Monday, April 2, 2012

The Vortex: Male Feet for Holy Thursday

The March 30 Vortex episode (see the video below) highlighted one of the most egregious and widespread – and commonly accepted – liturgical abuses in the Church. (See also: "Good Friday: No Concelebration").

Here are some excerpts from the script:

As we advance into Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, it is worth noting that all over the United States and many other parts of the world, the Sacrifice of the Mass which brings an official end to Lent – the Mass of the Last Supper, Holy Thursday – will be marred by abuse in thousands and thousands of parishes.

…[I]n a tip of the hat to political correctness, and wanting to make nice-nice with everyone in the parish, and to go out of the way so as not to offend anyone at all whatsoever, and in some cases owing to a dearth [of understanding] about the dignity of their own office as priest – priests all over the place will wash the feet of women and children during [the Holy Thursday Mass].
Sure enough, it's happening right here, in the parish closest to my house. Here's the bulletin announcement about it:

April 5, 2012
Father will wash the feet of 12 youth from our RE program. The following youth will have their feet washed: [the names of 10 girls and 2 boys are listed].

Ugh. As usual, "cute trumps all"(and see this post, too). As Michael Voris notes:

The Church is absolutely clear -unequivocally clear about this – IF the washing takes place (and it is not mandatory, it is optional)…then only men are to have their feet washed, and it may only be done by a priest or bishop, not even a deacon.

And the washing of children’s feet, I maintain, trivializes the rite. I say this not because I think children are unimportant. I do not think that at all. But when you involve children in just about anything that is generally done by adults, it becomes merely “cute”. Children are unpredictable: they giggle, they squirm, they say funny things, and they are often just plain adorable.

That’s not what the ceremony of the washing of the feet is about.

When 12 adult men have their feet washed, they look uncomfortable. I think that’s appropriate. Don’t you think the apostles were uncomfortable with it? Didn’t Peter even try to refuse to have his feet washed?! It is a humbling experience to have one’s feet washed by anyone, let alone a priest, who is an alter Christus. And it is a humbling experience for the foot-washer as well – as it should be.

Twelve men having their feet washed by the bishop becomes a serious rite, one with meaning, symbolism, and significance. It becomes a mystical experience for all concerned. It is not “cute”, and it was never intended to be.

There are six instituted acolytes at the Cathedral; there's one deacon; there's the pastor; that makes 8 men. The leader of the choir ("folk group") could be added, along with the parish's Grand Knight, and/or other active lay MEN. What an impressive sight to see the acolytes vested, serving at the Mass and having their feet washed as well.

Michael Voris reminds us in the Vortex:

The washing of the Feet is directly linked to the male-only priesthood…The Mass on Holy Thursday is about the institution of the Priesthood. And the Washing of the Feet (in Latin it’s called the Mandatum) is intrinsically linked to the priesthood. [He cites a very good booklet on the subject which is available here. It’s $2.99 for a PDF version you can print out at home.]

And here is a note that is probably familiar to all who have ever voiced an objection to including women and/or children in the washing of the feet:

Now some people on parish staffs will say, well, the US Bishops have allowed that practice here in the America, so it’s OK here.

And, in fact, I was told exactly that last year when I complained to the Apostolic Administrator that the feet of twelve children were to be washed at the Holy Thursday Mass (yes, it happened last year, too). I was told that, “Oh, that happens in many places in the US. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s an effort to be more inclusive.”

To the Apostolic Administrator (and other pastors of souls), I might point out that, in the interest of: a) "pastoral prudence", "evangelical charity" and avoiding "divisiveness" (and all those other buzzwords bishops are wont to bandy about); and b) fulfilling the promise of obedience to the Holy Father he made on the day of his own episcopal ordination (not to mention Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 22[1] and Canon 838[2]); it would behoove him to do what the Church obviously intends. Anything else merely demonstrates that he thinks he is the master and not the servant of the Sacred Liturgy – that it is his personal plaything, to be made and shaped according to his personal whims.

