’s son, Herns, was holding a pitcher of water when he brought a small tub to me while I sat at the head of the humble table filled with warm Creole food. He motioned for me to hold my hands under the stream of cool water. I rinsed my hands, lifting my head to watch Herns carefully instruct me. He handed me a clean towel, and when I turned to the table, already I was overcome with emotion.
Thus began my missionary training.
Serving another is not a skill. It is simply providing what is needed in the moment.
Throughout this country, when I have the chance to eat in the most rural area, I welcome the chance to help someone else wash and rinse his or her hands.
Service is not an obligation. It is an honor.
And when we all have shaken the last of the clear water from our fingers, we clasp hands to pray and then to enjoy God’s bounty. Together.