holy thursday foot washing

(This post was first published on April 21, 2011)

The Holy Thursday liturgy is rich with symbols and rituals. We commemorate the Passover meal, which was to be the last supper before Jesus`s death. Several themes are present: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the ordained priesthood, and the call to humble service. Which theme is highlighted and how the liturgy is celebrated can tell a lot about the theological leanings of the pastor and parish.

Here is one view from the pew…

Let us celebrate the Eucharist as the great sacrament of unity – a unity that transcends place and time. Holy Communion is healing food for us sinners. It is a source of energy on our spiritual journey. It should not be used as a tool of power or division.

In this scandal-ridden time of sadness and confusion, many of us are struggling with the exclusive and hierarchical nature of ordination. If Holy Thursday is a time to commemorate the institution of the priesthood, then we need to prayerfully ponder the meaning of priesthood for today.

The symbolic ritual of foot washing is too often a well-orchestrated spectacle. Many of us in the pews are immersed in the reality and messiness of service. We wash and care for our loved ones, from the wee babes to our elders. We teach and nurse. We serve and protect. We save and heal. We do this daily, without solemn processions and choirs singing. And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.

Rituals only have meaning if they are a sign of a deeper reality. Our church and our world are in need of true servant leaders. We are in need of men and women willing, like Jesus, to humbly bend before the feet of those they are called to serve.

The Tablet – Austria`s moment of truth

The Tablet offers a thoughtful, balanced editorial on the unfolding church crises in Austria. The author is optimistic that Cardinal Christoph Schoborn of Vienna is “one of the Church’s most able leaders.”  A heavy-handed, dictatorial bishop would already be handing out excommunications.

The editorial shows the need for dialogue, wisdom and careful responses to the demands of the priests and people,

They are right that what Catholics hunger for, and not just in Austria, is a Church of integrity, without hypocrisy, ­doublespeak or pathological denial. That is surely what the joyful young Catholics in Madrid were seeking too. A Church which can only function with its blind eye turned permanently to the telescope, seeing only what is convenient to see, is not in good shape. 

The immediate danger for Cardinal Schönborn, therefore, is that efforts to suppress the Priests’ Initiative simply by asserting church discipline would place him on the wrong side by making him defender of the indefensible. On the other hand, leaders of the Priests’ Initiative must be careful not to place their cardinal – in many ways their friend – in an impossible position.

This could be a momentous turning point in the history of the modern Church.

Related Article

Austria`s Moment of Truth – The Tablet Editorial, 3 September 2011

Set-decorator Catholicism: The common traits of set-decorators | National Catholic Reporter

The first common characteristic of set-decorators is their affinity for surfaces. Professing commitment to the depths of the faith, they are obsessed with rustling cassocks, billowing capes, sounding bells and bows, the stuff, in short, with which they can redecorate the set of hierarchical Catholicism. If they build it, these clerics believe, the people will come.

via Set-decorator Catholicism: The common traits of set-decorators | National Catholic Reporter.

Have you ever read a piece of writing that had your head-a-bobbing in agreement? Have you ever been drawn into a metaphor so strongly that you are torn between lingering on each image and speed-reading to see what happens next? The above article is part two of a lengthy essay written by Eugene Cullen Kennedy. I read the first part  while on holidays and was itching to share it on this blog.

Kennedy uses the term `set-decorators`for those clerics who embrace the pre-Vatican II liturgical style of ritual, pomp and finery. The focus on fine fabrics and lace is only one aspect of this clerical culture. It also promotes an old-school style of authoritarianism that views the laity as disobedient children, and a style of leadership that allows no questioning or dialogue. The young seminarians who embrace this style of priesthood have one eye always open on future promotions in the Church. And there is more…

As always, the discussion board is a mixed bag of reactions. Readers love it or hate it. What do you think?