Muslims & Convicts & Girls’ Toes, Oh My!

Stop it. Stop it right this minute.

Stop looking at the coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and then going into full Three Stooges Slapfest Mode on social media about it.

Stop charging the Holy Father with heresy for deviating from a liturgical instruction (reserving the washing of feet on Holy Thursday to males) that can technically only be dispensed with by Rome. The Holy Father IS Rome. No heresy for you.

And stop waiting to see traditionalists’ heads explode over this “footwashing equality” (why isn’t there a Facebook profile graphic yet?), indulging in that vicious dark joy, that arcane pleasure that Pope Francis warned us about only yesterday.

You’re making me sick, all of you. The rite is not a right or a privilege or a sacred cow, it’s a sign of our obedience to the Mandatum, Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you,” celebrated during the Holy Thursday Mass devoted to the institution of Eucharist, “this great sacrament of unity.”

The Holy Father is not caving to feminists or going soft on Islam or yanking the Church into the twenty-first century or telling traditional Catholics what they can do with their liturgical instructions. He is following the example of Jesus’ servant leadership to the letter, doing as we also should do.

If you don’t know that, it’s because the Father of Lies, who lives for merde like this in a Week like this, is happyhappyjoyjoy to lead you into heresy and watch your head explode. For Christ’s sake, stop letting him win.

There’s still time, in the US anyway, to get yourself to the Missa in Coena Domini in your parish or cathedral. If the Mandatum is celebrated, don’t waste a single minute—whether in glee or in horror—checking out the genders, vocations,  socioeconomic status, or criminal records of the feet being washed. Look to the One on the cross, and repeat after Peter:

“Master, not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”

Then, united ubi caritas et amor, repeat after Peter’s Vicar, and bring the caress of Christ to someone who needs it most. Leave Satan to his foot fetishing, and have a Blessed Triduum!

  • Dan

    The rationale for the male-only priesthood is that Jesus chose only male disciples and the church is maintaining that tradition.
    Jesus also only washed the feet of male disciples, and the popes have maintained that tradition.
    Is it a reach to think Pope Francis’ actions today somewhat undermine the argument for the male priesthood?

    • joannemcportland

      No, Dan. I think the over-association of the mandatum with the institution of the priesthood undermines the significance of Jesus’ example of service. I hope this will be clarified better in liturgical instructions, but I don’t agree with either side’s extreme. The pope was not signalling a desire to overthrow oppressive male structures–he was reminding us that the rubrics are for people, not people for rubrics.

      • Christine Niles

        “he was reminding us that the rubrics are for people, not people for rubrics.”

        We’ve had 50 years of this mindset, with its well-known and damaging liturgical innovations. Pope Benedict was trying to reverse the tide by a return to reverence in the liturgy, with special care to obey the rubrics as they are written, in order to reign in creative pastors who believe themselves above the law.

        The Holy Father is well within his rights to make exceptions to the law. He has the power to do it, and no one doubts his good will. But let’s please not be surprised (or judgmental) that the faithful are confused (and even scandalized) by this sudden break with 2000 years of venerable custom.

        • joannemcportland

          I understand your point. But with regard to the washing of the feet, the practice of its occurring within the Holy Thursday Mass, with norms and rubrics, has only been in effect since 1955. That’s hardly 2000 years of venerable custom.

      • James L.

        Joanne, like most people I appreciate Pope Francis’ gesture to teach us the importance to service the poor and the needy. Personally I can do a lot more to imitate our pope’s example in love and charity. On the other hand, as Catholics, we uphold our liturgy as sacred and a matter of discipline because the focus of the liturgy is not ourselves, but God. It is the highest form of worship that transcends time, space and ideology. We do not have to sacrifice the liturgical norm in order to show Christian charity. Many liturgical abuses that we experienced in the past few decades were rooted in the name of pastoral care. We just slowly attempt to reform the reform and there are still much to be done to recover the liturgical treasures we lost. Considering that Triduum is the high point of our liturgical year, it is reasonable to expect that our Supreme Pontiff would set a good example for the rest of us to follow. It is not hard to see that people will use this exception to justify their own departure from the liturgical norm. It is that much harder to restore the discipline. Also, there is a reasonable interpretation of this rite as a commemoration of the institution of priesthood. Argument aside, it is a common interpretation and more than a few liturgical experts hold this opinion. I question the wisdom of muddling the issue without first clarifying the intention. There are many ways and opportunities to show compassion and charity, this exception could be avoided. The last point I would like to echo is that humility can also be shown by submitting oneself to tradition and liturgical norm. It is a different expression of humility, but it is humility nevertheless. We should not pitch one against the other. I hope I have not been uncharitable in voicing my observation. I love our pope and pledge my obedience.

