One final point about the foot-washing thing

The only people I’ve felt some sympathy for in the Great Foot-Washing Nutty have been priests who have written me saying, “Now what am I supposed to tell the people in the parish who view the washing of the feet as some sort of political platform for ‘making a statement’ about women’s ordination and Fighting the Patriarchy and all that?”

I’m no pastor, but I can tell you, as a layperson out in the pew what *I’d* love to hear.  I’d love to hear a priest use this as a teaching moment (since that is what the foot-washing is ordered toward: teaching, not dispensing sacramental grace) and make clear both the various meanings inherent in this polyvalent gesture *and* a discussion of the meaning Pope Francis was emphasizing *and* make clear (since Holy Thursday *is* all about the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood) how many light years Francis’ gesture was from trying to reinforce American culture war and gender politics dynamics.  That would be golden for me.

Here’s how: First look at the text of John:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5* Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 6 He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” 8* Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, * but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11* For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.” 12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15* For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16* Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant * is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17* If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

There is no single “meaning” to this text (which is typical for the incredibly rich writing of John).  There are lots of meanings.  It’s a text about baptism.  It’s a text about how the priest is to live.  It’s a text about the demand for all disciples of Jesus (not just priests) to be servants of all.  It was this last point that Francis was making, and he was perfectly within his rights to do so, which you can point out just as canonist Pete Vere does:

“Can. 26 Unless the competent legislator has specifically approved it, a custom contrary to the canon law now in force or one beyond a canonical law (praeter legem canonicam) obtains the force of law only if it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. Only a centenary or immemorial custom, however, can prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.”

1 – As the Church’s Supreme Legislator, Pope Francis is a competent legislator.
2 – The practice of broadening the pool of candidates for foot washing had been a counter-custom.
3 – In observing the counter-custom, Pope Francis has obviously specifically approved it by his actions.

Something I should clarify, since I have donned my canonical hat, is that no priest or bishop is bound to observe the counter-custom just because the Pope has done so. The previous rubric remains in place unless and until Pope Francis decides to change it. His observance of the counter-custom simply means that the counter-custom is now lawful to observe should a priest or bishop opt to do so. Again, this is the broad Roman legal mentality.

Note that last point.  If you have women’s ordination guerillas in your parish, don’t avoid this opportunity, seize it.  Make clear that *because* Francis was pointing to the need to be a servant, he was miles away from all talk of the priesthood as a position of power.  Point out that those who speak of the priesthood as a civil right are conceiving of it entirely in terms of an earthly struggle for power and therefore are not really understanding what it is: a gift given to the Church in service of the Eucharist and of the people of God, not a platform for power struggles.  Note as well that, because you are under obedience to your bishop, the fact that the Pope has altered the rubrics in his own case does not mean he has altered them for you till your bishop okays it.  Why can he do that?  Because he’s pope and you are not.

And if your bishop has approved the change in your diocese by next Holy Thursday, you can still celebrate Holy Thursday however it pleases you (unless, of course, your bishop *mandates* that you include women in the rite).

I know it’s a pain for a busy pastor, but I think this is a teaching opportunity.  Thanks for all your hard work for us, padres!

Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig has a Smart Look at Pope Francis
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Pope Francis Minutes
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  • Michelle

    Or, perhaps the priests who have written you might want to step back and ascribe more charitable motives to the parishioners seeking to include women in the footwashing. I don’t know about anyone else, but in all my years as a Catholic (17, this week), I have never heard anyone say that the reason they wanted women included (or chose as a woman to participate) was so as to Make a Statement about women’s ordination or to Fight the Patriarchy. That’s not to say it is not possible that some cranky person somewhere has not done so, but my guess is that it is more urban legend than cold fact.

    On the other hand, I have met priests online who are faithful to Catholic liturgical law but who treat being faithful to Catholic liturgical law as an identity badge for their “tribe” of Orthodox Catholic Priest Fighting the Demmed Libruls Within. In so doing, they have demonstrated a distinct lack of charity to parishioners and other lay Catholics who might think including women in the footwashing rite is a “nice thing to do” but don’t think much of it beyond that.

    What may be needed here is charity on all sides, especially on a holy day on which Christ gave us a commandment to love.

