“You ought to wash one another’s feet”

It took me a few weeks to get the thrust of the PewSitter news site. It’s been up for awhile, but with the political season rumbling into gear, the PewSitter folks are clearly under that Apologists for Republicans banner off in the right transcept.

I have the site bookmarked though. It is important to keep an eye on the Fox Noise corollaries on the net. Occasionally they do have some important information I can use here or in my print column.

Until yesterday, it was a quiet year for washing feet. Hugh McNichol reminds PewSitter’s thousand readers a day that the abuse of women getting their feet washed will gut the spirit of the liturgy next week.

Blame the ordo:

The confusion exists because the Paulist Press Ordo or guidelines, published with the authorization of the USCCB, which are used for the proper celebration of the Sacraments indicates that, a “cross-section” of faithful should be representative, and this of course suggests, for pastoral reasons, the use of both males and females for this ritual.

I don’t have my copy of the ordo handy, but a clarifiying question for someone who might: Does the ordo itself suggest males and females, or is the columnist just reading into it?

The U.S. Bishops Conference’s Ordo, is simply wrong. It does not follow the rubrics promulgated by Rome. It certainly appears that Catholics in America have permitted the notion of political correctness to enter into our Roman liturgy. And sadly, it appears the Bishops have led this charge.

That kind of political correctness goes back a long way. Mr. McNichol may have read the ordo and drawn his own conclusions. But the pertinent passage in John 13:12b-15 should be read, too:

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

Let’s play a key passage again:

If I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.

People have speculated about the Last Supper for centuries. I drew some flak a few weeks back for suggesting it was a “simple” Seder meal. It may not have been so simple. It strikes me as logical and reasonable that this meal included wives and children of the disciples. The Passover is a central home ritual for the Jewish household. A radical like Jesus might have possibly pulled the Twelve away from their homes, but a good Jew like Peter (Acts 10:14) would not have left his family’s Seder in the hands of another male relative without a bit of grumbling.

Mr McNichol would like the matter debated among scholars, possibly in Latin. But the washing of twelve pairs or more feet and those of women and children, too has passed into more or less a parish-by-parish discernment. For good or otherwise.

Some wash women’s feet from a sense of equal dignity. But it can be argued from the Scriptures an open foot washing is more in keeping with Jesus’ stated intention. Washing feet never passed into the ordination rites West or (I’m pretty sure) East. Papal traditions have linked the twelve getting washed to the poor–and that’s not representative of all the world’s parishes. Monastic traditions–men’s and women’s–maintained foot washing rituals at other times, as a gesture toward their guests.

I don’t have a problem with conservative bloggers pooling their news stories and commentaries on a site. Folks so ready to bicker over the meaning and misinterpretation of terms might want to clean up their own site. News pieces and editorials and some news piece with editorial headlines all exist side by side in a sort of conservative PC goulash of information.

No problem with the doing of that, really. But I think it’s a bigger stretch to call it a news site than it is to read John 13:14 and say, “We really ought to wash one another’s feet, shouldn’t we?”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Liturgy, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to “You ought to wash one another’s feet”

  1. The Paulist Press Ordo states that the peoples feet that are washed should represent a cross section of the parish community. It also states that the number is traditionallt 12, there is no specific number required.
    This author maintains that the documentation for the Roman Ritual 2002 and the 1988 document Paschales Sollemnitatis clearly indicate the Latin use of viri specifically implies men. The more generic use of homo…would imply mankind. However that is not what the Holy See writes.
    My point specifically is that we have permitted gender political correctness to influence the proper expressions of our Roman Catholic liturgy. In a similar manner, the misuse of “We believe in one God ” at the creed, does not linguistically reflect the Latin use of , credo…which a first year Latin student would realize is “I believe”.
    It is not a question of the political right or the left but rather the correct implementation of Catholic ritual.
    My suggestion is to always have an “ordo” handy and have the ability to reference the Latin releases of liturgical directives.
    HJMN

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for coming to comment, Hugh.

    My point on the ordo was that I think you’re reading into the little book something that’s not there. If the ordo’s not specific on including women as part of the cross-section, I think you have a point that the problem is in the interpretation. An ordo isn’t designed to be a compendium of liturgical law and rubrics. I thought your criticism of Paulist Press a little extreme.

    Your application of anachronism in translation would be another issue. “We believe …” is a Rome-approved translation, produced under guidelines in effect at the time.

    In my office, I do have an ordo handy, but the first document a liturgist has at the ready is the Roman Missal itself. Without it, the liturgical directives and even the GIRM itself have no frame of reference.

  3. Anika says:

    Should we also get rid of the women in who are readers, choir members and EMEs? Can’t have any of those nasty dirty women types on God’s holy altar. I think it is time for me to start shopping for a new denomination. After 40+ years of service in the Catholic Church I am finally ‘getting’ it. NO WOMEN NEED APPLY…anywhere

  4. Liam says:

    Two different questions here.

    1. Whose feet get washed
    2. Who does the washing

    The first question is the one that attracts all the attention, but it is less important than the second, which is the wallflower everyone is ignoring, it seems.

    The ritual books clearly indicate “viri”. That said, the Congregation for Divine Worship told Cardinal Sean of Boston in 2004 that he could as a pastoral matter include women among those whose feet he washed if he believed it would benefit his faithful. So, while reserving the ritual to men only is clearly normative and that norm is not trumped by the USCCB’s guideline, a bishop may make pastoral provision to include women. You just can’t accuse a pastor who reserves it to men of violating directives, as it were. (As I’ve written many times before, if the current stated emphasis on the ritual is that it symbolizes the institution of orders – which is not, historically, what the ritual primarily symbolized in the past – then it should just be moved by Rome to the Chrism Mass.)