        • Guest

          There is a fine line between absolute adherance to liturgical ‘norms’ and being like one of the Pharisees who loved the laws and rules more than God or their fellow man. I’m not saying you’ve crossed it but you are treading mighty close to it, imo. In my parish, our pastor not only washes women’s feet but those of very young children as well. The Holy Thursday foot washing is a symbolic act of what he epitomizes in his everyday actions as humble servant to his parish family, ALL of them.

    • midwestlady

      Catholics live for, eat up, swoon over, allegory. This is a perfect example. It doesn’t matter to them what the Scriptures say about the right order of relationships between people, and about serving each other. Only the allegory matters.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Yes, it is a reach- a reach way too far that could take you over a doctrinal cliff.

    • deiseach

      Yes, Dan, it’s a reach. The rite of footwashing was, in previous centuries, separate from the Mass of the Last Supper. Pope Pius V re-instated or instated (whichever you prefer) it to its present position. There are a lot of customs associated with Maundy Thursday; I don’t see anyone having the vapours over the Queen’s Maundy Money not being distributed (the tradition that the monarch gives a small symbolic gift of silver to poor and elderly recipients; a custom that originated in the Middle Ages and was retained after the Reformation).

      I think that any progressive rejoicing that this is somehow a symbolic act conducive to the proclamation of women’s ordination is badly misplaced. I also think that any traditional hand-wringing that this is violating all kinds of rubrics and downgrading the priesthood is badly misplaced. I like my liturgy as high as I can get, and I loved Pope Emeritus Benedict for bringing back all the little (and not so little) things and signs and vesture and customs, but I am not going to make this particular ritual the hill I am willing to die on.

      The point of the footwashing is not “Observe this in perfect rubrical fidelity for evermore or be cast into the outer darkness”, it is “If I your Master do this, do this also amongst and for each other”.

  • The Gift

    If people want to channel their inner Pharisee, complaining that Christ is cavorting with tax collectors and prostitutes, and healing on the Sabbath, and washing the feet on Muslims and slimy girls, well who are we to stop them?

  • John

    The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. I could quote many other passages. A beautiful commentary, Ms. McPortland. A photograph that is the gospel in action. In ecumenical solidarity, may this non-RC Christian wish you and all your RC readers a blessed Easter.

  • Inquiring Mind

    I say let the Pope do what he will do. I for one am sick and tired of every action of Francis I being scrutinized for some kind of prophetic insight into his papacy or revelation of his character. Catholic media is as guilty of this, or more so, as the secular. It’s almost like saying that his public behavior is calculated and manipulative if you really want to get honest about it. I don’t think that’s what people, Catholics especially, really want to be saying about him, is it?

  • Bill

    Agreed Joanne.
    The male priesthood is in no trouble at all with this

  • Subsistent

    Seems to me it’s clear that only a priest should ADMINISTER the *mandatum* foot-washing. But as to who should RECEIVE such washing, Jimmy Akin at the Nat. Cath. Register has noted that, because of the Rubrics’ uncertain wording (after all, the Rubrics don’t say that ONLY men can receive it), and because of the Rome Liturgy commission’s reply to Cdl. O’Malley’s inquiry, apparently to the effect that the bishop can decide the matter for his own diocese — because of all this, there is a state of reasonable doubt; and that such a doubtful statute does not oblige. So I think it’s not even, at present, a matter of a dispensation from Rome, but simply of a reasonably doubtful statute.

    • Subsistent

      I’m happy to learn that canonist Ed Peters thinks (cf. his closed-to-comments “canonlawblog”) that the mandatum rite should not limit to males those whose feet are washed. But I’m disappointed to learn that he thinks it in fact does so limit. He has thus apparently ignored the fact that neither the Roman Missal nor the *Paschalis Sollemnitatis* of the Congregation for Divine Worship specify here “men only” (*viri soli* or any synonymous phrase); and has apparently forgotten — or never gotten — the adage I’ve thought was traditional among canonists: “Where the rule does not specify, neither should we [canonists] specify.”

