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Washing of Women's Feet on Holy Thursday?
Zenit News Agency ^ | March 23, 2004

Posted on 03/24/2004 6:15:03 AM PST by NYer

ROME, MARCH 23, 2004 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Question 1: Is it proper to have holy water receptacles empty from Ash Wednesday on, through all of Lent? -- F.D., Scandia, Minnesota

Q-2: I have learned today about the Washing of the Feet ceremony at Mass in my parish on Holy Thursday. To take the place of the Twelve Apostles, we are to have six gentlemen and six ladies. I would welcome your comments about this innovation. -- M.R., Melbourne, Australia

Q-3: Each year I find it increasingly difficult to perform the washing of parishioners' feet at the celebration of the Lord's Supper because of stiffness in my knee joints which make it almost impossible to get back up on my feet when moving from one parishioner to the next. Is it permissible to delegate this function to an older server? -- C.D., Archdiocese of New York

Q-4: For the adoration of the cross on Good Friday, can we use a crucifix (with Jesus' body on it) or should we look for a plain cross? -- F.M., Antique, Philippines

Answer 1: The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments recently responded to a similar question (3/14/03: Prot. N. 569/00/L) giving a clear answer: "This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

"1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being 'praeter legem' is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

"2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The 'fast' and 'abstinence' which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.

"The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday)."

A-2: The rubrics for Holy Thursday clearly state that the priest washes the feet of men ("viri") in order to recall Christ's action toward his apostles. Any modification of this rite would require permission from the Holy See.

It is certainly true that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that all disciples are equal before the Lord. But this reality need not be expressed in every rite, especially one that is so tied up to the concrete historical circumstances of the Last Supper.

A-3: The rite of the washing of feet is not obligatory and may be legitimately omitted. However, this is usually not pastorally advisable.

While the rite may not be delegated to a non-priest, a concelebrant may substitute the main celebrant for a good reason.

The rubrics describing this rite are limited to the essentials (selected men sit in a suitable place) and so allow for practical adaptations to the realities of place, time and circumstances.

Thus, taking the example of our Holy Father, as he has grown older, and less able to bend over, the seats of those whose feet he washed were first elevated so that he could continue to perform the rite. But in the last year or so he has been substituted by a cardinal.

Thus, if possible, the seats used by those whose feet are to be washed should be elevated, so that an elderly priest need not stoop too much.

If this solution is not feasible, I do not think it is contrary to the overall sense of the rite to find other practical solutions resulting in a similar effect, provided the rite be carried out with decorum.

A-4: The use of the crucifix, a cross with the figure of Christ crucified, is obligatory for the Good Friday celebrations of the Adoration of the Cross.

This is made clear by the rubrics which, in one form of the rite, describe how this cross may be progressively unveiled, showing first the top of the cross but not the face, then the right arm, and finally the entire body.

After this celebration on Good Friday afternoon, and until the Easter Vigil, Catholics genuflect before the crucifix; they would not do so before a simple cross.

This liturgical situation is different from the pious practice of the Way of the Cross, where widespread custom prefers the use of a simple cross rather than a crucifix. This is the practice followed in the Holy Father's widely televised Good Friday "Via Crucis" at the Colosseum.

* * *

TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics; Catholic; Current Events; Ecumenism; General Discusssion; History; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture; Theology; Worship

Washing the feet on Holy Thursday

Paths to Rome: Washing of feet on Holy Thursday
"For I have given you an example, that you also should do"


By Father Jerry Pokorsky

ON HOLY THURSDAY, in parishes throughout the United States, twelve men and women will assemble in the sanctuaries during the Mass of the Lord's Supper to have their feet ritually washed by a priest. Although many Catholics -- both men and women -- are disburbed by the practice of washing women's feet, probably most barely take notice.

Almost no one will be aware that, despite documents approving the practice from the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), there is no clear evidence that the Vatican has confirmed the practice of ritually washing women's feet on Holy Thursday. Actually, there is only evidence to the contrary.