    • DRH

      Wait …. what “charitable motives” **unrelated to** “Fight(ing) the Patriarchy” can you name. Granted, there are more warm’n’fuzzy variants of the “Fight the Patriarchy” thing, that dont use the harsh jibbery-jabbery jargon of the academic Left, but the, um, patrimony is the same.

      • Irenist

        I can’t speak for them, since I disagree with them, but the first two charitable motives that I can hypothesize for proponents of women’s ordination are inclusiveness and amelioration of the priest shortage. Neither of these would make them correct, but both would be entirely well-intentioned.

        • DRH

          Sorry I wasn’t clear : I was asking what the “charitable motives” for icnuding women in the foot-washing.

    • midwestlady

      You need to get out more. This has been going on for more than a decade.

  • PNP, OP

    I’m not a pastor. . .just a lowly parochial vicar. . .but if I were a pastor, I’d exercise the option to omit the foot-washing altogether, especially if there were “women’s ordination guerrillas” in my parish. Omit the rite for three yrs in a row and then re-introduce it according to the rubrics.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

    • Stu

      And I think that will the unintended consequence of it all.

      It’s just going to go away.

      • midwestlady

        And that’s okay. It’s a symbolic gesture, a re-enactment from the book of John, added to the liturgy in the 20th century. It tends to overshadow the rest of this very important occasion and that’s unfortunate, I think. Holy Thursday isn’t about “me, me, me, you weren’t chosen, me and my tribe were, mwahahah.” In fact, if you read the passage carefully, in context, it says pretty much the opposite. You can now. It’s time to get rid of it.

        • midwestlady

          wordpress doesn’t like anything enclosed in carets either. It probably thinks they’re block types. Oops.
          Edit: You can now FACEPALM. It’s time to get rid of it.

      • Faith

        My parish hasn’t done it for more than a decade. We have a lovely, lovely, rich Holy Thursday Mass in spite of this.

  • Dave

    I think Pete and Ed Peters need to have a debate and let us listen. We’d probably all learn something.

    • Robert King

      Yes, I’m curious about the Pope “specifically approving” this “custom” from a canonical perspective. I’ve never heard that the mere action itself is sufficient to promulgate an exception to law … but then I’m no lawyer, so I’m curious to what the actual law says.

      (For the record, this is out of legal curiosity, not because I care one way or another about how the foot washing issue is resolved. My desire for good order simply would like it to be resolved in some definite way.)

    • Kevin

      At least from what I’ve read of my good friend Pete, I don’t think there’s a serious disagrement. Dr. Peters even hinted that the rules are a bit different when it comes to the Roman Pontiff. Pete isn’t speaking about the wisdom of such, just from a canonical standpoint. At least such is what it seemed when I bugged him about this last week. :)

      • midwestlady

        He’s the pope. Laws notwithstanding, he can probably do whatever the hell he wants. Think about it. If no one stops the local sister-in-polyester from doing whatever she does, who’s going to stop the pope from doing what he does? Get a grip, people. All uncontrollable authority figures notwithstanding (and you know there are a ton of them), this one is more likely to be on your side than most. I kind of like the guy. Don’t quote me later.

  • deiseach

    (1) Really progressive progressive person – oh, so now you pick when to listen to the pope? Okay, how about what he’s said on abortion, same-sex marriage, adoption by gay couples, etc. etc. etc.?

    (2) Really traditional traditional person – we’ve been telling the liturgically liberal for the past forty years to sit down and do what the pope says. Time for us to put our money where our mouths are.

    (3) Ordinary people who don’t get what all the fuss is about – okay, try what the pope says about “God’s forgiveness is never old, never tired” and make it to confession at least once a month, okay, guys?

    • Ed the Roman

      WordPress does not like terse, ggeky comments like ‘+1′. But that’s what I mean.

    • S. Murphy

      What Ed the Romand said: Plus 1

    • ivan_the_mad


      lorem ipsum dolor etc

  • Teresa B.