Michael Voris asserts:

In February 1987, the USCCB claimed, via the Chairman of the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy, that the washing of feet is merely an act of charity, and thus may properly include both men and women. It took a little less than a year for the Vatican to blow that notion out of the water with the document the Paschales Solemnitatis:

“The washing of the feet of chosen men (emphasis added) which, according to tradition, is performed on this day [Holy Thursday]... This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.”

Nothing new has come from the Vatican since this 1988 document allowing any variation of any kind whatsoever.

Here’s the bottom line, says Michael Voris:

The washing of the feet is intimately linked to the priesthood because it was performed by Our Blessed Lord those he was about to make priests at the Eucharist.

Only men are to have their feet washed an only by a priest or bishop and it is only the feet that are to be washed. When some other variation is done, it confuses the faithful and is a grave abuse because it tears away from the sacred character of the priesthood instituted by Christ Himself on this most holy of nights.

You know, it’s really not hard to follow the rubrics... Really. Not. Hard.

[1] 22. (1) Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
(2) In virtue of power conceded by law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops' conferences, legitimately established, with competence in given territories.
(3) Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

[2]Can. 838 ß1 The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop.
ß2 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.
ß3 It pertains to Episcopal Conferences to prepare vernacular translations of liturgical books, with appropriate adaptations as allowed by the books themselves and, with the prior review of the Holy See, to publish these translations.
ß4 Within the limits of his competence, it belongs to the diocesan Bishop to lay down for the Church entrusted to his care, liturgical regulations which are binding on all.


  1. I'm tired of everyone jumping through hoops to make things "relevant" for kids and to keep them entertained. That's really what it's all about.

    Want things to be relevant for the kids? Teach them their catechism.

  2. I am a woman, due to be baptized at Easter Vigil this week, and I was shocked when our parish office called me about 2 weeks ago to ask if I'd like to participate in the feet-washing ceremony. I declined, and then they said that I didn't have to have my feet washed, that I could wash someone else's feet. I declined this as well, and the parish secretary seemed genuinely shocked that I did so, but knowing what the ceremony was supposed to be about, I couldn't accept in good conscience.

    Later that week when I attended my RCIA class, I found that a man in the group had also been called by the parish office and asked to participate, and he said that he had accepted----to wash his wife's (she is also his sponsor) feet.

    Last year we didn't have a feet-washing at all (we had something else instead, which is a whole other issue), so I have no idea how the whole thing will play out, as one year is the extent of my experience in this parish. However, both of our priests, as well as both deacons, are quite elderly, and I can't imagine them washing more than one person's feet, if they do any at all. I suspect it will all be parishioners washing each other's feet...

    1. Its spreading like the flu. The National Sancturary of the Sorrowful Mother, (The Grotto) goes through the washing of the feet.Then all are invited to come forward and have their hands washed. They place some large bowls of water on the alter rail. You dip your hands in the water. Someone stands to one side and hands you a towel. At least they kept the alter rail, and it is in Portland.

    2. Last year at our parish we had only a "washing of the hands" that resembled the line for communion, sort of. At the front of each aisle an EMHC held a bowl of water. We were to dip our hands in the water, have them dried by the person ahead of us in line, then take the towel and wait to dry the hands of the person behind us.

      I can see how one might think that hands are the modern analogue to first century feet, in that they're the body part most likely to get covered in grime throughout the day, but even so the symbolism just doesn't compare.

  3. Viri is the Latin word used to describe those to have their feet washed in the Mandatum, which is OPTIONAL. Viri can only mean men, and arguably only adult men.
    I say just drop it.

  4. Jesus would truly weep at such small minded things this blog picks on to portray as what we must be doing. Feet really? Mary Magdalen was the first to see the risen Lord. She washed his feet. Do you not think he would not have done the same for her or maybe he did and it is just not recorded. At my church we had six woman and six men have their feet washed. I am happy to see that change for old parish.

  5. Yes, feet, really! It's important! The symbolism of the foot washing is important to an understanding of the priesthood. Jesus did not ordain Mary Magdelen to the priesthood. Truly, I think Jesus weeps at the liturgical abuses that go on, and the failure of some priests and bishops to teach WHY we should strive to follow the mind of the Church in celebrating our liturgies.


Please be courteous and concise.