Skip to comments.Washing of Women's Feet on Holy Thursday?
Posted on 03/24/2004 6:15:03 AM PST by NYer
ROME, MARCH 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- 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.
* * *
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 "...no 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).
Take care, nevertheless, that the norms of the liturgical renewal be everywhere observed; otherwise, regrettable misunderstandings easily arise.
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.
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.
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?).
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