    “I have never heard anyone say that the reason they wanted women included (or chose as a woman to participate) was so as to Make a Statement about women’s ordination or to Fight the Patriarchy.”
    Michelle – being involved in various ministries with meetings – conversations within these meetings gave me an idea of where people stood. There are people out there with agendas. I found out the hard way when I was in my late 20′s and was asked to sponsor someone in RCIA.
    The leaders of the RCIA had a very clear cut agenda – married priest and women’s ordination will happen within 10 years they said and those in RCIA were the very people to get that happening. yada yada yada.
    I went to RCIA sponsor workshops with the same kind of leaders. It isn’t a one time parish issue.
    My parish and to the parishes I have attended throughout my life have always had many people in leadership roles with this sort of guerilla attitude.
    When our former pastor moved into this parish – he was RACKED over the coals his first Holy Thursday because he only had male altar servers and K of C men at the footwashing. He said ‘fine’ and we have not had footwashing since. That second year on Holy Thursday he explained at the start of his homily – why he wasn’t doing a footwashing as he read part of the Church document that explained the directives on foot washing and then explained that he also had the option of not doing it. The guerillas were not happy. So they then started to focus on why he sometimes would chant the Latin Sanctus and Agus Dei. The lonly Latin in the mass.
    Priest nowadays have it hard as they have to deal with these guerillas.
    We need to pray for our priests and encourage them.

  • Beadgirl

    The problem is that no matter what a priest does, there will always be someone who complains. I feel bad for parish priests for that reason, because it is impossible for them to please everyone.

    • Sean O

      Pleasing everyone is not their job.

      Be compassionate & preach the Gospel is the job, the calling.
      The rest is up to God. Obviously, there is plenty to do.

      • KML

        While true, that doesn’t mean that the priest isn’t human and experiences normal human-level frustrations and letdowns over the behavior of the people they’ve been charged with shepherding, or that bearing it is easy for them. All the more reason to pray for them.

  • ajesquire

    “Now what am I supposed to tell the people in the parish who view the washing of the feet as some sort of political platform for ‘making a statement’ about women’s ordination and Fighting the Patriarchy and all that?”

    Tell them that the Holy Mass is no place for political platforms and for “making ANY sort of political statement”.

    But then again, I suspect many of the GOPriests whose celices are in a bind over this would like to reserve the right to inject politics into the Mass come primary season.

    I guess watching these folks flip out is what the internet kids today call “schadenfreude.”

  • Beadgirl

    gah, my fault.

    • Dan F.

      did you fix it?

      • Beadgirl

        I thought I did. Mark, you wanna go in and fix it, or just delete my comment?

        Let me try this. test. better?

        • Beadgirl

          Nope. I give up. So sorry, folks!

    • Kristen inDallas

      I like it. Its as if everyone is communicating telepathically, or something. Even YELLING looks more subtle. :)

      • KML

        I picture everyone leaning in close and carefully anunciating everything, while doing the Bill Clinton thumb pointing thing.

        • KML

          “enunciating.” Oops!

  • WesleyD

    One reason for the confusion is the common practice — not in any rubrics — to wash the feet of exactly twelve people. That leads to the common misconception that these people represent the Apostles (something that, again, is not mentioned in the rubrics). If a number other than twelve were chosen, nobody would say “Women’s feet are being washed, and this has implications for women’s ordination” any more than they would say “Women are receiving communion, and this has implications for women’s ordination”. After all, the distribution of communion is also the re-enactment of one of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper.

    As far as the Pope disregarding the rubrics: yes, he did. But not all rubrics are equally important. Traditionalists pay their taxes and feel obligated to do so (as do I), but I suspect that even Traditionalists sometimes exceed the posted speed limit on interstate highways (as do I). Both of these are illegal. I have been at Masses where a priest replaced the Eucharistic Prayer with an ad-libbed prayer, and I have been at Masses where a priest changed the words “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” to “This is He, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Both of these violate the rubrics. But common sense tells us that some rubrics are more important than others.

  • WesleyD

    To be fair to the traditionalists who are unhappy with Francis’ action, one more point should be said. Nobody would have reacted this way if a pope had done this during the fourth year of his pontificate. The reason that so much attention has been paid is that Francis is new, and people are (understandably) curious what he will do in the future, and therefore they try to find clues in every little action what he might do. I don’t think that even the traditionalists seriously think that washing women’s feet will “encourage” women’s ordination. But some of them do fear that a pope who, in his first month, changes some minor traditions to include women might be the sort of person who will eventually change some major traditions as well.

    This kind of augur reading is very dubious, but it’s probably inevitable. And both sides do it. A priest at America Magazine has already extrapolated that Francis will abandon Dominus Iesus, which made him quite happy. But once Francis actually starts doing major things, these extrapolations will all be forgotten.

