Friday, April 18, 2014


There is nothing new in women having their feet washed by a bishop at the Holy Thursday Mass. When I was master of ceremonies for Bishop Raymond W. Lessard of Savannah from 1985 to '91 he would wash the feet of women. However he did not want to confuse this with what Jesus actually and literally did at the last Supper in terms of making it appear to be a reenactment of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. Therefore he directed me to choose only six people. I usually asked three women and three men.

In other words, in this act of foot washing, the bishop was acting as an apostle, not as Christ, in doing what Jesus Christ mandated his apostles to do, the first bishops, in terms of service. The new Covenant priesthood Jesus instituted the night before He sacrificed His life for our salvation was not to be exclusively cultic or temple oriented with purity as the most important aspect as it was for the Jewish priesthood. The apostles Jesus ordained, the first bishops, where to imitate Jesus and not fear ritual impurity in their ministry of modeling their lives after the great High Priest Jesus Christ whose ministry transcended the temple.

In fact, the ministry of deacons of Holy Orders is symbolized in the bishop washing the feet of others, which is the foundational aspect of Holy Orders with priesthood and episcopacy built upon that first aspect of Holy Orders. Just imagine at the Last Supper, Jesus who had humbled Himself to become Man further humbled Himself to become a deacon when He washed the feet of His apostles!

The rubrics of the post-conciliar liturgy for the foot washing on Holy Thursday tend to focus on this being a sort of "play" with the priest acting as Jesus and the twelve chosen "vir" "men" acting as the apostles. Therefore there is consternation when women are chosen because in this model it implies that women should be ordained. There is a political statement being made about a future hope, as false as it is, when women are chosen by some communities (certainly not all though).

However for Pope Francis, his interpretation is that he as Bishop of Rome is acting as the Apostle Peter, not in the "person" of Jesus Christ and implementing what Jesus taught all the apostles, not just Peter, to do in their ministry after Jesus' sacrifice of the Cross, His passion, death and resurrection until He comes again for the final judgment, the Second Coming.

And more importantly the Bishop of Rome is acting as a "deacon" the foundation of Holy Orders as he wears either a deacons stole alone or can add the dalmatic. The people chosen for this liturgy do not in any way symbolize the apostles. I would recommend to the Holy Father, in terms of his reinterpretation of this ritual, to choose more or fewer than 12 so that the complete break with the tradition of "re-enacting" what Jesus actually did at the Last Supper is made clear. Bishop Lessard was ahead of his time!

Pope Francis confirms others in their ministry of helping the poor by the locations he chooses to wash the feet.

Here in Macon where Catholics are a small minority and yet we have four major institutional outreaches to the poor, the vast majority of the poor we help, almost 99.9% of them are not Catholic.

The symbolism of Pope Francis washing not only the feet of women but of non-Catholics indicates that our service to the world is to the world not just to Catholics. This in reality has always been the case with the Church, Pope Francis simply symbolizes it in who is chosen for him to was their feet.

John Nolan rightly indicates that prior to the placing of the foot washing in the Liturgy it was usually a postlude or a prelude and in convents Mother Superiors would was the feet of nuns and Queens in civil society would wash the feet of a variety of people.

But John Nolan fails to point out that in the EF Mass, the homily and its extension of it through the washing of the feet immediately following the homily is seen as "outside" the Mass. In fact, it is licit to remove the chasuble to preach in the EF.

On Holy Thursday in the bishop or priest is to remove the chasuble as did Pope Francis clearly indicating this is outside the "Order of Mass." The Pope placed the stole of a deacon on himself to carry out this foot washing.

Finally in keeping with subsidiarity, the other interpretations of this rite can also be included. It can be celebrated as a drama that literally has the priest or bishop acting as Christ and 12 men acting as the apostles to emphasize the institution of the priesthood on Holy Thursday night.This is certainly in keeping with the current rubrics for this optional part of the Mass.

However, I think having everyone wash everyone's feet turns the symbolism of a liturgical act into a literalism best left to the Protestants to do who have no real liturgy to celebrate.

Given His Holiness interpretation of the Mandatum, I do not fault him for washing the feet of laity to include women or of non-Catholics. It makes perfect sense and is in continuity with what our Lord mandated His apostles to do in their priesthood of worship and service.

I think, though, we can critique in a charitable way the music of this liturgy and its style. This is the greatest liturgical problem for the Church today, music, not whose feet get washed!


Gene said...