  • Jen @ Conversion Diary

    Thanks for an excellent post. This really needed to be said.

  • cminor


    Suddenly I have this horrible vision of a set of pink footprints on a red background…

    • cminor

      Oops–attempted to insert the quote about the Facebook profile graphic above, but I seem to have made it vanish instead. Makes me look foolish!

      • joannemcportland

        Nope. Not foolish. Got it, and it’s pretty clever!

  • Anthony Akpan

    Jesus’ command is that we love all, and if we truely love all as Jesus commanded, then we’ll be blind to race, sex, age, social status etc. What should interest us is the effect of Pope Francis’ action on the lives of these young people. God bless us all!

  • IC

    This definitely needed to be said. A lot of people need to take a valium.

  • HappyEaster

    I’m no theologian, but I don’t think the world as we know it is going to end because Pope Francis reached out to some troubled youth during Holy Week. Like the author of this blog, I’m with Team Jesus!

  • Jocelyne

    Yes. This. Thank you for being a voice of sanity.

  • George

    There is a balance between liturgical chaos and Pharisaical devotion to rubrics. Some people need to learn that it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

  • Jo Ann

    Scripture has so many levels — I wish people would remember that. Isn’t it more important that Jesus was instructing those who would lead his Church when he was gone that their role was that of a servant to his flock and not to forget that. But it was also to sinners (which they were), and to people who were still clueless about who Jesus really was (which they were). Therefore, to me it is always appropriate for a bishop to wash the feet of priests and remind them that they are servants, but it is also always appropriate for bishops and priests “in persona Christi” to wash the feet of all humanity — the sinners and the clueless — to remind us that we are loved and forgiven.

    • midwestlady

      I agree. It is about the clergy being servants to the Church. Everyone is watching the trads to watch them freak out. I’ll be the curia he’s going to be cleaning up is REALLY freaking out, but they’re not on the internet so we can’t see it.

  • Cynthia

    If you have a problem with the Catholicism because of something a good and holy pope does, then I think you have a bigger problem.

  • nancyo

    Have you seen the video from Rome Reports on Youtube of clips from the Holy Thursday Mass and foot washing? The love on the face of the Holy Father is simply amazing and inspiring. That’s all I need.

  • nancyo

    Here’s the video link, if Patheos lets it go through:

  • B. Yolanda O’Brien

    I have had my foot washed 3 times, and each time I have been humbled and recalled to serve our Lord as he sees fit. Man or woman, we are first and above all else, made in his image. Just because I have had my foot washed and kissed by a priest, doesn’t mean I wish to be a priest. It is a hard and lonely life. Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be a mother and a grandmother.

    May God bless All, regardless of your faith, lack of faith, and gender.

  • Yae

    @ nancyo…His face radiated with a sweetness that can only come from Jesus himself. To see such beauty and such faith amid all the clamor that took place yesterday was a gift for me. I will often look at his joy so that I can seek that same joy and share it with others.
    Precious seeds were planted in that detention center yesterday, let’s take up now, with faith and with hope, that those same seeds will take root, that those present will be transformed and that they too, will come to the full knowledge of Christ. God bless Papa Francis!
    Thank you for your post Joan. A happy and blessed Easter to you and yours and to everyone here!

  • Yae

    “There are two types of men: those who take care of the pain. And those who pass by.” (Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 2003)

  • Dan

    Thanks, Joanne, et al. Happy Easter everyone

  • Billy

    Joanne, I have really mixed feelings about this. The instructions are clear; viri = men and it is that word used and not homo. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about rights in Catholicism but one of the few areas where there is a right (that I have heard of anyway) is a right for the faithful to have the liturgy celebrated in accordance with the missal.

    That said, what the Pope did seems like a good thing.

    I’ve heard elsewhere that Jesuits just aren’t that good at liturgy. Not their charism, I guess. Maybe we shouldn’t expect too much for him in this regard?

    Still, he could have changed the rule if he wanted, so why didn’t he?

    As I said, I’m conflicted.

    • Knower

      Yes, “viri = men”. But it does not = “men only”: *viri soli* does this. But the rule does not say “viri soli”, nor anything of the sort.

  • Laurie Harrington

    I always believed that excluding women from this rite symbolically excluded us from the eucharistic community. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Fortunately, I never belonged to a parish that excluded anyone. Nor would I.

  • Bill M.

    If I hear one more hand-wringer mention RUBRICS I’m gonna plotz.

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