    • Sean O

      Jesus was constantly in trouble with the Scribes & Pharisees for breaking or failing to observe the LETTER of the law. He was eventually crucified for it. Jesus’ concern was for the SPIRIT of the law.

      The parallel w Pope Francis is unmistakeable. The law of love trumps all other rules & laws. If you get nothing about Jesus from the Gospels you should get that. Pope Francis does.

      • WesleyD

        Sean O, I’m curious: If this is your view of Pope Francis, did you very much dislike the way that Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI obeyed liturgical rubrics? Did you feel that when P6 and JP2 reiterated the LETTER of the law against contraception, they were not being like Jesus? Did you feel that when JP2 and B16 reiterated that salvation comes through Christ alone, they were focusing on the LETTER of the law and not being like Jesus?

      • midwestlady

        And if you take from this that Christ was merely a law-breaker because laws are meant to be broken, then you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

        Christ had a very well-defined and challenging message. The Jewish authorities knew what to do with the Romans who were outsiders and could be positioned as foes to the entire Jewish religious system, but they had no idea what to do with Christ, who scared them and challenged them on their own turf, since he used their categories and traditions to speak of God in a totally new way. That’s why they went to so much trouble to get rid of him.

        Unless you speak of God in the ways that were used by the Jews and by Christ himself, you can’t characterize what happened when Christ seemed to violate expectations. However, that’s no so hard to do. That’s what your Bible is for.

      • The True Will

        Well, he STILL hasn’t called the Third Vatican Council, ordained women, or approved abortion, contraception and gay marriage. We true progressives are SO disappointed!

        • midwestlady

          One of these fine spring mornings, you’re going to wake up and realize that war ended a long time ago, and has been replaced by something important for a change: trying to get Catholics to convert to actual Catholic Christianity, classic style, Bible style.
          We’re on the cusp of a demographic crash that’s going to make 1965 look like a tiny blip, and serious evangelization INSIDE the Church is going to be the only way to head it off. If we’re not already too late. The Church is losing members like mad as we speak.

  • huckster

    Why don’t they start with simple and just allowing the deacons to be able to bless the bread and wine. In Germany, they can’t do that. The silliness is they can “perform” the service and even preach, but they have to get the wine and bread (host) shipped in from the Holies of Holies. The deacons can perform pretty much everything else if I shoot from the hip. For starters, a whole bunch of issues can be put to little rest.
    They have women and male deacons. Deal here with some small stuff which may put to rest some of the “big stuff” like Priest being able to marry and women being ordained. Who would want to even be a priest if one can get paid and perform all the sacraments. The better question to maybe ask is how many priest really want to stay at one specific parish and not climb the pope latter. I don’t know a officer who did not set his sights on becoming a general. It could be priest just want to make “major” so they can retire and do their twenty. Maybe the priesthood should take on a 20 year vow with a decent retirement where a priest can look into another career like, ah?, get married. How many priest do you know who live with their “housekeeper” and is not his mother. They live in the same room. Should the parish even care? Care even less if he is a good priest who the community loves. Sounds like the runner stumbles.

    Now, what was the subject? Foot washing. No comment.

  • Jon W

    Anyone remember Gerard E’s comments from, like, 10 years ago? Huckster approaches their rambling hilarity yet eschew’s Gerard E’s habit of making an actual point.

  • Stormy
    • Andy, Bad Person

      “I hate that the Holy Father washed the foot of those eeeeevil infidels. But I really care about what they think!”

    • Mark Shea

      I wonder if Jesus was as deeply worried about what the Pharisees thought as you are worried about what Muslims think.

      • Stu

        Well, a few days ago there were plenty people excited about what a great message this sent to the Muslim community so apparently there are quite a few people on both side who are worried about what Muslims think.

    • The True Will

      Is the Horton post serious, or was it another poisson d’Avril? I can’t tell the difference any more.

  • Mark R

    A lowly woman who was a great sinner washed Jesus’ feet with her tears before anointing them. Should it matter then whose feet a priest washes so long it is acknowledged that in reciprocity a representative of Christ is washing a sinner’s feet in an act of hospitalty to symbolize the mercy of God.

  • Bathilda

    I thought nothing of it. From all the Holy Thursday services I’ve ever attended, there have always been men and women getting their feet washed. I didn’t even know it was a “law” or “rubric” or whatever. Much ado about nothing.

