Wednesday, April 4, 2012


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.


Anonymous said...

So what part of "men" don't you all understand?

Anonymous said...

This is interesting and one that requires men and women a healthy dose of maturity as people tend to get offended at the slightest gestures that seem to exclude them these days.

The letter, PASCHALIS SOLLEMNITATIS, called for men, as you stated, did not specify number. Although I think it would be unfair to a priest, especially without an concelebrant, to have all men come forward. As a matter of fact, knowing some men, Father would have to DEMAND ahead of time they come forward. Tis such the way with some men.
That said, the introduction of women to this seems to be the exception, which was allowed in certain places with permission, that has become the norm. As a matter of fact, a Bishop can not change it from all men, but could request exception be made if it is necessary/good. It takes 2/3 of conference to change that btw.
Given our time and age and how this could be used against the priest, be misunderstood, etc, it might be best if the Bishops do it to the priests when they celebrate Mass together - Chrism Mass. That is my suggestion and let it come back at a later time or not at all. Some priests use it to further agendas contrary to what we believe, others are caught in the cross fire in the way things have been done/now you are being unfair!
That is my proposal - let the Bishop perform this at the Chrism Mass w his priests/deacons.
Mrs O

Anonymous said...

Let me just add one thing - from my understanding this ritual is a symbol of the priesthood and service but with a heavy emphasis on priesthood. If we need more things, at least where I am, it is men coming forward.
Mrs O

Former Angry Feminist said...

While many priests continue to operate under the delusion that faithful Catholic women suffer under the weight of exclusion in Christ's Church, I can tell you that it simply isn't true. In fact, one major problem in the Church is that many men feel excluded from an OVERLY FEMINIZED church. It is generally true that when women feel marginalized, we complain... loudly. When men feel marginalized, they just stop coming to church.

I am a woman who has been both an anti-Catholic feminist and a happily practicing Catholic at different points in my life. I can tell you with confidence that the women who cause a ruckus in parishes over the male-only Holy Thursday foot washing also struggle with other things... such as an all-male priesthood and a proper understanding of the complementary roles of males and females. You can't fix that by washing their feet once a year.

It is hard to get men to volunteer but it is worth it. It is good for the community to see men taking a role. It is good for the men themselves. Humbling.

And I have to echo the first "Anonymous"... if the rubrics say "men" then what is the issue? You're going to offend people no matter what you do... might as well do it by the book.

Fr. V said...

Love it.

Barefoot Momma said...

At one neighboring parish the priest does wash the feet of 12 adult men. At the others, it's a mix - generally more women than men and sometimes a kerfuffle of the congregation washing one anothers feet! Eek. As someone who does consider herself a feminist - we should have the equal dignity God created us with - I wish the American bishops would stop catering to those who think that equal means the same. Seriously, we have to have our feet washed to be seen as being equal in the eyes of God? Come on and grow up already! The feet washing is for men and that's that.

Anonymous said...

As a man, I have to echo Father, "Love it" too. God bless these reasonable, faithful women. I can't imagine men caring if the ritual stated that it should be all women. Most men would think, "Have at it. I'm glad I don't have to get up in front of everyone!" The connection to the priesthood is important and the same could be said for altar boys, oops, I mean altar "servers". Anyway, that's another discussion. Play by the rules, and men will come back to the Church. St. Sebastian, pray for us!