Monday, April 21, 2014


This morning I posted a comment about Holy Thursday's foot washing where everyone washed each other's feet. This is what JJ had to write:

 Fr. McDonald, Our pastor invited everyone to wash each other's feet. I tried to just sit through it all but our young (and very well-meaning) parish council president insisted that I allow him to wash my feet and my wife's feet. I went along . . (at least we got to sing the Latin "Tantum Ergo" at the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament).
This was my comment:

Joseph, Given my Italian sense of "formality" with strangers gotten from my mother, if I were still a lay person and knew that everyone would be washing everyone's feet, I would not go to that particular Holy Thursday Mass. To experience what you did would have made me extremely uncomfortable and angry. I might have departed as it began.

 It is one thing for Jesus who is God washing the feet of the 12 of the closest people to him who actually have dirty feet and it is a part of that culture. It is quite another thing for a contrived situation such as a liturgy to inflict this on the unsuspecting, some of whom might appreciate it and others who would not but might be embarrassed or stunned into silence.

 The stylized version which is a rubric of this optional element of the Mass  is meant to be a liturgical gesture with consenting participants chosen ahead of time, whether all male or female or a combination (and having women's feet washed who were asked ahead of time and gave their consent would be of absolutely no offense to me or all men for that matter) is a purely symbolic act that needs explanation in terms of its cultural context and the relevance of the symbol today. It is about serving people who have a need, such as visiting the sick, caring for the dying, helping the poor and getting oneself dirty in the process.But it also means being of service as a parent, relative, friend, doctor, nurse, bed pan attendant and the like...

My further thoughts and elaboration: 

I remember the late 1960's and 70's very well when the Sign of Peace became a time of silliness and everyone kissing everyone, hugging everyone and advances being made to people who did not like for their personal space to be invaded. We are talking about people formed in the formality of the 1950's being manipulated and ridiculed for wanting to maintain that aspect of their upbringing only to have this intrusion into their personal space violated at Mass.  The same can be said of holding hands at Mass where unwilling participants had to hold the hand of someone they do not know and who may have perverted intentions.

The culture of the 1970's as a whole did not value the personal space of others and often there were intrusions into that space especially by people who had power over other people, this is especially true of hugs and kisses from perfect strangers quite common in this period and especially at church.

And then we discover in the 2000's John Jay School of Criminology that the greatest number of cases of sexual abuse and invasion of the personal space of young people and adults, sins and crimes, in the Church took place during this period of time in the Church in the mid 1970's.
Now that 1970's types and wanna be's are trying to recover that period of time in the Church today and emboldened to do so I would tell them flatly: Don't intrude on people's personal space in the formality of the Catholic Mass!


Gene said...

In the spirit of the 70's, why don't all the Churches build a big shower room and we all hop in for a nice communal shower? That would be so groovy and really humanistic and loving. What an openness to others that would represent...

Bill said...

In a similar vein, at the vigil Mass on Saturday evening, I was seated next to a woman who is a friend of the woman my wife sponsored this year in RCIA. I had never met this woman and while I was attempting to make my way through the readings, as part of composing myself to worship, she arrived and wanted to chat.

It seems she is Lutheran, but "there's not much difference between Lutheran and Catholic any more..." she offered. I offered to bite my tongue, but in the end, allowed that if her assertion were valid, it related to the laity, not doctrine, and to 40+ years of failed catechesis.

When the time arrived for the sign of peace, I turned to her, and saw, to my horror, she intended a full-on body hug. I offered my hand in peace, and I'm sure she was disappointed.

Ecumenism can be a cross....

Rood Screen said...

Fr. McDonald,

I, too, believe formality can be a good way to demonstrate respect, and an effective way to curtail some forms of interpersonal abuse.

By the way, since the Sign of Peace is meant to be a sign, rather than a dialogue, I see no need for congregants to say anything to each other during the exchange. A simple bow of the head should suffice.

Gene said...

Good luck with that…

Carol H. said...

The sign of peace is so abused, it would be better to be eliminated and forgotten.

John Nolan said...

Shaking hands is not a liturgical gesture, but bowing is - we return the thurifer's bow when we are incensed. However, if someone extends his or her hand it would be impolite to refuse it. Liturgically the peace is given and received, and then passed on; presumably the person extending his hand says 'pax tecum' and the one taking it replies 'et cum spiritu tuo'. Since a gentleman must wait for a lady to extend her hand, he can only offer the peace to another man. As far as ladies are concerned, would it not be more courteous to take her hand and bow with a smart click of the heels, rather than shaking it?

Seriously, what does annoy me is when those on the sanctuary shake hands rather than make the correct liturgical gesture - it takes about half a minute to learn and is far more dignified.

Rood Screen said...

John Nolan,

Is it appropriate for a layman to receive the "et cum spiritu tuo" greeting? Also, what do you think of Mr. Cameron's "Christian nation" article.