  • KML

    As much fun as it is to entertain the reactions of fellow Catholics, non-Catholics provide an even more unique brand. I had the pleasure yesterday of entertaining a comment from a super liberal relative along the lines of “See? SEE?? The Pope CAN change things! You must be frothing at the mouth over the foot washing thing!! WOMEN!! And MUSLIMS!! What do you think of Francis NOW? Not so great NOW, is he?? Next stop, birth control!!” And I was like, “I’m perfectly fine with what he did, and, uh, no.”


  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    In my parish, for the last several years we have included both men and women: all of them, 12 candidates or catechumens from the RCIA process. Which means that not only are they not all exclusively male, they aren’t Catholic. Some aren’t even Christian.

    But the profound beauty and meaning of the gesture is unmistakable. When the priest gets down on his knees and moves from person to person, all involved — priest, RCIA candidates, congregation — experience a little of what was happening on that Holy Thursday night all those years ago. We are taken back to the very beginnings of our faith in an unexpectedly realistic and moving way.

    (I don’t know anyone, anyone at all, who has protested this because it suggests supporting the ordination of women. Given the people involved, it carries for us a very different meaning, reflecting discipleship and service and the passing on of the faith…)

    But taking this a step further: if this is to be a priestly act, signifying Holy Orders, why on earth do some parishes let lay people do the foot washing? Makes no sense. The theology behind this is in desperate need of clarification.

    • Chris-2-4

      Now, see there. I don’t care one bit about whether the celebrant washes the feet of women or muslims or non-catholics or whatnot. But I do have a problem with limiting it entirely, year after year to the candidates and catechumens only.

      • Stu

        Diversity in footwashing. It will be a matter of social justice.

        This is why priests will opt out of this optional rite in the future.

        • midwestlady

          This is what happens when Catholicism and Christianity diverge. Just saying.

  • Romulus

    With all respect deacon, yours is also a parish where female altar servers vest in male garments, and all servers preposterously wear mozettas, a garment proper to bishops. Seriously, if historical usage no longer counts for anything, why not furnish them with mitres while you’re at it?

    Since Mark is introducing scripture passages, I look forward to a consideration of Exodus 30 and 40, where foot washing is explicitly mandated in the context of the establishment of the levitical priesthood, and how this act controls our understanding of Jesus’s purpose in performing this ritual in the establment of his own priesthood. If Jesus’s acts were not random but carefully considered for their prophetic significance, and if scripture is meant to be read not piecemeal but as a whole, because nothing therein is gratuitous and the New testament is the fulfillment and revelation of what’s prefigured in the old, how are we at liberty to reduce Jesus’s last supper action as merely an enjoinment to mutual service?

  • FrMartinFox


    Do you care what priests think about this? I believe you do.

    Well, then let me say, first, that some of your comments which I saw on Facebook, seemed awfully glib (would it shock you if I suggest that is something to which you’re prone? Me too)…and that was irritating.

    But OK, let’s do something more worthwhile with this comment.

    It isn’t so much that the foot-washing is specifically about “women’s ordination” but rather it’s part of mindset which has been at work for about 30 years at least, which looks for every opportunity to innovate the liturgy.

    I really think this, in turn, is part of a larger trend of narcissism and boredom. Too often, in the liturgy particularly, the issue is what makes people feel validated; I remember when a small change was implemented in my first parish, regarding the distribution of holy communion, a number of extraordinary ministers of holy communion complained because they felt devalued.

    Then there is the issue of rewarding disobedience. Some time back, it was who can be an altar server; and a lot of priests and parishes were rebelling for some time against the rule that it be only males; and eventually, Pope Blessed John Paul II overturned that. At another stage, it was communion in the hand; and again, what started as defiance of the Church’s norms was subsequently ratified. This looks a lot like that.

    Now, each of these are of competing importance. I think the altar server decision has been a negative for male spirituality and for vocations. I think the communion-in-the-hand is a big negative for reverence of the Eucharist. The question of whose feet get washed isn’t terribly important, and while I can make an argument for the current rubric, it’s just not that big a deal–at least in U.S. culture (I wouldn’t be surprised if a male priest washing a woman’s feet is a cultural taboo in other parts of the world–and we Westerners really ought not turn up our noses at that sort of thing).