The sacred events of Holy Thursday represent the Lord's institution of the Sacraments of the Blessed Eucharist and Holy Orders. As disciples of the Lord, we are all invited to imitate His example in humble service to one another as we prepare to receive the Eucharist at Mass. The ritual washing of the feet was restored by Pope Pius XII in 1955. This ritual symbolically fulfills the command of Jesus at the Last Supper:

When He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and resumed His place, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).

The Protracted Controversy
About ten years ago, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, then bishop of Pittsburgh, reminded his priests that the Sacramentary (the official book of prayers for celebration of Mass) calls for the selection of men for the Holy Thursday washing of feet. He pointed out that the Latin word for man (meaning male), vir, was used in the Latin original.

The liturgical instructions, or rubrics, of the Sacramentary were to be followed faithfully: "The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers to chairs prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest ... goes to each man. With the help of ministers, he pours water over each one's feet and dries them" (Sacramentary, p. 136).

Bishop Bevilacqua's instructions to his priests drew the attention of the national Catholic media. The Bishops' Liturgy Committee soon responded to "a number of inquiries from bishops, diocesan liturgical commissions, and offices of worship".

The liturgy committee issued the following statement on February 16, 1987:

... it has become customary in many places [in the United States] to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the church and to the world ... in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.

While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary, which mentions only men (vir selecti), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, "who came to serve and not to be served", that all members of the church must serve one another in love. [Emphasis added. BCL Newsletter, February 1987, Volume XXIII)]

This response of the BCL raises troublesome questions. By admitting that the ritual washing of women's feet "differ[s] from the rubric of the Sacramentary", the liturgy committee implicitly acknowledged authority of the Sacramentary, and the extent to which variations, if any, were permissible. But was the committee's interpretation of this rubric (direction) authoritative? Did the committee sanction a liturgical abuse?

The Limits of BCL Authority
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council clearly stated that " other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 23].

Furthermore, according to Church law the Vatican must confirm liturgical legislation approved by the various national conferences of bishops. It is "the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed" [Canon 838.2].

The translations of liturgical books from the official Latin into English (which includes the rubrics for Mass), must also be confirmed by the Apostolic See:

It pertains to Episcopal Conferences to prepare translations of liturgical books, with appropriate adaptations as allowed by the books themselves and, with the prior review of the Holy See, to publish these translations [Canon 838.3].

From these canons, it would seem that individual bishops, even a committee of bishops, do not have the authority to change the liturgical texts. On the contrary, bishops have the serious responsibility "to be watchful lest abuses creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the saints..." [Canon 392.2].

News reports at the time stated that the liturgy committee would wait for the Vatican to clarify the issue. The Holy See was reported to be revising the Holy Week ceremonies, including the ritual of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday. This was in fact the case. But when the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship released the Holy Week instruction the following year, the rubric was not changed. It is impossible that Vatican officials were unaware of the dispute. Despite the controversy in America, the Vatican held fast to the tradition of the Church.

The Vatican Instruction on Footwashing
The Vatican made no changes in the rubrics referring to "men"; indeed, the new instruction said that the "tradition should be maintained":

The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day [Holy Thursday], represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.' This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained. (Congregation for Divine Worship, "Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts," January 16, 1988.)

In this instruction, the Congregation for Divine Worship used much the same language as the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy's statement a year before. This seems to suggest that the liturgy committee's arguments were heard in Rome, but not accepted.

Compliance with liturgical norms was a frequent theme of Pope John Paul II in 1988. Time and again, he reminded bishops of their duty to guard against liturgical abuse.

In a 1988 address to the bishops of Northwestern Germany, the pope said,

Take care, nevertheless, that the norms of the liturgical renewal be everywhere observed; otherwise, regrettable misunderstandings easily arise. Many people accuse the Church and liturgical renewal of that which in reality is not the intention of the Church but rather goes back to individuals who act arbitrarily" (L'Osservatore Romano, February 22, 1988).


