Monday, March 21, 2005

Washing the Feet of Men Only on Holy Thursday

For many years I have attended Holy Thursday services where the feet of women and children were washed, instead of men only, which is the rule of the church as stated in Paschales Solemnitatis .

"51. The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came "not to be served, but to serve.[58] This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained."

Like many norms, this is considered inconvenient in the U.S. so it is routinely ignored. Now we have an item in the press just before Holy Thursday that the Bishop of Boston will wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday because he was criticized last year for not including them. See article.

What is missing from all this is the big deal that the good Archbishop made last year of not washing women's feet. See Boston Globe article.

O'Malley, who was installed as archbishop last summer, believes that the foot-washing ceremony is closely linked with the establishment of the priesthood by Jesus at the Last Supper.

`He very strongly feels the connection between the Lord's washing of the feet of the disciples and the ordering of them to the priesthood of the church,'' Coyne said.

The foot-washing ritual occurred during the same week that O'Malley listed feminism among several phenomena that affected the religious practices of the baby boom generation in the United States. In his Chrism Mass homily on Tuesday, O'Malley said that baby boomers "are heirs to Woodstock, the drug culture, the sexual revolution, feminism, the breakdown of authority, and divorce.''

Coyne said O'Malley's foot-washing policy is not connected to any broader concern about the role of women in the church."

I hope next year we do not see an article that he is ordaining women because he has been criticized for not doing so at the last ordination. This clearly hyperbolic speculation is meant to bring home the point that if a bishop were to ignore the norms for celebration of the sacraments because some people find them inconvenient, who should keep them. Certainly not his priests, nor the souls under his care. And if he can be cavalier about them, then why should Catholics not choose for themselves what it is they are to obey and not obey. Although this may seem extreme, that is where the Church is today with its leaders and members.

On the contrary, what Catholic souls need from their Bishops is a more thoughtful upholding of liturgical norms. As it says in Redemptionis Sacramentum

[176.] The diocesan Bishop, “since he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, is to strive constantly so that Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments, and that they may know and live the Paschal Mystery”.[285] It is his responsibility, “within the limits of his competence, to issue norms on liturgical matters by which all are bound”.[286]

[177.] “Since he must safeguard the unity of the universal Church, the Bishop is bound to promote the discipline common to the entire Church and therefore to insist upon the observance of all ecclesiastical laws. He is to be watchful lest abuses encroach upon ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and the veneration of the Saints”.[287]

Now we read that very publically the Bishop of Boston has "consulted with Vatican officials about the Holy Thursday practice." According to Ann Carter, a spokeswoman for the archbishop, the "Vatican responded that although the "liturgical requirement is that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual, he could make whatever decision he thought was best for Boston."

According to the Zenit article, the "rubrics for Holy Thursday, written in Latin, clearly state that the priest washes the feet of men, "viri," in order to recall Christ's action toward his apostles. Any modification of this rite requires permission from the Holy See."

"Viri" is man in Latin. In documents of the Holy See, if the Church wants to refer to both men and women it uses the word homo.

According to the UCCB the "rubric for Holy Thursday, under the title WASHING OF FEET, reads:

"Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one's feet and dries them." Using the Latin word viri, not homo.

After making this clear the NCCB goes on to say that"

"# The principal and traditional meaning of the Holy Thursday mandatum, as underscored by the decree of the Congregation, is the biblical injunction of Christian charity: Christ's disciples are to love one another. For this reason, the priest who presides at the Holy Thursday liturgy portrays the biblical scene of the gospel by washing the feet of some of the faithful.

# Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the "Teacher and Lord" who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality,2 the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.

# While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men ("viri selecti"), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, "who came to serve and not to be served," that all members of the Church must serve one another in love."

So much for respecting liturgical norms. They cast it aside with the idea that the "gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday" depicts Christ as a humble teacher we can dispense with the norms. What about the day the gospel sees Christ as filled with holy indignation and casts out the coin changers from the temple. Should we then tip over bingo tables on Saturday night. Exactly what does the reading for the day have to do with liturgical norms? This is an argument that seems to have some meaning but upon further analysis means nothing. I suppose that the day that Jesus talked to the woman at the well, which was an extraordinary act for a Jewish man of his day toward a woman, mean that on that day woman can function as priests. My arguments are hyperbolic indeed, only to make the point that norms are set by a competent authority and the Gospel reading is meant for our reflection and the homily, not to change liturgical norms.

An extreme use of this idea was used in the past in Europe for instance when on Good Friday some Catholic men used the story of the bitter passion of our Lord to suspend the norms of Christian charity and beat up Jewish men in Poland and elsewhere. Hyperbole, yes, exaggeration, no.

"thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service...celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, 'who came to serve and not to be served,' that all members of the Church must serve one another in love."

This reminds me of the conclusion of a story of the Cure of Ars when he was praying for the grace of perseverance in his difficult studies and he made a pilgrimage as a beggar to a shrine of St. John Francis Regis. Hungry, tired and frazzled, he arrived at La Louvesc and went to confession. He was told to go back as a regular pilgrim and not suffer so much. When John was taken aback at this idea when he was doing penance for a reason the priest told him that "sometimes an act of mortification can be tinged with pride, but never an act of obedience."

How can the Bishops now, with so many Catholic faithful no longer respecting them for their judgment, imagine that the Catholic faithful will learn the virtue of obedience unless the Bishop's themselves don't practice it. Their priests will follow their example and then the faithful as well.

To quote the Holy Father in his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis

"Given the importance of the proper transmission of the faith in the Church's sacred liturgy, the Bishop will not fail to be vigilant and careful, for the good of the faithful, to ensure that existing liturgical norms are observed always and everywhere. This also calls for the firm and timely correction of abuses and the elimination of arbitrary liturgical changes."

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