A Case of Conscience, Or Not

footwashingDiane Montagna of Aleteia heard the word from Cardinal Robert Sarah on Holy Thursday foot washing that is raising temperature levels in conversations on the Catholic internet:

The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments told reporters [a colleague and myself] in Rome on February 26 that every bishop or priest “has to decide in accord with his own conscience, and according to the purpose for which the Lord instituted this feast.”

The sites discussing this are legion. When I went back to the link above, that paragraph cited here struck me.

  • Cardinal Sarah talked to two persons who are reporters.
  • The quote places the matter in the realm of personal conscience.
  • What is the purpose of this feast?

It’s not clear to me that this isn’t a private conversation between three people in Rome.

One thinks of conscience in terms of morality or ethics. An optional ritual of the Church’s liturgy is, by definition, a choice one can make: priest or lay person, washer or the washed. Deciding if and whom to wash is a matter of personal choice. That’s it.

The church’s liturgy gives us the following readings: the Passover, the 116th psalm, Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper, and John’s account of the washing of the feet. Not the calling of the fishermen. Not the naming of apostles. Not the sending of the 12 or the 72.

I’ve been surprised at commentaries suggesting that those washed be bishops, or priests. I suppose that’s a luxury in Rome or a religious community.

My take is a broad reading of John 13:15, because we need a deeper sense of discipleship. That’s it.

This will be the first time in over twenty years I won’t be participating in open foot washing. I will miss the expression of service to family and parishioners.  Maybe some other year.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to A Case of Conscience, Or Not

  1. Melody says:

    I don’t really care about foot washing on one level. For Holy Thursday services I’m always an EMHC or singing in the choir. But on another level, about whether women should be included, it’s the principle of the thing. Kind of like whether girls should be altar servers. It’s hard not to see a degree of misogyny in the objections, even though they insist that’s not the intent. And in the 21st century it’s probably not the intent. Though if you follow the roots back to the past , there most certainly was some misogyny involved. I care more about the end result than parsing out the theological arguments. If the end result of the worship of the tradition is that women and girls feel excluded and marginalized in the Church, it’s not a good thing.

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