1 posted on 03/24/2004 6:15:03 AM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; sinkspur; Lady In Blue; Salvation; CAtholic Family Association; narses; ...

Take care, nevertheless, that the norms of the liturgical renewal be everywhere observed; otherwise, regrettable misunderstandings easily arise.

2 posted on 03/24/2004 6:17:31 AM PST by NYer (Prayer is the Strength of the Weak)
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To: NYer
Wow, can I name a whole lot of parishes guilty of abuse on these.
3 posted on 03/24/2004 6:24:14 AM PST by Desdemona (Music Librarian and provider of cucumber sandwiches, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary. Hats required.)
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To: NYer
Well, if the Vatican wants to go the mat over men and women having their feet washed, it should go to the BCL. American bishops take their cue from their own liturgy commission.

If the Church were strict about this practice, it would insist that priests only wash the feet of other men in Holy Orders, since the Apostles were the first bishops.

4 posted on 03/24/2004 6:39:51 AM PST by sinkspur (Adopt a dog or a cat from an animal shelter! It will save one life, and may save two.)
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To: NYer
No surprise that my Church violates the Holy Thursday Norm. EVERYONE gets there feet washed, the celebrant washes a few people's feet, and then everyone washes everyone else's feet. Hate to admit it, I don't have a huge problem with it, though, if the Rubric says this, then this is what needs to be done.
5 posted on 03/24/2004 6:44:33 AM PST by StAthanasiustheGreat (Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit)
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Same practice in our parish. Due to the many egregious abuses this time of the year, we stay away from our parish church Holy Week and Easter.
I would love to attend authenic Catholic Holy Week services but it is impossible to do so locally.
6 posted on 03/24/2004 7:25:00 AM PST by rogator
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To: NYer
When Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, this was the normal custom of the time, peoples feet were always dirty and would be washed upon visiting a friends home.

Today, this custom would be better observed by washing your car, or perhaps giving someone else the parking space you wanted. Of course, if we all came to church barefoot and dirty, the exercise would again be relevant.
7 posted on 03/24/2004 8:14:12 AM PST by man of Yosemite ("When a man decides to do something everyday, that's about when he stops doing it.")
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To: NYer
More disobedient Americans, I am not suprised.
8 posted on 03/24/2004 8:16:26 AM PST by NeoCaveman (Hey John F'in. Kerry, why the long face?)
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To: rogator
I know what you mean about attending Holy Week locally. This year we are visiting a seminarian friend in St. Paul, MN, so we will be able to attend the Easter Sunday Mass at St. Agnes Parish. This is truly a beautiful parish with a very reverant liturgy. No messing around with the rubrics at St. Agnes!!!
9 posted on 03/24/2004 8:32:38 AM PST by Conservative Iowan
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To: man of Yosemite
When Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, this was the normal custom of the time, peoples feet were always dirty and would be washed upon visiting a friends home.

What would be the point of that when everyone's home had a dirt floor?

It seems that your are taking the whole "washing of the feet" out of biblical context? It's about the Master, the Creator, having the humility to wash the feet (a lowly task) of others in order to illustrate that they are the servants of the ones they serve.

10 posted on 03/24/2004 8:39:53 AM PST by american colleen
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To: sinkspur
American bishops take their cue from their own liturgy commission.

Well, natch! They appoint them and all - wink, wink, nudge, nudge! Kinda like a dog chasing his own tail. I don't mean to be disrespectful at all (not equating dogs with bishops) but it seems to me that the bishops and their own liturgy commission would be kind of redundant?).