    But all three (and other things as well) have this in common–cases where the larger trend was disobedience of the norms of the Church, and those who stood firm got thrown under the bus.

    Parallel to this is the phenomenon of “why aren’t the other parishes around here doing that?” That’s what happens when a pastor simply insists on doing what the Church says, for example:

    > Only sacred music at sacred liturgy–meaning no pop songs at weddings, no “Danny Boy” or “My Way” at funerals, no “The Rose” by Bette Midler at Baccalaureate Masses.

    > No unity candle at weddings.

    > No eulogies at funerals, and if there are “words of remembrance,” only one person speaks (Commentary: do you really want to explain, over and over, the difference between a prohibited eulogy and permitted “words of remembrance”?)

    > No communion services where Mass is available in a nearby parish, or later that day in that parish.

    > No ad-libbing any of the Mass prayers.

    > No dance at Mass.

    > Gregorian chant has “pride of place” and some Latin should be included in parish liturgies (yes, that’s what Vatican II said).

    > No laity preaching homilies.

    > No “home Masses” or Mass outside a sacred place except for very limited reasons, without the bishop’s permission.

    That’s only a partial list; and the same phenomenon shows up outside of liturgy. To say, well it’s a teaching moment–well, yes; except let’s take your example. Yes, I could have made my Holy Thursday homily about the mandatum; but there is only so much time available for a homily; is that really what I want to focus on in that homily? Doesn’t that make the foot-washing too big a thing? It’s not the main event.

    The mindset that prevails widely is not that those who want to innovate have the burden of proof; but that the priest has the burden of proof to show why not. Yes, teaching moments; lots of them. And I dutifully tried to do that, for many years. It’s not just tiring for the priest; but the laity get tired too.

    Of course, this isn’t Pope Francis’ fault, but yes, I think his gesture will aggravate the problem.

    What makes me shake my head is–how easily it could have been avoided. What would have been the downside of him simply relocating the ritual to before the Mass? What would have been the downside of that solution? I can see none.

    • A Random Friar

      The problem, of course, is not strictly papal. Anytime anyone sees a cleric, especially a bishop or cardinal, do something liturgically different, especially in a public arena, then it becomes that much more difficult to try to put a stop to it. I’ve known priests who’ve had people simply go up and give a eulogy, in spite of being turned down. Why? They saw it done, ergo, it’s this particular priest’s personal bugaboo, and can be ignored (even though I’d say most eulogies I’ve heard have wandered into either emotionally uncomfortable situations for the family and friends, and a few into outright denial of faith or scandal. People want to comfort others, and often try to be funny — they’re not.) I once told a woman who insisted on a eulogy (and not a good one in any respect) that I could not in good faith do it, and that she could ask around any other priest. She then accused me of great insensitivity — of course, I was the only priest willing to drive over 50 miles each way to anoint the same dying person, because it “had” to be from my particular parish, since that’s where the deceased grew up, and every other priest personally turned her down, even though there were a dozen parishes closer. Anyway, she shows up with the entire funeral party, at the Church, expecting the funeral to be done as she wanted. It’s hard for people to understand, when every politician gets a eulogy, even if it can be problematic (e.g., invoking “Saint Edward Kennedy”)

    • Cheri

      Thank you (and your brother priests) for all you do.

  • Dave G.

    Personally, I’m a bit shocked that priests would write to say such things.

  • Ivan K

    It’s very easy to avoid all of this anguish and controversy: just go to a parish that celebrates the Extraordinary Form or one of the eastern rites. The lack of any clear traditions or guidelines in the novus ordo will always be a source of division and strife; even the rules that are clearly stated aren’t obeyed, so they might as well not exist. When even the Pope ignores the rules the “reform” of the reformed rite isn’t likely to succeed. It’s best just to avoid the scandal altogether.

    • Tom K.

      What did a parish that celebrates the Extraordinary Form or one of the eastern rites ever do to you that you would send it the sort of people who are anguished and scandalized by whose feet get washed?

      • Ivan K

        I don’t think that it’s the foot-washing by itself that causes problems but rather the signal that it sends: it’s OK to ignore even the relatively minimal rubrics of the novus ordo. When there are no rules, then there is strife; some the hermeneutic of continuity, others the spirit of vatican ii; some like praise and worship, others haugen haas, yet others gregorian chant, etc. etc. I am personally tired of it, and of never knowing what sort of show to expect when showing up to Mass. I’d rather just avoid it all. I’m sure that’s all very trivial and ridiculous and proof that I’m deeply flawed; I fully admit that I’m not an immaterial, angelic being who can just detach himself from everything going on in the sensible dimension of the liturgy and focus exclusively on the good intentions in souls of the people around me.