More ambiguous behavior and interpretation. This Pope has made the Papacy a romper room of misstatements, ambiguous actions, and anxiety producing events God help us!

Anonymous said...

So Father what you are saying is that any priest who can rationalize his personal opinions can manipulate the liturgy to fit his needs? So therefore a priest who feels it is just offensive to Tradition to give communion in the hand can forbid it? Or is it only liberal views that are allowed?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

At his liturgies in Rome and elsewhere did not Pope Benedict force laity and deacons to kneel and receive on the tongue even in countries whose norm was to stand and receive either on the tongue or hand. At St. Peter's the norm prior to Benedict and now after is to stand. The Vatican rule is to receive on the tongue but Rome and all of Italy allows the hand option.

Anonymous said...

Father, to kneel and receive communion on the tongue is to encourage reverence to the Blessed Sacrament and communion in the hand is an indult, the norm actually is to receive on the tongue.

Our Lord washed the feet of the Apostles to set them an example to follow Him as priests. Our Lord did not wash the feet of His mother, Mary of Magdela nor any other women or men for that matter. To me, Pope Francis is not showing the example he should be showing to his priests by washing their feet but, rather, is just bowing to the cries of women that they are marginalised in the Church and including them as surrogate priests because the tradition has always been to wash the feet of priests - perhaps he is not humble enough to do that? I say that because in many ways it is easier to do something like that for an outsider rather than for someone who is your subordinate. Think about it.


Pater Ignotus said...

"Our Lord washed the feet of the Apostles to set them an example to follow Him as priests."

And the example they are to follow is serving others. I don't think Christ the only manner of service Christ had in mind when He washed the Apostles feet was priestly (sacramental) ministry.

The example of being of service to others was not presented only to the Apostles and certainly not to men (males) only, but to all who want to follow Christ. His example is universal. The call to holiness we received at Baptism is most fully realized when all the baptized serve others.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI you are certainly correct. The dilemma that has not been resolved and can only be resolved by the Holy Father is that the current rubric of the Holy Thursday Mass say "Vir" or men are selected and clarifications under Pope Benedict from the Congregation for Divine Worship indicates that only men should be selected because of the connection to the priesthood.
The Holy Father has led by example to change the meaning of this rite within the Holy Thursday Mass which remains optional. He should have changed the rubric with a papal letter stating such. That would solve so much as the primary objection to what Pope Francis has done is the example given of not following the rubric. If he thinks this is Pharisaical, a letter clarifying it would be in order. In other words, he can change the mentality of following laws by decree.

Anonymous said...

Rather than attempting a labored (if not tortured) and dubious re-interpretation, it seems better (to me) to forthrightly that in this instance the Pope is simply making an exception to liturgical law, an exception that may arguably be justified by special circumstances. But to think that he changes a law or its valid interpretation simply by violating it, is fuzzy thinking at best.

Whereas we in Anglo societies have a rigid view of laws as being inviolable -- e.g., if a legally protected snail darter will be imperiled by a measure needed by human society, then the humans be damned -- the Roman legal view recognizes that valid laws admit exceptions in special circumstances. This is right and proper, so long as one avoids the trap of thinking that a law can be changed merely by violating it.

PS: At the Maundy Thursday OF Mass at Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville (TN) we followed liturgical law with the foot-washing of 12 adult males. However, instead of the unsightly spectacle of seating them up front with backs to the Tabernacle, they were seated in chairs placed at intervals up and down the main aisle.

Anonymous said...

So, Fr. McDonald, I would recommend the view that if the Holy Father wishes to retain the liturgical law for the Church, but simply make an exception to it in this particular situation, there may be nothing wrong with this. The error would be to believe that by so doing, he sets an example for others to violate the law at will. The fact that a supreme authority can determine what is a justified exception, does not mean that everyone can.

And perhaps the worst error is to think that the meaning of a law can be changed by its violation. Violations mean and prove nothing.

More generally, whatever the pope does or does not do in the celebration of sacred liturgy does not constitute justification for others to do the same. This would mean simply that everyone is his own pope, deciding for himself to violate applicable rubrics whenever it seems congenial to do so.

In any event, it has never been a traditional view that papal liturgy is an exemplar for ordinary parish liturgy. Few popes have been exemplary celebrants of the liturgy (Benedict XVI was a rare exception).

Anonymous said...

