4 He riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments, and having taken a towel, girded himself. 5 After that, he putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Theophylact: The Father having given up all things into His hands, i.e. having given up to Him the salvation of the faithful, He deemed it right to shew them all things that pertained to their salvation; and gave them a lesson of humility, by washing His disciples’ feet. Though knowing that He was from God, and went to God, He thought it in no way took from His glory, to wash His disciples’ feet; thus proving that He did not usurp His greatness. For usurpers do not condescend, for fear of losing what they have irregularly got.
Chrysostom: It was a thing worthy of Him, Who came from God, and went to God, to trample upon all pride. . . . He did not order others to do all this, but did it Himself, teaching us that we should be willing and ready to do such things.
Origen: Mystically, dinner is the first meal, taken early in the spiritual day, and adapted to those who have just entered upon this day. Supper is the last meal, and is set before those who are farther advanced. According to another sense, dinner is the understanding of the Old Testament, the supper the understanding the mysteries hid in the New. Yet even they who sup with Jesus, who partake of the final meal, need a certain washing, not indeed of the top parts of their body, i.e. the soul, but its lower parts and extremities, which cleave necessarily to earth.
Augustine: He laid aside His garments, when, being in the form of God, He emptied Himself [Phil 2:7]; He girded Himself with a towel, took upon Him the form of a servant; He poured water into a basin, out of which He washed His disciples’ feet. He shed His blood on the earth, with which He washed away the filth of their sins; He wiped them with the towel wherewith He was girded; with the flesh wherewith He was clothed, He established the steps of the Evangelists; He laid aside His garments, to gird Himself with the towel; that He might take upon Him the form of a servant, He emptied Himself, not laying aside indeed what He had, but assuming what He had not.
Origen: By washing and wiping, He made beautiful the feet of those who were to preach glad tidings [Isa 52:7], and to walk on that way of which He tells them, I am the way [John 14:6]. Jesus laid aside His garments that He might make their clean feet still cleaner, or that He might receive the uncleanness of their feet to His own body, by the towel with which alone He was girded: for He hath borne our griefs [Isa 53:4].
Scripture from the Douay-Rheims Bible. Commentary from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Vol. IV (London: Rivington, 1845).