Friday, 22 January 2016

Pope Francis and the Liturgy of Maundy Thursday - UPDATED

I expect that a number of priests who have, over the years, held the line in their respective parishes and only invited men to have their feet washed at the Mandatum will now be feeling somewhat let down by Pope Francis' decision to change the rubrics of the Roman Missal in this regard. Whilst staying neutral on the rights and wrongs of the newly established rubric (see below), I do think it would have been nice to have some recognition, as the change was being made, for those priests who have up to the present time acted faithfully to the now former rubric, and in all likelihood taken the pressure in their parishes for doing so.

Even if attending the Maundy Thursday Mass in a parish where only men are chosen to have their feet washed, I have for some time now felt that a quasi-political or ideological statement exists in making that choice. And an equally quasi-political or ideological choice is made if both men and women are chosen. In most cases I would arrive just not knowing which choice the parish priests were going to make. The decisive point for me, though, is the feeling that as I arrive I have to take a stance of my own with regard to the choice made - and I feel that I should be able to approach a Liturgical celebration without having to take such a stance as to the rights and wrongs of its practise.

Even though the rite of the washing of feet is itself optional, and allowed for pastorally appropriate circumstances; and the choice of women to have their feet washed is not immediately mandated but only mediated by a criterion of  representing the variety and unity of a particular parish community; the new rubric leaves my problem here unchanged. Like tigerish waters, though for different reasons, I expect I will prefer to absent myself from this particular celebration as I have done on a number of occasions in recent years.

tigerish waters offers a range of Thoughts on the Mandatum, which I recommend to readers. I would suggest that you read her post before continuing with mine.

I have for some time struggled with trying to understand the exact meaning of the rite of the Mandatum. Is it intended to be a sign of Christ's, and therefore the priest's and the Church's, ministry of charity to others (in which case it is and should be indifferent as to whether men or women are chosen)? Or is it intended to be a re-enactment or representation of Christ's action towards the Apostles at the Last Supper (in which case it should be restricted to men)? Pope Francis' letter to Cardinal Sarah indicates the meaning of the rite as being a sign of: suo donarsi “fino alla fine” per la salvezza del mondo, la sua carità senza confine.[(Christ's) gift of himself "even to the end" for the salvation of the world, his charity without limit.]
The decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments describes the meaning as follows (rough translation - my Latin isn't all that strong!):
Episcopi et presbyteri hoc ritu agentes intime invitantur ad sese conformandum Christo qui «non venit ministrari sed ministrare» (Mt 20, 28) et, caritate «in finem» (Io 13, 1) compulsus, vitam dare pro totius generis humani salute.  
[Bishops and priests carrying out this rite are invited to conform themselves to Christ who "did not come to be served but to serve" and who, driven by love "to the end", gave his life for the salvation of the whole human race.] 
This all puts me in mind of a talk that I heard a good number of years ago now. It drew a literary analogy between the account of the washing of feet in the Gospel of St John (13:1-20) and St Paul's account in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) of Christ's abasement in becoming as men are. The suggestion of the speaker was that, where the synoptic Gospels have an account of the institution of the Eucharist at this point in their accounts of the Last Supper, St John has instead placed the account of the Mandatum; and that both are a pre-figuring of the events of the following day on Calvary. St John's account of the Mandatum on this line of thought represents the institution of the Eucharist.

Put this together with tigerish waters' Thoughts.. (I think there is a lot to be said for her suggestion that the Mandatum is in some way an extra-liturgical rite) and I am not sure that the rubrical change now introduced does make clearer the meaning of the rite as is its stated intention, both according to Pope Francis' letter and the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The now allowed, but not mandated, practice of including women among those chosen to have their feet washed does not appear readily consistent with the meaning of the rite as stated in the letter and decree. I do, however, have a certain trust in Pope Francis' pondering of this subject and his practise (cf some of tigerish waters remarks), and await the development of a catechesis that effectively communicates the meaning of the rite.

UPDATE: Perhaps Fr Hunwicke's articulation of the situation - More Foot Washing - makes clearer what is actually happening .... I do appreciate the attitude shown by him here towards Pope Francis, too.

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