The practice of washing the feet should be eliminated. It serves little purpose other then allowing people to sit in the pews and think about Easter dinner for 10 minutes. I've never liked the reading of the Passion on Palm Sun and Good Fri either with various "actors". These are chances for play acting to creep in and political statements to be made by progressive zealots.

rcg said...

Did PF remove his chase le with the intent of showing he was outside Mass? If so, and if he did it as a teaching moment, then I am good with this. I would like for him to make a clearer demonstration, perhaps two foot Washington wherein he washes the feet of priests in the person of Christ in the context of Holy Thursday and the establishment of the priesthood, and again clearly outside of Mass as a bishop and example to the other priests.

Someone please send me Marini's number and I'll get with him on this.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose that, at the Last Supper, the apostles knelt and received a piece of bread on their tongues? More likely they were sitting down and each broke off a piece themselves.

John Nolan said...

The pre-1955 rubrics for the pedilavium had the ceremony performed after Mass and Vespers, and preferably not in front of the main altar of the church. The feet of thirteen men were washed. This was because according to tradition Pope St Gregory the Great was washing the feet of twelve poor men when he noticed a thirteenth, of particularly beautiful countenance. After the ceremony this man could not be found, and Gregory became convinced he was an angel, or even Our Lord himself.

Was it part of the Mass when it was introduced into it in 1955? Arguably not. Firstly, it was optional. Secondly, the priest and ministers were directed to remove their maniples, and the priest his chasuble, indicating that the Mass was interrupted at this point. Thirdly, as John's gospel, which had just been sung, makes clear, Our Lord washed his disciples' feet AFTER the supper, so if it were a ritual action of the Mass it would be in completely the wrong place. All this suggests that it is an extension of, or replacement for, the homily - in fact a commentary on the Gospel.

However, it is governed by specific rubrics which specify 'viros selectos' and put the number at twelve. The rubrics of the Novus Ordo also specify men, and moreover the rite is now integral to the Mass, despite its being optional - the priest removes his chasuble 'if necessary'. Of course we're living in the post-Conciliar landscape of DIY liturgies and fabricated symbols, so rubrics are simply guidelines to be ignored ad libitum.

It's only when you study and compare the pre-1955 and post-1955 Ordo for Holy Week that you realize what a botched job the latter was; the result of experts with their pet theories, particular agendas (not always noticed at the time but which became clear only a few years later) and often bogus historicism being let loose on the most solemn and venerable week of the Roman Rite.

Pater Ignotus said...

Henry - I don't think that seeing service to others as the meaning of the washing feet is labored, tortured, or dubious. In fact, I think the obligation to serve others is plainly present in the Gospel.

The notes of the NAB reference Luke 22:27: "For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves." and 1 Peter 2:21: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered* for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps." as parallels to the meaning (service) of John 13:15.

Priests serve through their sacramental ministry. Religious serve in a variety of ministries.

Lay men and women enjoy a unique calling, specific to their state. "3. The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate."(Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 1965)

As to violations of the law meaning nothing, I would suggest that you consider the actions of the brave African-American men and women who sat at lunch counters in Woolworths and other commercial establishments throughout the 1950's and 1960's. Their violation of the law was not only meaningful, it was transformative.

Anonymous said...

The only things that bother me a bit about the roll playing are that the priest always gets to be Jesus and we poor crackers in the pews have to be the mob that shouts "Crucify Him.".

John Nolan said...

Anonymous @ 12:19

'Do you suppose that, at the Last Supper, the apostles knelt and received a piece of bread on their tongues? ...'

In fact, Our Lord might well have placed the bread into the mouths of his disciples, but it's irrelevant, since the Mass is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper, which was in accordance with the Old Law - 'In supremae nocte cenae/Recumbens cum fratribus/Observata lege plene/Cibis in legalibus' as we all sang yesterday evening.

Nor was the Last Supper a Mass, since Our Lord's death and resurrection, His ascension and the descent of the Holy Ghost on the apostles had yet to happen. The Church teaches that Our Lord instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood at the Last Supper, but to regard it as the 'first Mass' is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

The Lord MIGHT WELL have placed the bread into the mouths of his disciples. The two Marys and all of the gals in the kitchen MIGHT WELL have served fried chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner. We both know that neither happened. You're so full of it John. I think that you think that you know EVERYTHING. Have you EVER said "I don't know" or "I never heard that."? (And I realize that the Latin is just to p*** me off.)

BTW Fr. Mc...Six great looking "Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight white American males" getting their feet washed.

