the big foot washing debate….really???

washing feet icon

One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.

10 thoughts on “the big foot washing debate….really???

  1. Can’t we just get back to the meaty issue of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

  2. Your point regarding those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really??? You are insinuating that its ok for anyone to break liturgical or canon law. The pandora’s box has a crack and is about to be flung wide open. It opens the door for others to break any old rule and take it from there very dangerous propositions with eternal consequences.

    The Pope is answerable to God for his actions as are we. Only the Pope can change the liturgical rules and canon law. Since we are not the pope we must follow the present church laws. We will be judged by God by what we know as truth. What the Church teaches either through “solemn” pronouncements of Councils, Popes, or by unanimous “ordinary” every day teaching, defined as “the Church’s divinely appointed authority to teach the truths of religion”. In other words, Our Lord gave His Church the authority to teach the faithful about what is expected of them, and that is what the Church has done consistently from the start. Refusing to do so is called “heresy” and places one outside of the Catholic Church.

    Bravo Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison for enforcing the current church law to wash only the feet of men. If you are doing 50 miles an hour in a 25 mile zone and are pulled over by the police you cannot plead ignorance because you are new to the area or did not see the signs. You will get a ticket and pay a fine. Only after the pope changes the current liturgical law on the books may the Bishop of Madison wash the feet of women if he chooses. He is setting an example of obedience sorely lacking in the church today.

    This whole issue really boils down to accepting Women as priests. In the current canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, state that “Only a baptized man may validly receive sacred ordination.”Insofar as priestly and episcopal ordination are concerned, the Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law, and thus doctrinal.

    In 1994,. John Paul II, using his full authority as the successor of Peter, declared the question of ordination of women closed. He stated categorically that the Church cannot — not will not, but cannot — ordain women, now or in the future. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sets it out clearly, quoting the decree Inter insigniores. Please look it up and read it.

    I resent being labeled a pharisee for warning others of the dangers they place themselves in and their responsibilities for the souls they may mislead. We are responsible before God for the souls we teach by word and example. It is safer to be humble and obey. If Adam and Eve would have obeyed mankind would not have had to die as punishment for their disobedience. Death was a hefty a punishment for eating an apple!

    • I didn’t realize that we still had dinosaurs among us…Thanks for thr great and relevant article Isabella.

  3. Speramusposterous,

    You state, “In other words, Our Lord gave His Church the authority to teach the faithful about what is expected of them, and that is what the Church has done consistently from the start. Refusing to do so is called “heresy” and places one outside of the Catholic Church.”

    Jesus, himself, emphasized two simple laws. Love God and love others. I believe it is important to differentiate between these primary commandments (and the laws that flow from them) and man-made rules and regulations. (Yes, most human laws were pronounced by men so the gender-exclusive noun is appropriate here.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that there is hierarchy of truths. (CCC 90) Jesus preached forcefully against the pharisees who spent their days “spotting the heresy” of others. He had little patience when trivialities such as cup washing and picking corn on Sunday overshadowed the more important commandments of feeding the poor, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful….

    I question your assumption that the the Church (in its human form on earth) has been consistently faithful in her teachings. There have been many scoundrels anointed with holy orders and vested in clerical garb that do not deserve our obedience – in the past and in the present. Blind and unquestioning obedience has caused much harm to our church and the faith of her people.

    I would also caution you about a casual use of the word “heresy”. Our church has a dark history of abusing this word to rationalize violent inquisitions and crusades in the name of orthodoxy. I do not agree with you over the issue of Holy Thursday foot-washing. Do you really believe that this makes me a heretic? Sadly, if you do then you are not the first.

