Friday, April 18, 2014
AN OPTIONAL PART OF THE LITURGY, ACTUALLY AN EXTENSION OF THE HOMILY, IS REINTERPRETED BY POPE FRANCIS
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!