If it’s Holy Thursday, and it’s St Blog’s Parish, then it’s time to bring up the foot washing foofaraw.
I know Pope Francis modified the rubrics in 2016, and that the USCCB has officially updated them and followed suit, and that it’s small “t” tradition and not big “T” Tradition, but I remain of the opinion that if we’re going to commemorate the Last Supper, then let’s commemorate what actually happened at the Last Supper.
The foot-washing ritual being restricted to men wasn’t broken, it wasn’t “exclusive”, it wasn’t a sign of oppressive patriarchy. It was Christ’s command to the apostles that they must serve one another and the entire Church as priests. Remember, at the Last Supper, not only did Christ institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but also the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As the One High Priest, Christ demonstrated to the apostles what they must do for others. The apostles represented the priesthood, while simultaneously representing entirety of the people of God. They represent the whole of the Church. The whole Church, made up of men and women.
In my opinion, changing the rubrics from “The men who have been chosen are led…” to “Those who have been chosen from among the people of God are led…” opens the door to greater confusion and division. You may disagree with me, and that’s fine. I’m just a guy with a blog who cares about traditional things. Even those small “t” traditions, like the foot washing ritual. Which is optional.
Optional or not, there’s a bigger issue to consider, beyond that of appearing inclusive and open-minded. One of the methods progressives and those opposed to traditional Church teaching to change the big “T” traditions is by weakening or diluting the small “t” traditions. We only need to look at how some bishops have modified the traditional teaching that those who have divorced and remarried cannot receive Holy Communion as proof of that (thank you chapter 8 and footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia).*
Need more direct evidence? Here’s a piece that appeared in Scroll.in this morning:
After a year of deliberations, Mar George Cardinal Alanchery, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, issued a circular:
“The papal decree is against the traditions followed by the Eastern Churches,” it read. “The decree is applicable only to the Roman Missal. Thus, the change does not concern the liturgical practices of the Eastern churches.”
Responding with concern to this news report, on March 31, 2017, the Indian Christian Women’s Movement, a network organisation of over 500 women from different Christian denominations, sent out letters to heads of the three churches in India – Roman Catholic, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara – urging them to issue directives to all parishes of their respective denominations to include women and girls in the washing of feet ritual on Maundy Thursday. But the response to this letter has been lukewarm.
It is against this background that the celebration of the ritual of washing of the feet organised by a group, Women’s Lives Matter, gains significance. In keeping with the new directions which Pope Francis has set, the group celebrated the feet washing ceremony with the inmates of Swanthanam Centre for battered Women and children at Kottayam in Kerala on April 11, two days prior to the day marked for the celebrations.
In retaliation to the regressive position held by the Syro-Malabar church, yet another ceremony is being held at Kochi by the Open Church Movement where exclusively women’s feet will be washed at a public event to be held at the IMA Hall, near Maharaja’s College Grounds. A statement issued by this group described as “sad” the stance by Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church Cardinal George Alencherry that women need not be included among those whose feet are washed during the Maundy Thursday ceremonies.
There are clear signs of winds of change blowing within the tradition-bound Catholic churches in India. These acts of assertion have paved the way for organising such symbolic rituals in other institutions such as homes for the terminally ill, physically and mentally challenged, homes for unwed mothers, convicts in prisons. The possibilities are enormous, if only there are progressive Christian groups are willing to take on the challenge. These will help to take the message of inclusion to those who are in most need of the healing touch of Christ in the true spirit of the ritual of washing of the feet which will be celebrated today.
If you’re using the words “retaliation”, “regressive position”, and “tradition-bound”, me thinks you have deeper biases than just feelings of being excluded. Is the archbishop “refusing to follow” Pope Francis? Of course not – he’s exercising his office as he is obliged to do. The new wording doesn’t say “men and women”; it merely says “those who have been chosen…”, and the archbishop has told his priests, choose men. Just as Jesus did. That people are stomping their unwashed feet indicates to me that they would rather be Protestant than Catholic, given they’re the ones protesting, and not the archbishop.
In any case, I’m not opposed to people washing other people’s feet, and I’m pretty certain the Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church isn’t either. Go for it, knock your socks off – wash whomever’s feet you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. You’ll be obeying Christ’s commandment in a very literal, symbolic way. Thumbs up all around.
Just not during Holy Thursday Mass, where we commemorate the institution of the priesthood. I believe that’s the bigger picture “tradition-bound” Catholics are looking at. There are 364 other days throughout the year to choose from. I think it’s unfortunate Pope Francis officially changed the ritual, and it will lead to unforeseen problems down the road.
*I’m not calling Pope Francis a progressive, or opposed to Church teaching. I like to think he made this change to somehow bring about a greater good. But there are people in the Church who are, and they will use such gestures to advance their agendas.
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