    That being settled, the person whose do to the washing is the *celebrant*. If for reasons of physical inability the celebrant were unable to do so, I imagine a concelebrant could be deputized to take the celebrant’s place in this role. The symbolism of the ritual is to have the celebrant as alter Christus doing this. There is no provision for a general washing of feet during the liturgy proper by congregants or other ministers of each other. The wisdom of the ritual book in this regard is that complying with it will naturally tend to keep the ritual from metastizing and distorting the whole liturgy (unless you have some celebrant determined to show off his heroic ability to wash hundreds of feet – in which case, parish staff should gently remonstrate his ego….)

  5. Nick Wagner says:

    I have never quite understood why we are so fixated on the washing feet as part of the Holy Thursday Mass. The literalists who want to limit the ritual to men never seem to mention the washing the feet is a faddish innovation of the liturgical movement they so abhor. Perhaps because its insertion into the liturgy predates the reforms of Vatican II by eight or nine years, their lived memory of it is that is has “always” been part of the ritual. But it was inserted into the Mass of the Lord’s Supper only in 1955. And the rite is optional. It is to be celebrated “depending on pastoral circumstances.” (The Missal of Pius V did include a mandatum, but it was at the end of Mass.)

    The traditional liturgical use of the washing the feet is as a pre-baptismal ritual. And it was administered to both men and women, obviously. I think it makes much more sense to be washing the feet of the elect during Holy Week than to be washing the feet of the already-washed during the Mass that begins the Triduum. It always feels to me like we have come to the moment to gather at the table for the great banquet and then Father reminds us, “Did you wash your feet first?”

    Add to that the even more recent presentation of the oils that seems to now be ensconced almost everywhere and the renewal of the laity’s commitment to ministry that pops up in some places and the Holy Thursday Mass becomes a mish mash of theologies and practices competing for the place of honor at the Lord’s left and right.

    Can we just go back to celebrating the Lord’s supper?

    Nick Wagner
    Team RCIA

  6. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Paschales Sollemnitatis says “viri”. The 2002 Missal (in Latin) says “viri”.

    It’s online at clerus.org; see here, n. 11:

    Viri selecti deducuntur a ministris ad sedilia loco apto parata. Tunc sacerdos (deposita, si necesse sit, casula) accedit ad singulos, eisque fundit aquam super pedes et abstergit, adiuvantibus ministris.

  7. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Perhaps part of the disconnect is a lack of authentic catechesis on the washing of the feet. There are many varying interpretations of it; some emphasize service, others emphasize the priesthood. Perhaps if we weren’t just given liturgical instruction on the matter but also liturgical formation we wouldn’t be (as) confused.

  8. Todd says:

    For the record, the post was intended to be more about the PewSitter commentary. I think we all concede the 1956 (not ’53) wording is “selected men.” We can also concede the Vatican is less concerned about a literal interpretation of this, given their “pastoral approach” with Cardinal Sean’s flock.

    It’s possible, if not likely, the 1956 restoration was not very well thought-out.

    The amount of heat generated on this issue, year after year, is telling. It shows us the power behind rituals such as this. It should convince us that we should undertake reform only with great study and trepidation.

  9. Gavin says:

    Although this may surprise some, I really don’t care who gets their feet washed. I don’t see any offense in washing the feet of women. Actually, I’d agree with the “cross-section of the parish” rule. If your parish is 1/3 Irish, 1/2 Latino, make sure you have 4 Irish people and 6 Latinos. Of course my opinion is not worth much when it comes to liturgy, I just watch from the loft. So I would agree that the rubrics, as confusing as the translations may be, specify men for the task and submit to it in anyway I have to (which is zilch).

    Anika, I should hope you NEVER stand on the altar. Even with clean feet. If you wish to enter the sanctuary, on the other hand, is another manner. If you must, I recommend you behave with all due reverence and charity. As for me, even as a male staff member I always am extremely uncomfortable having to walk through the sanctuary to talk to Father in the vestibule. Something about walking through the place where the priest conducts sacrifice is unnerving.

  10. Michael says:

    Anika is right, unfortunately.

  11. Tony Neria says:

    I think Anika speaks for many of the folks out there. Is anyone listening? Why not go one step further and have a section (in the back of the church of course) for the woman folk so the men (the more important of the species) can be up front closer to the action.

    As I was reading the other comments, the thought occurred to me, “what would nuns do in a convent on Holy Thursday?”. I suppose the priest would have to wash his own feet while the nuns observed!

    Why don’t we just do what it says in the bible as Todd quoted? Maybe that should be our guide?

  12. Gavin says:

    I should hope that on a liturgical blog we can refrain from pitting scripture against the tradition and liturgical rubrics of the Church?

    As for women in liturgy, I’d prefer to have a men and boys choir than a mixed one, but that’s all the misogyny I’ll go for. I don’t know who it is going around saying that women can’t lector or cantor or serve in the choir. If anything, I see women treated as “token” participants in the liturgy. Not once have I seen the “army” of EMHCs consist solely of men. I’ve seen it be all women. I’ve always seen women outnumber men. But it always appeared to me that many people out there were striving to keep at least one female in the sanctuary at any given time, lest they should be accused of sexism. I would like to think women should be included in liturgical roles based on their willingness and capacity to perform those roles, rather than simply on the fact that “we have to have one up there”.

    Really, someone give me an example BESIDES correcting a formerly ignored rubric, where women are being actively barred from a valid liturgical service in the Church? I just don’t see it happening.

  13. Jimmy Mac says:

    When they are not bare-foot and pregnant, these uppity women should be serving food to the superior men and damned happy to have the vocation to do so!

    Wash their feet, indeed. The next thing you know they’ll want to have the right to vote.

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