11 posted on 03/24/2004 8:43:09 AM PST by american colleen
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To: american colleen; sinkspur; NYer
Right you are. As usual Catholics have to find some way to place themselves above the Church. They think they have better ideas than Rome. Everything apparently needs some "improving". If only those mean old celibate men would accept the genius of Oprah loving, left wing relativists.
12 posted on 03/24/2004 11:11:35 AM PST by johnb2004
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To: man of Yosemite; NYer; american colleen
"When Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, this was the normal custom of the time, peoples feet were always dirty and would be washed upon visiting a friends home."

There is a much deeper symbolism to Christ's washing the disciples feet which neither the USCCB nor the Vatican appear to have picked up on.

Again this is because we are so culturally and linguistically removed from the first century semitic environment. However it is worth catechising all Catholics on this point because it touches on the very nature of the priesthood which Christ established.

The text which illustrates the double entendre behind "footwashing" is 2 Sam 11:

One evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.
David had inquiries made about the woman and was told, "She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of (Joab's armor-bearer) Uriah the Hittite."
Then David sent messengers and took her. When she came to him, HE HAD RELATIONS WITH HER, at a time when she was just purified after her monthly period. She then returned to her house.
But the woman had conceived, and sent the information to David, "I AM WITH CHILD."
David therefore sent a message to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." So Joab sent Uriah to David.
When he came, David questioned him about Joab, the soldiers, and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well.
David then said to Uriah, "Go down to your house and WASH YOUR FEET." Uriah left the palace, and a portion was sent out after him from the king's table.
But Uriah slept at the entrance of the royal palace with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down to his own house.
David was told that Uriah had not gone home. So he said to Uriah, "Have you not come from a journey? Why, then, did you not go down to your house?"
Uriah answered David, "The ark and Israel and Judah are lodged in tents, and my lord Joab and your majesty's servants are encamped in the open field. Can I go home to eat and to drink and to SLEEP WITH MY WIFE? As the LORD lives and as you live, I will do no such thing."

David wants to cover up his crime and the best way to do this is to call Uriah home and get him to sleep with his wife so that he will think the child is his.

But notice the language he uses - he tells Uriah to go home and "WASH YOUR FEET" because this is also a semitic idiom for "diddle your wife" or more correctly "Father yourself a child" or "Its time you became a father."

St. John in his Gospel wants us to understand anagogically that when Jesus washed his disciples feet, he was preparing them for FATHERHOOD - spiritual fatherhood.

Fatherhood is the essence of priesthood, and it is the washing of their feet that is the ordination of the disciples to, and the institution of, the Christian priesthood.

It is because a priest is first and foremost a father or patriarch that the Christian priesthood (and Jewish priesthood when they had a temple) is restricted to males.

It is for the same reason that the washing of women's feet on Holy Thursday is not only inappropriate, but it also entirely misses the point of what is being commemorated. (commemorated as in the sense of the Hebrew "zikkaron", Greek "anamnesis" - making present again by calling to mind in the presence of the Lord)
13 posted on 03/24/2004 3:24:39 PM PST by Tantumergo
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To: american colleen
The role of washing the feet of someone who came under your roof was often done by a servant, and that is why Jesus noted to the Pharisee that he had not offered to wash his feet, yet the sinful woman washed them with her tears. The Pharisee failed to show him the customary respect he was due, but the sinful woman performed the task out of her respect and admiration for Christ.

Jesus took on the role of a servant at the last supper, and bowed down to wash the disciples feet. He that would be greatest among you shall be your servant. The foot washing of today doesn't have the same relevance it had in the time of Christ, but there are no doubt other ways to serve relevant to our own time. Doing dishes at the church, or wiping behinds in the church nursery would all be adequate replacements for the footwashing ceremony. Most people who are following this teaching do so in many other ways. Few people are actually washing feet now except those who tend the elderly and the infirm. I doubt it was ever meant to become a ritual, but was to be an attitude of the heart.
14 posted on 03/24/2004 4:14:15 PM PST by man of Yosemite ("When a man decides to do something everyday, that's about when he stops doing it.")
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