Just a word for anybody who looks to me for Expert Commentary on Liturgy:
My attitude toward liturgy is that of an Irish peasant in 1875. Namely, what do I know? I have a strict scruple against advising the Church on how liturgy is to be done (because… what do I know?). My attitude to the liturgy is “Just give me my lines and my blocking”. Whatever Holy Church says is permissible is fine by me. Whatever she forbids is fine by me. Whatever she commands is fine by me.
Period. End of story.
Now, if you ask me what I make of the liturgy as an ordinary ignorant schlub out in the pew, I will happily give you my garrulous Irish opinion on What it Means to Me (which, with five bucks will get you cup of Starbucks). If you ask me a question about what the Church says about liturgy and I have time and inclination, I will try to dig up the USCCB or Vatican resource or point you to somebody (*cough* Jimmy Akin *cough*) who actually knows something. But mostly I avoid liturgy stuff because, hey! What do I know?
Earlier today, somebody wrote me looking for my take on the Holy Thursday footwashing thing. Since “What do I know” is my motto about liturgy, I went and found what seemed to be a magisterial resource and that document noted that it seems that lots of parishes include women in the rite. Moreover, as I mentioned in my response, the document on the USCCB site that mentions it appears to say that’s okay.
Now various readers are telling me that document is outdated (and doing so in various tones of voice ranging from the calm to the hysterical). If so, well, see my first two paragraphs. All I know is the document was on the USCCB site and I made a good faith effort to refer my reader to a magisterial source since, hey! What do I know? If there are more up to date treatments of the matter, I’d appreciate somebody sticking a URL in my combox.
A priest friend who is generally pretty reliable about these sorts of things tells me that, yes, Rome has not looked kindly on the washing women’s feet thing, but also notes that parishes have different ways of coping with it given the pastoral headache that this rite can create (“What do you mean my wife can’t participate?!” etc.). For one thing, there is always the option of just not doing it. It’s not essential to Holy Thursday.
Similarly, there are older forms of praxis. In Dominican circles, till the Council, it was done privately in the priory as the superior washed the feet of his fellow Dominicans. Getting laity in on the act at all is a pretty recent development for Dominicans (dunno about diocesan parishes). He also mentioned that when it has been done, he’s never in his life seen it done with men alone (at any parish, not just Dominican ones). That said, he’d prefer it done with men only.
He also mentioned that another strategy employed by some parishes is apparently to change the number of people whose feet are washed. That way, they aren’t recalling the 12 apostles, but are simply standing for generic disciples, male and female. Dunno how much the Church micromanages such things and, frankly, don’t much care. I like the rite itself (though I would never participate since my feet are way too ticklish). But since it’s entirely optional, I have no idea if the number of participants is entirely optional too, and therefore if there’s some way women can thereby participate. Don’t know. Don’t much care.
Remember: Me. Schlub in pew. Giving my subjective reaction to the liturgy. Not expert. Just schlub in pew. Like it or not, my subjective reaction to the extremely fine points of liturgical fussbudgetry is disinterest. Just give me my lines and my blocking. I look *along* the liturgy at God. I don’t tend to look *at* the liturgy in order to squint critically at whether the liturgist is up to my highly discriminating snuff. Why? Because what do I know?
It’s like going to a play. I’m not interested in the details of the embroidering on Hamlet’s costume or the brush strokes on the canvas backdrop of Elsinore Castle. Some people may be and that’s fine with me. I’m not. Hamlet nourishes me in other ways. The day may come when some friend of mine takes a class in theatre production and infectiously communicates his interest to me so that I do start to notice embroidery and paint strokes. But so far, no: I don’t care much about such details and instead receive the whole production in a much broader way.
One thing I *can* guarantee though. If my friend takes the class and then proceeds to hector me about how I am an embarrassment for reading a Cliff Notes on Hamlet (in a good faith effort to educate myself) –or chews me out as having contempt for all that is good and right because I trusted the Cliff Notes and did not read up on all the footnotes on in the Yale Complete Works of Shakespeare before having the unmitigated *gall* to see the play and formulate some schlubby thoughts in response–or tells me I am a manifest enemy of Western Civilization because I’m not interested in embroidery or set painting: well, I will be able to explain to that person why so few people are converted to liturgical fussbudgetry by these tactics.
If, on the other hand, somebody with knowledge calmly explains to me (as a good priest in the comboxes did), that the Cliff Notes I had was out of date and that other things have happened in Shakespeare scholarship since then, I’m quite willing to listen. I *like* the liturgy and I like learning about it. But the tendency of lay liturgy cops to prioritize precise liturgical accuracy over mercy and charity is the absolute number one reason I avoid discussions of liturgy like the plague.
The liturgy was made for man, not man for the liturgy. God does not need our worship. We need to worship God. We cannot do it well without good liturgy, it is true. But we also cannot do it well with a liturgy that is celebrated by people who strain at the gnat of liturgical precision and swallow the camel of anger, hyper-sensitivity, and presumption of bad faith against ordinary schlubs who have every intention of worshipping the Lord, but are not up to speed on hyper-obscure ecclesial documents.