In an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
As Roman Catholics worldwide move into a week to focus their hearts on the suffering of Christ, Atlanta Catholics are being divided over the ancient ritual of the washing of feet.
On March 19, Archbishop John Donoghue sent a letter to parish priests telling them that only men should be chosen for the solemn rite of foot washing, which takes place on Holy Thursday as parishes observe the Last Supper of Jesus. Women and children have been included in the rite for years, but Donoghue’s letter specifically states that 12 men should be selected to represent the priesthood.
Priests, parishioners and theologians said they were puzzled and angry over the decision to exclude women and children.
Puzzled and angry? That probably also explains the feelings of those throughout the years that saw this coed-foot washing ceremony knowing that it was a violation of the GIRM. I know that I was when I saw this happen.
“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).
As has been pointed out constantly the Latin word for man (meaning male), vir, was used in the Latin original. The ritual washing of the feet was restored by Pope Pius XII in 1955 and put into the Sacramentary at that time. Symbolically this ritual was in relationship to the Gospels where Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles to show that we are to serve in humility. This is quite ironic because those who have decided on their own to change the rubrics to be more inclusive are the opposite of serving in humility.
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.)
The Rev. John Kieran, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers, said he will cancel foot washing on Thursday. “I just respectfully disagree with him,” Kieran said.
That is respectfully disagreeing? I would hate to see outright disobedience. Besides he is not just disagreeing with his Bishop, which is bad enough, he is also clearly violating the church’s liturgical law.
Many priests were reluctant to talk about the archbishop’s letter, because they are bound by a vow of obedience to follow his orders. That vow generally prohibits their openly criticizing the archbishop. Many said privately, however, that they were saddened by the decision and were questioning whether to abandon the ritual or ignore Donoghue’s order.
Some Catholic laypeople Friday were less guarded.
“It’s like they’re just trying to come up with something else that women can’t do,” said Danny Ingram, a parishioner at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta. “The whole thing is about service to one another, and it’s not just about service to men.”
Donoghue’s letter comes at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is still recovering from a clergy sex abuse scandal and the secretive way it handled the complaints. Many leaders have called for the church to be more open in an effort to promote healing.
Oh that’s right out of the playbook for disobedience. Disagree with something the Church says, simply remind people about the clergy sex abuse scandal; that will fix them.
Now things will become really clear since we now have a statement from a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
…A Spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Donoghue is within his rights to limit the ritual to men. The decision is left up to individual bishops, although the overwhelming majority of American bishops allow women’s feet to be washed.
“In many areas, the custom is to wash the feet of both men and women, ” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh. “I’ve been in parishes where they even wash hands.”
Okay my last statement was a delayed April’s Fools gag. Those speaking for the USCCB usually are less than clear when speaking on liturgical abuses. This is no surprise considering that the USCCB is also befuddled on this issue. 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.
As a Adoremus Bulletin on this subject asks “Did the committee sanction a liturgical abuse?”
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].
…”I’m sorry he’s done that,” said Gerald Noonan of Atlanta, a former priest who founded the Center for Ethics at the Georgia Tech business school. “Women have been second-class citizens for so long.”
In this article they did not interview one person who agreed with what the Bishop said, but instead found an ex-priest – not exactly the most reliable expert.
Said Kathleen Pruitt of Bremen, who attends several different Catholic churches: “A shepherd who cares only for the rams won’t have a flock for very long.”
Now some might say “Big deal, so what if some women’s feet get washed.” This goes with all the posts recently on why some people get so angry over liturgical abuses. These abuses don’t happen in a vacuum. They are an outward indicator of the culture of disobedience in the Church.
“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
I have found through my limited experience that those churches that play fast and loose with liturgical laws also play fast and loose with the moral laws. If you are willingly disobedient in small matters it doesn’t take you much farther to be disobedient in larger matters. If you can decide for yourself how the universal liturgy is conducted in your local parish then what else can you decide since you know better. I don’t believe that if all liturgical abuses stopped tomorrow that everything is instantly cured. This culture of disobedience has been a cancerous growth that will not come out easily. Why should the congregation listen to the priest when he talks about obedience to God’s laws in his homilies, but is disobedient to the Church in the liturgy?