        • Tom K.

          I am sympathetic to those who are tired of never knowing what sort of show to expect when showing up to Mass. I’ve felt that way myself at times, although I’ve been fortunate in my home parish of the past sixteen years, where for the most part the red has been done, what’s been done was red, the black has been said, and what’s been said was black. (And the exceptions were generally habitual, so given the time of the Mass and the celebrant, you knew what you’d get.)

          Nevertheless, anyone who thinks the Pope’s washing of girls’ feet during a Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile prison sends the signal that it’s okay to ignore even the relatively minimal rubrics of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy is wrong. They are equally wrong, whether they would rue such a signal or celebrate it.

  • Will J

    I never heard before that girl altar servers and communion in the hand were approved because so many were violating the rules.

    • FrMartinFox

      I didn’t say “because”–at least, I didn’t mean to say so; I simply said “after,” and left you to infer the rest. All I’m saying is that from the point of view of ordinary pastors and priests, and laity, that’s what happened–and those who stood strong for the norms, were left with egg on their faces.

  • Elmwood

    Are we Catholics guilty of creating a cult of personality around each and every pope? We act like every novel liturgical action of the Holy Father is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is somehow infallible. If Pope Francis wants to do away with this idea that he is the a physical mouth piece of God, essentially rejecting a cult of personality, then maybe we should stop treating him as such and not make a big deal of every liturgical act. When have Jesuits recently been known to really care about the liturgy anyway?

    Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and has a unique charism to serve the universal church as a center of unity. He shouldn’t be above the liturgy that has been handed down to him.

  • Ed Peters

    Out of respect for Mark’s “last word” motif here, I will only say that the canon law on custom is very, very complex. Otaduy, in EXEGETICAL COMM. I: 383, 386, and 389 (citing the illustrious Van Hove’s observation that canonical custom is a subject “intricatissima”). A common understanding of the word “custom” cannot casually be applied to canonical custom, for the latter institute operates according to requirements “very specific to canon law”. Mendonça, in GB&I COMM. n. 69 at 21. If you would like to see what a canonical argument from custom really looks like, feel free to check out: Or not, as you see fit. Best, edp.

  • Lori Pieper

    Sigh. Both the “liberal” and “traditionalist” sides have (over)reacted entirely true to form. It’s all “I can’t believe this shocking behavior from this false-humble Modernist Pope! The liturgy is doomed! We’re all doomed! Where’s my old SSPX membership card!” on one side and “Hurray for Pope Francis! Let’s wash all the ladies’ feet up on the altar and give three cheers for women’s ordination!” on the other.

    Both sides have of course, entirely missed the Pope’s message. I wonder how many on either side thought of going out to meet the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the imprisoned or the suffering on Holy Thursday, whether to wash feet or not? Or on any day?

    Pope Francis is right. We are a “self-referential,” navel-gazing Church. That is our sickness and the cure is to go out of ourselves.

    My take:

  • Irenic

    Quite. Quite, quite, quite:

    “In early Christian language, sacramentum or mysterium was applied to any sacred action or object, in fact to anything which as mirror or form of the Divine was regarded as revealing the Divine. The number of ‘mysteries’ is therefore potentially limitless, for every thing in the cosmos in some manner mirrors or enforms the Divine, and is thus a mysterium.”

    P. Sherrard, The Sacred in Life and Art, Denise Harvey (Publisher), Evia, Greece, 2004, p.22.

    “God has ‘deified’ matter, making it ‘spirit-bearing‘; and if flesh has become a vehicle of the Spirit, then so—though in a different way—can wood and paint.” He also clarifies,“… [W]hen we talk of ‘seven sacraments’, we must never isolate these seven from the many other actions in the Church which also possess a sacramental character, and which are conveniently termed sacramentals.… Between the wider and the narrower sense of the term ‘sacrament‘ there is no rigid division: the whole Christian life must be seen as a unity, as a single mystery or one great sacrament, whose different aspects are expressed in a great variety of acts, some performed but once in our life, others perhaps daily.”