Православный физик said...

Mandatumgate 2.0 interpretations aside...the bottom line is simple

1) Disregard of the law as established is a form of pride. Either change the law, or move the ceremony to before Mass. (neither of which have happened)
2) The Holy Father through his example undermines those that wish to follow the actual rubrics for Holy Thursday
3) I most certainly agree with Henry's comments for the most part, but we do not believe that the ends justify the means.
4) Fr Blake's blog better expresses what I'm trying to say here:

Blessed Triduum to you all

rcg said...

Funny JN should take this topic. I was meditating on this these last few hours. Specifically, the idea of "My. Body" and "My Blood" may have been less than fully understood or comprehended until the Resurrection. Certainly some of the apostles had an idea of it, but they may have had more political understanding than the depth of the Presence later revealed. The full understanding of the meaning may have Ben years away.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

BTW Fr. Mc...Six great looking "Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight white American males" getting their feet washed.

April 18, 2014 at 6:46 PM

Really? All Republicans, all Americans, all straight? Well the one washing the feet is half Italian, half Canadian and all American and quite politically independent. He had a Polish Parochial vicar looking on.

And for the Chanting of the Passion on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday, an African American chanted the parts of Christ and on Good Friday our African Parochial Vicar from Ghana preached the homily. Is that enough American diversity for you?

Gene said...

Fr. What was wrong with my post on this matter? I felt rather strongly about it and would like for it to be expressed.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Gene this is not a political blog and your political statements are too radically right wing to be published as they come across to me as racist. Your negativity toward our Holy Father is not anything I want to promote and I will not print disrespectful comments about His holiness that are anything but Catholic and harken to Reformation rhetoric about the pope and the papacy.

John Nolan said...

Fr MacDonald,

It's a waste of time trying to argue with a troll who throws a nutty when the garbage he posts is subjected to intelligent scrutiny, and is obviously not a Catholic since he has never heard of the Pange Lingua.

Anonymous said...

PI, you know very well that the Church's traditional teaching is that Christ washed the feet of his apostles after the Last Supper (John 13: 1-15). The practice of washing the feet of priests or a group of poor men is also followed by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. None wash the feet of women.

I have found that the idea of washing the feet of women is normally desired by those looking for the ordination of women (and I suspect from the way you write you would fall into that camp). Personally, I don't think it appropriate for a Pope or a priest to be washing and kissing the feet of women, full stop.


Anonymous said...

"The Lord MIGHT WELL have placed the bread into the mouths of his disciples". Absolutely, because when Our Lord dipped the bread into the wine did he then place it into the apostle's hand? Obviously not.

Pater Ignotus said...

Jan - I have found that the washing of women's feet is done by those who recognize that an essential element of our understanding of the Eucharist and of priesthood is service.

I have found that the washing of women's feet is done by those who recognize that, in Christ, there is no male or female.

I have found that the washing of women's feet is done by those who understand that, in fact, women have been devalued in society and in the Church for centuries.

I have found that the washing of women's feet more fully expresses the idea of service to the community, which includes women, than restricting the ritual to males only.


John Nolan said...

Yes, and the idea that the disciples broke the bread themselves (posited by Anonymous-the-troll above) is clearly contradicted by Scripture.

Unfortunately some people have erected above their minds a carapace which neither truth nor logic can penetrate.

Anonymous said...

John Knowland...I was probably singing Pange Lingua before you were born.

Anonymous said...

Fr. McD...If you look again at my reference to the "Conservative Christian etc), i'm speaking of those chosen ones having their feet washed...not Deacons or clergy. I already noticed the African-American altar server. Congratulations.

My whole reference is to a song. You might enjoy it...or not. Look on YouTube for Todd Snider. It's pretty me.

John Nolan said...

Pater Ignotus

The liturgy is not about 20th century sexual politics. Whether or not you believe that society and/or the Church has devalued women for centuries is beside the point, as well as being historically questionable (women played a greater role in the medieval Church than they were allowed to do in the patriarchal Protestant sects).

Either the pedilavium is a liturgical act or it is not. If not, then your repetition of 'I have found that ...' is perfectly acceptable. If (as the Novus Ordo implies) it is a liturgical act, then 'I have found that ...' is decidedly not acceptable, since you, as a priest, cannot alter the liturgy to suit your convenience or personal opinions.

Pater Ignotus said...

Jesus broke the bread, according to the Scriptures.

