So here we are again—approaching Holy Week. A most splendid—the most splendid week of the year! Yes, Christmas brings us the infant God made man, but during this week He fulfills that purpose for which he was conceived of the Virgin Mary. Holy Week, however, comes replete with painful awareness of how many Catholic parishes simply don’t choose to follow the instructions (rubrics anyone?) that clearly give priests the black—exact words to say—and the red—exact instructions for what they (and we, the faithful) are to do. Now before someone says, “But if it’s not expressly forbidden, we can add to the things we can do?” here’s a word: No!
Let’s take some secular examples.
- A prima ballerina decides that she will enhance the carefully crafted choreography of Swan Lake and just add some cutsie little steps here and there, at her pleasure.
- A legal secretary decides that her boss’ brief needs a bit of enhancement and throws in a few things she’s learned at night school.
- A sou chef takes the recipe of his master and tweaks it just a bit.
Pow! All heck would surely break out. Not just because the servant hadn’t done what the master intended but also because the resulting chaos would affect everyone involved.
And so it is with the optional rite of the Washing of the Feet, Mandatum (command), on Holy Thursday. The rubrics are clear; the washing of the feet instructs that the participants be men (viri), twelve if you want to follow Jesus’ lead. Why twelve and why men, you might ask? Well, because a secondary function of our remembrance of that day (aside from the very important institution of the Eucharist), is the institution of the priesthood, initiated with the twelve apostles. Can women become priests? Contrary to liberal wishes the answer has irrevocably been given by Pope John Paul II. Never!
As has been pointed out by Fr. Z:
“…let it be remembered that the Church’s legislation allows for the washing of the feet of only men. MEN = VIRI = MEN. Not manish women or any other critter. Even if some claim to have received permission to wash the feet of women, and even if the claims were true, those permissions would in no way change the law for the rest of the world. Period. Furthermore, I have never seen a letter or a copy of a letter from the Congregation in Rome granting such a permission. I doubt anyone else has either.”
I will add that last year we saw an exception by Pope Francis, whose position as pontiff gives him that right.
Canon lawyer, Dr. Edward Peters has written about it thoroughly and shares the wording of the rubric with us, along with emphasis of the Latin, in which it was written. The word man (viri) can only be interpreted one way, and it’s not mankind (or humankind).
Personally, I’d rather just see this optional rite done away with altogether. Why oh why does the focus always have to be on ‘us’ (the people)? Holy Thursday is about the institution of the priesthood. It is about the institution of the Eucharist. And yet, here we are again. With our self congratulatory songs, choirs up front so that we may focus away from everything that we should be focusing on, Jesus, present to us as food at the foot of the cross! I’m so very frustrated and it takes away my right to worship in the way Mass was intended* (complete with thorough instructions). I’ve seen even babies’ feet washed, mostly women’s feet washed, and commemorative towels given out as ‘door prizes’ for those women and men who participated. I’m beyond frustrated by this lack of saying the black and doing the red.
May we all celebrate a holy, Holy Thursday! Happy Holy Week!
~ From Redemptionis Sacramentum (Latin, “The Sacrament of Redemption”)