    T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin Books, London, 1997, p.33 and p.276.

  • Wryman

    The problem is that liturgy has become so politicized that we see everything through that perspective, when sometimes, as they say, a cigar is just a cigar.
    Here’s a random list of stuff that grates on me when it happens at Mass. (Don’t jump on me — it is not as though I WANT to feel this way, just happens):
    -The reader says “sisters and brothers.” In normal English we say brothers and sisters because it “sounds right.” So when I hear this I want to assume that the reader is advancing some feminist ideology. Whether he is or not, should one’s Mass be troubled by such thoughts?
    -The reader says “brothers and sisters” when the Biblical text says “brothers.” The words are what they are. Any intelligent person can know when a more inclusive sense is meant, so don’t talk down to me as though I don’t have enough sense to figure that out.
    –The foot washing. Not to reopen that can of worms, but when a priest violates the man-only rubrics, I have to decide whether he is trying to advance feminism, simply trying to be inclusive in the more general sense of discipleship, or something, but nonetheless these thought processes intrude on what I’d LIKE to feel, which is a simple call to holiness without wondering if hidden motives are involved.
    –When the priest says “Turn away from sin …” “Instead of “Remember *man* (there’s that word!) on Ash Wednesday. This bothers me because I start wondering if the priest rejected the traditional wording because of the M-word.
    A lot of you are probably going to read this and conclude that I’m hypersensitive to things that shouldn’t matter, and I plead guilty. But I would remind you that there are plenty of cases where priests have politicized the Mass deliberately, and I would contend that that is the root cause of the ill feelings that I and others have on these kinds of things.
    As an aside and a footnote to the foot-washing thing, I agree with those who say that the result of the Pope’s actions will be to end the practice altogether. I suspect most priests are as tired of the liturgy wars as the people in the pew are.
    I think we are a little poorer for not having the ceremony. Toss it onto the pile with Epiphany observed on its actual date, with fish Friday and the rest. I do not notice that getting rid of tradition is bringing more people to church and keeping them there.

  • Brandon Christison

    Very good post. I was surprised with all the comments actually. The washing of the feet has changed multiple times in my home parish over the years, but I’ve never read that much into it. I understood it was a symbolic gesture of service as Jesus told his disciples to do. We’ve had the priests wash the feet of anyone from the congregation, had them wash some of the catechumens feet only, had them wash some of the catechumens feet and then in turn they would wash the feet of anyone from the congregation who wished to do so, etc. I’m young though. Blessed John Paul II was the only Pope I knew most of my life since he was Pope before I was born.

    I do, however, realize that Catholics have been pushing for women ordination, and that changes like girls allowed to be altar servers freak out other Catholics. I think if you have faith in God and faith in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church… you can rest easy knowing there is a plan and you don’t need to worry about the politics.

  • Mike

    While ultimately it’s not the biggest issue facing the Church, there are some points to be made about the unintended effects of this. I think Ed Peters has some good thoughts at his blog (google it).
    The Pope could have changed this rule. Instead, he just left it in place and (seemingly) ignored it. So perhaps the message implied is that observance of liturgical laws is really not important? Priests who have faithfully followed rules like this, and had to explain year after year the good reasons for this “sexist” rule, are shown to suffer from rigid dogmatism, indicating an insecure and un-developed personality and a primitive theology.

    I know that seems to be taking it to the extreme, but the above will be implied, when more “liberal” priests say “even the Pope showed us that liturgical laws can be bent or broken for pastoral reasons . . .”
    You don’t have to take it this way (and shouldn’t), but it will be taken that way by a large part of the Church, broadly speaking. I think the issue is one of leadership rather than liturgy.

  • Rock

    In a book-length interview by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, entitled “El Jesuita,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio criticizes those homilies “which should be kerygmatic but end up speaking about everything that has a connection with sex. This can be done, this cannot be done. This is wrong, this is not. And so we end up forgetting the treasure of Jesus alive, the treasure of the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, the treasure of a project of Christian life that has many implications that go much further than mere sexual questions. We overlook a very rich catechesis, with the mysteries of the faith, the creed, and we end up concentrating on whether or not to participate in a demonstration against a draft law in favor of the use of condoms.”

    • Mark Shea

      Discipleship precedes politics. Makes sense to me. Before kingdoms change, men must change.