    peace to you,
    Isabella

  4. The Ordinary Magisterium is NOT infallible if:
    • Bishops speak individually
    • Bishops speak outside of communion with the Pope
    • Bishops teach about something other than faith and morals
    • Bishops are in disagreement about a position
    • Bishops do not intend their teaching to be definitively held
    The faithful “have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church” (CCC, n. 2037). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that even the disciplinary norms of the Church “call for docility in charity” (n. 2037).
    One cannot fail to observe the grave harm done in the Church and her mission to the world by the lack of obedience to the disciplinary norms regarding the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the teaching of the faith and the right order of the individual communities of the faithful. Our Lord Himself cautioned us that our fidelity in little things is the indispensable condition to our fidelity in great things (Luke 16:10)
    The church has always had their scoundrel. From the time of Christ with Judas. They did their own thing and like Judas many had their own pocketbooks to fill and did not teach in union with the Church of their day. They preached their own version of Catholicism no one is obliged to obey heresy.

    In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. Anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally a Christian, and denies or doubts any of the truths that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is considered a heretic.

    Objectively, therefore, to become a heretic in the strict canonical sense and be excommunicated from the faithful, one must deny or question a truth that is taught not merely on the authority of the Church but on the word of God revealed in the Scriptures or sacred tradition. Subjectively a person must recognize his obligation to believe. If he acts in good faith, as with most persons brought up in non-Catholic surroundings, the heresy is only material and implies neither guilt nor sin against faith but still consider heresy.
    Having said that , the faithful have a grave duty to know their faith “and of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church” (CCC, n. 2037). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that even the disciplinary norms of the Church “call for docility in charity” (n. 2037). One cannot fail to observe the grave harm done in the Church and in her mission to the world by the lack of obedience to the disciplinary norms regarding the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the teaching of the faith and the right order of the individual communities of the faithful. Our Lord Himself cautioned us that our fidelity in little things is the indispensable condition to our fidelity in great things (Luke 16:10)
    This will be how God will judge us on the last day. He tests all his sons & daughters! Let’s consider just one example from Sacred Scripture of Abraham’s obedience of faith. He was promised by God that he would be the “father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5). Yet it was not until he was far advanced in years that “Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son. He “was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him” (Gen. 21:5). Now fast-forward a few years to the account of the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen. 22. Abraham, in obedience of faith, was but an instant from sacrificing his son Isaac in when the angel of God intervened.
    Our obedience to the majesterium requires our submission of our radical individualism and self-interests which lead us away from the love of God and from the love of one another. Satan never rests in proposing to us the same temptation which he proposed to our First Parents, the temptation to act as if God did not exist, to act as if we are gods we have all the answers. We will never go wrong by obedience to lawful church authority. No one has to obey a heretic!

  5. this sounds like a version of “you’re smart enough to be a doctor , why didnt you go to medical school? I have answered for 40 years, because I wanted to be a nurse ! and practice health not focus on illness…SO,let us NOT assume that women want to be priests !….really with centuries of bad behavior from the Inquisition to continued pedophile cover-ups, who wants to be a priest ?

  6. I recall carefully reading the lease of my first apartment rental –way back: “…no pets allowed”. Soon after I noted a cat or two and spotted a dog. “S’goin on?”, I asked. The building manager explained that the phrase is in the lease to be applied if there is a need, a nuisence pet, an abuse of privelige. The essence is in the intent: the peaceful and orderly enjoyment of peace and order. For those who fit the stereotype of the Pharasee and Scribe, for whom the letter of the law takes precedence in such matters and the letter is absolute you have entirely missed the point. I guess the fact that Jesus was “doing the work of the Father” on that Sabbath makes our Redemption illegitimate? Should he have appled to the Temple leaders and initiated a law change so that He could go about His un-orthodox mission?
    Francis washing the feet of these women, even a “non-catholic” I understand, is more than a symbolic gesture, it is a repeat of last year, so now it is a custom. Bless all this Easter.

  7. Here in Kansas City, Bishop Finn, convicted of priest abuse coverup, banned the washing of women’s feet on Holy Thursday. Thank goodness for the brave priests who ignored this in many parishes in my diocese, including my own beloved Jesuit community. We are the Church – we must own it.

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