Last night there was a gathering of priests for the Chrism Mass. It is swell getting together with fellow priests and talking about things that are on our minds and testing to see how other people and parishes are doing things.
One popular topic of discussion last night was the upcoming washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. “What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Who is going to do it?”
You might be inclined to say, “Do the red, say the black.” Indeed I am most in favor of this method which simply means just do what you are supposed to do. But occasionally it is not all that easy. Here is why:
First the rubrics clearly state “men” are to have their feet washed. It seems that even the Latin makes this very clear. We tried that one year and almost started an uncivil war. So like good priests we went looking for back up. Our bishop and the USCCB give no clear directive to the question. In fact, the ordo seems to directly contradict this rubric when it states that those chosen should be a cross section of the parish. You can hardly have a cross section of the parish if it is all men. So having no backup on that rubric we are going to be equal opportunity feet washers.
Except that we are not. One thing that our bishop has asked us is to only wash the feet of adults in the Church. No children – only those who are fully initiated. (I suppose he would like 21 and over – don’t blame him.) So it will be a cross section of adults.
Next, there is also no mention in the rubrics (nor was there before) that there should be 12 people who have their feet washed. In fact, no number is given at all. There is definitely a plural as the plural “men” is used, but be it three or twelve does not seem to matter to the rubrics. In fact, one of our liturgists mentioned that he felt it should definitely not be 12 since this is not a symbolic reenactment but something that we are told to do.
So from the simple, “men” are called forward we seem to end up with this: Men and women, fully initiated and of an adult age, and any number except 12. Definitely washing feet – not hands or any other part of the body as some places do.
And of course - the whole thing is optional . . . one need not even do it.
Simple as that.