The Scriptures do not tell us how the individual Apostles "communicated."

I think it is highly unlikely that the Lord placed bread in the Apostles mouths. When reclining at table (Matthew 26:20 - "When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve..." see also Mark 14:18 and Luke 22:14) it would have impossible to place bread in the mouth of anyone save the person reclining next to you.

Making up out of whole cloth "explanations" for our current liturgical practices doesn't advance the dialogue or convince anyone.

Victor W. said...

I agree with Mr Nolan about the washing of the feet in the liturgy. But I go further.
This symbolic action is mainly monastic in origin, and was formerly performed in the monastic community after the Mass of the Last Supper. It was the Bugnini debacle that brought it half-heartedly into the Eucharistic liturgy, as it did other pious practices, and now we have this mess.
What is the point of it before communion other than to have a "drama skit" introduced by liturgical fundamentalists to play out part of the Gospel? I say put it back to after Mass sometime, outside the church, but if it must be in the church, then after the altar has been stripped and certainly outside the sanctuary. In this sense I agree with what the Holy Father is trying to do by bringing the symbolic pious action outside the church to the world.
What amazes me is that after almost 2000 years of evolution and guidance by the Holy Spirit through the ages, in fewer than 20 years, and in almost 2 years for the Mass, the beautiful liturgy of the ages was undone by the scholarly "experts" of the Consilium twirling around in their ivory towers completely disregarding the essential difficulty in claiming and interpreting historical facts, and totally oblivious to the sensibilities and spiritual needs of the ordinary laity. If I did not know better, I would have thought that the Consilium was an exercise in placating the goddess Reason.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - No, the liturgy is not about 20th century sexual politics. It's about the sexual politics of centuries 1 through 19, since only in the 20th century did the devaluing of women really begin to come to an end.

I'm sure that most women, and quite a few men, would agree with you that the devaluing of women is "beside the point."

The washing of the feet is a part of the liturgy. If washing the feet of women is good enough for the Pope....

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The bigger concern is the revival of the silly 1970's jamboree of everyone washing everyone's feet. Back to the 70's! Stop the Church and let me off!

Gene said...

Ignotus, Women have never been as devalued as the are now. Do you really believe that just because they have executive jobs and higher salaries they are not de-valued? Have you paid attention to the image of women in Hollywood and popular culture? Look at the divorce rate…marriage and family and, therefore, wives and mothers, are throw aways in our society. Abortion on demand belittles motherhood and destroys the life within them, making them merely conveniently sexually disposable. What about the image of women on TV…sluts and shrewish bitches. Women are more sexualized and objectified than they have ever been…we are even courting Muslim cultures as desirable…you are aware of their views of women, no doubt. Lesbianism and homosexuality mock gender roles and destroy traditional family values. And, progressives like you think women are better off now. I guess it is because they can wear pant suits to work…yeah, that's it. What planet do you live on?

Anonymous said...

Curses...censored again.

Anonymous said...

Re. "Stop the Church and let me off"...It may take a while...The line getting off is, unfortunately, quite long. Very little wait to get on...

George said...

The Catholic Church has always seen motherhood, the bearing and raising of children, and spirituality as having great value. In our modern times, these things are no longer seen by a many as having great value. We can see the corresponding decline in the value of Church and spirituality in the eyes of the world. The Church is then portrayed and proclaimed as "anti-woman" among other things. Sometimes there are those in the Church who "go the extra mile" (and yes, in some cases to what some might characterize as excess, it is true) to prove the world wrong in this regard.
Not as the world see does God see. Isn't the Holy Father trying to tell the world to turn away from the false currency of what it considers of value to what truly is of value? That the Nazarean carpenter and his family that the world of that time looked on and saw little of value contained the greatest of what we should value?

John Nolan said...

Pater Ignotus, did you really mean to say that the liturgy 'is about the sexual politics of centuries 1 through 19?' I would hope not, in which case it might be a good idea to read through your comments before posting them.

If you agree that the alleged devaluing of women is beside the point, why bring it up in the first place?

'If washing the feet of women is good enough for the Pope ...' The implication of this statement justifies the concerns of those who have criticized him for doing so.

Anonymous said...

Did Gene and I get censored again? He often should...I usually should not.

Anonymous said...

So, pater, the liturgy of centuries 1 through 19 was all about sexual politics? I guess you must be all for women's ordination, then? Thank god(dess) for modernists like you, who are doing so much to save the Church from centuries of patriarchy.