In a message that was both poignant and reassuring, Pope John Paul II told the faithful that he was "spiritually present" in the celebrations for Holy Thursday.
"With my mind and with my heart I am close to you, united by the tomb of the Apostle Peter for the Holy Mass of Our Lord's Supper," the Pope said in his message.
Due to a recent tracheotomy and ailing health, the Pope was unable to celebrate Holy Thursday mass for the first time in his 26-year pontificate. Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo of the Congregation for the Family presided at the mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the 84-year-old pontiff's place.
In his message, read during the mass, the Pope urged Catholics to return spiritually to the Lord's Last Supper. The celebration of Holy Thursday, which recalls Christ's institution of the Eucharist, is a significant moment in the Year of the Eucharist, he said.
"On this evening of Holy Thursday, Christ invites us to return spiritually with him to the Last Supper to make us enter profoundly into the mystery of Easter," he said.
On the eve of his death, Christ made two significant gestures, which every year are repeated in the liturgy, said the pontiff.
First, he washed the feet of the Apostles, giving them "an example of a love that is expressed through humble and concrete service," said the Pope.
"Then," he continued, "he consecrated the bread and the wine, sacraments of his Body and Blood, given in sacrifice for our salvation."
He asked for Mary's intercession to help the faithful be attentive to this "inestimable mystery of Divine Love," which is the Eucharist.
"Spiritually present, I pray with you, and with affection I bless you all," he concluded.