I’ve Got the Cure for Your PTFWS* (*post-traumatic foot-washing syndrome)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread and all, but since I am committed to the healing arts and it pains me to think that any of you are among those rending their garments over Pope Francis’ washing of women’s feet this past Holy Thursday, worried that this is just the first sign of the new Pope’s  hidden proto-feminist agenda and the imminent ordination of women bishops and subsequent ending of the world (curse you, Mayans!–the Pope is from South America, after all), I thought I would pass along an historical anecdote as a way of demonstrating that this really is nothing about which to get your wimple in a knot.  In fact, as far as I can tell, the matter was resolved almost 30 years ago by a Vatican decree–as if the Pope needed a decree to do something in the first place.    Now, before I share this,  I’ll  tell you up front that I will round file with extreme prejudice any obnoxious, anti-clerical, more-canonical-than-thou, liturgi-terroristic comments.  Likewise, I’m not spending my Easter break arguing with anyone–especially over this.  Thoughtful, substantive, respectful comments, as always, are welcome.  With that, read on…

Once upon a time, back in 1985, I was in the seminary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The newly installed, then, Bishop Bevilacqua (later, the now-infamous  and recently deceased, Philly Cardinal) was both a canon and civil lawyer.  He was a stickler for details and not exactly a people-person, bless his heart.  Anyhoo, he rankled the diocesan women by refusing to wash their feet on Holy Thursday and ordering all the priests of the diocese to do the same. HUGE outcry. You’ve never seen so much anguish. Protests outside St Paul’s Cathedral for weeks. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  We seminarians were actually booed walking into the Cathedral at one point.  It was like Bishop Herod was killing the city’s children. In his defense, the bishop pointed out that the latin translation of the rules regarding the Holy Thursday liturgy said that the feet of 12 “viri” (men) should be washed–and anyway, the entire rite is optional so what was all the fuss about? Long story short, after even more histrionics, clarification was requested of the Vatican which later that year said that it was fine to wash women’s feet. Specifically, the Vatican said that,  in this case, it was fine to translate “viri” in the more general sense  of “men” meaning “persons”  (as in, “Jesus died for all men”–i.e., not just dudes, chicks too).    Bevilacqua lifted his ban the following year. The feet of the women of “the Burgh” didn’t have to stink anymore (well, not as much at least) the Bishop made a healthy breakfast of the egg on his face.  People went on to being petty about other things.

You may make of this what you will.  I only share it because part of my job as a therapist is to check people’s reality.  Consider your liturgical reality checked.  Nothing to see here folks.  Old news.  Now, go back to rejoicing in the fact that the Lord is risen, he is risen indeed!  Alleluia, Alleluia!

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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