05 April 2012

Just Say NO to P.C. Foot Washings (repost)

NB.  Fr. Michael has the Holy Thursday Mass tonight, so no homily from me.  I thought I'd repost on the Annual Holy Week Liturgical Question of Foot Washing. . .

Q: Any opinion on the yearly controversy over the rubrics regarding the Holy Thursday liturgy for foot washing?

A: I always dread this question! My iron-clad rule is: Say the black, do the red. In other words, read the prayers as they are written in the liturgical books and follow the rules as they are. Following this rule, the priest will wash the feet of twelve men from his parish.

Now, the controversy revolves around two elements of this liturgy: 1) who washes? and 2) who gets washed? Some say: everyone washes; everyone gets washed! Others follow the rubric requiring the priest to do the washing, but they usually try to mix and match the washee's to accommodate some weird need to use this liturgy to express the "diversity" of the parish (as if just looking around in the pews doesn't demonstrate this well enough).

The B.I.G. issue, of course, is whether or not women can be included as washee's. The rubrics clearly require that the washee's be men, males (viri). In the U.S., bishops are allowed to grant pastors an exception to include women. Most do, I would bet. Fine.

What this debate about rubrics usually misses is the whole point of the rite itself. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in order to show them that he is not only their Master and friend but their servant as well. He will go to the cross as a servant for them (and for us all). The priest, acting in the person of Christ, washes the feet of twelve men in order to liturgically enact this revelatory moment.

This liturgy is not about diversity or tolerance or discipleship or community-building. This is the moment when Christ--fully God, fully man--begins to empty himself in preparation for his passion and for the cross. In one very important way, this liturgy is about who the priest is for his parish--since he is and acts in the person of Christ as head of the Church, the priest is symbolizing his servant-leadership of the community. To use foot-washing on Holy Thursday for any other purpose is simply perverse.

Some will argue that since Jesus tells his disciples "to go and do likewise" that this is reason enough to turn the liturgy in a podiatrical free-for-all. If this is the case, then let's follow the example of scripture precisely. Celebrate the liturgy as it is written and then "do likewise." In other words, the priest will wash the feet of twelve men and then another part of the liturgy can be devoted to the "doing likewise." Or maybe a foot-washing free-for-all liturgy can be planned for another time of the year, or even regularly scheduled during Lent. Not perfect solutions by any stretch, I know.

What is tiresome about this yearly debate is the constant refrain of prog liturgists that this event needs to "express diversity." No, it doesn't. There is no good reason for this liturgy to do any such thing. Why this liturgy should yield to the demands of liturgical political correctness is beyond me. There's no demand that baptisms reflect the parish's diversity. Diversity in confessions? Will every Latino couple getting married in the parish need to find an Asian couple to get married with in order to celebrate diversity? Can three black guys get ordained to the priesthood at the same time, or do they need to wait until at least one white guy is ready for ordination?

Of course, the other possibility is to simply skip it. It's optional.

2012 Addendum:  One of the stated goals of the Spirit of Vatican Two Revolution is to de-clericalize the Church by opening all liturgical roles to the laity.  Following the rubrics for the Foot Washing gets in the way of this hallowed goal; therefore, the rubrics must be ignored.  Listen carefully to the homilies tonight.  How many preachers note that Holy Thursday is specifically designed to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and the ordained priesthood?  If your pastor doesn't mention this element of the liturgy, it is probably b/c he's never heard it himself!

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  1. One of the stated goals of the Spirit of Vatican Two Revolution is to de-clericalize the Church by opening all liturgical roles to the laity.

    Ironically, when I think about it, it seems clear that this mentality stems precisely from the crassest and most extreme clericalism. It's the progressives telling me that my true role as a layman is worthless, and that I am nothing unless I can do what a priest does.

  2. My priest replied to my pointing out this by saying "Sometimes needs must - finding 12 men is not very easy and so we try to make up the numbers with women and children. Obviously the Mass on Holy Thursday evening is full of symbolism and meaning: the Institution of the Priesthood and the Eucharist are one part of it and so to is the great commandment to love one another as I have loved you. I see the washing of the feet as a reminder to us of that great commandment. As you will know, some scripture scholars equate this story in John's gospel with the institution of the Eucharist as John has no mention of the Last Supper. The Eucharist is a gift for all."

    Aaaaargh! *bangs head against brick wall* Needless to say I am taking your advice - and not going. A shame as I love participating in the Mass.

  3. David, my advice to "skip it" means for the pastor to skip the foot washing not for you to skip Mass!

  4. "In the U.S., bishops are allowed to grant pastors an exception to include women."

    Father, do you have a reference to this grant? The most recent item I can find is a response from 2008 which does not give this impression.