Monday, March 21, 2005

Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday

Last year, during Holy Week, there were protests in Atlanta because the bishop selected only men for the rite of washing of feet on Holy Thursday. This is what the Sacramentary prescribes, but it seems in many places, people have become accustomed to disregarding the rubrics, contrary to canon law.

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council clearly stated that " other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 23). Furthermore, according to Church law the Vatican must confirm liturgical legislation approved by the various national conferences of bishops. "[It is] the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed" [Canon 838.2]. The translations of liturgical books from the official Latin into English (which includes the rubrics for Mass), must also be confirmed by the Apostolic See: "It pertains to Episcopal Conferences to prepare translations of liturgical books, with appropriate adaptations as allowed by the books themselves and, with the prior review of the Holy See, to publish these translations" [Canon 838.3].

The 1988 Vatican instruction on foot washing stated: "The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day [Holy Thursday], represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.' This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained." (Congregation for Divine Worship, "Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts," January 16, 1988., emphasis added)

I pray such attitudes to the Sacred Liturgy don't reappear this Holy Lenten season, and that all within our Holy Church are "watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed" (Canon 838.2).

The following article gives a good historical summary of the controversy surrounding the washing of feet on Holy Thursday:

Paths to Rome: Washing of feet on Holy Thursday
"For I have given you an example, that you also should do"
By Father Jerry Pokorsky

In 1987, the US Bishops Committe on Liturgy (BCL) had recognized a variance in the rite of footwashing. However, when the BCL stated that "it has become customary...," did they mean to assert that this is an adaptation to the Missale Romanum that has been lawfully approved by the Holy See? And if not, can parishes implement an innovation to the rubrics that have yet to be approved by the Holy See? There have been many innovations to the liturgy that have "become customary" yet were never lawfully approved, and as such are more accurately described as "liturgical abuse" than lawful adaptations. After the BCL's 1987 statement, the Vatican issued a 1988 circular letter, Paschale Solemnitatis, cited above, that reiterated the rite as prescribed in the Sacramentary was that of "washing of the feet of chosen men."

Consequently, the USCCB seems to have recognized that what had "become customary" in the US differed from the rubrics of the Sacramentary with regard to washing of feet on Holy Thursday. So, in 1995, the ICEL drafted and approved the following adaptation to the Missale Romanum, submitting it to the Holy See for approval:
Variation No. 6: ...This variation in the rubric at the washing of the feet proposes that no mention be made of the sex of those whose feet are washed ... the focus of this ritual moment is on Christian love and discipleship. The English rubric translates the Latin viri selecti as "Those who have been chosen". This translation leaves the matter open, does not prejudice the authority of the diocesan bishop, and reflects the present pastoral reality in many places throughout the English-speaking countries in which the feet of women and men are washed. (Segment Six: Holy Week, August 1995, p. 46.)

This variation, however was not approved by the Holy See, and as such, is not a lawful adaptation to the liturgy. On 16 March 2002, Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez, the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote a letter which officially rejected the ICEL translation of the Missale Romanum stating that apart from the promulgation of the editio typica tertia, "there are additional substantial reasons for which this Congregation is regrettably unable to accord the recognitio to this text in the form in which it was submitted. " One of the principal reasons stated was the ICEL's use of "inclusive language."

The rite should be on the service and charity of Christ, represented by the priest towards the twelve Apostles, represented by twelve "chosen men." According to Paschale Solemnitatis, the rite "represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.' " In my opinion, unapproved innovations tend to detract from this focus. If the Church approves of a change to this liturgical rite, so be it. But until then, we ought to follow the Sacramentary.

Pius VI condemned the Jansenist proposition that "the Church which is ruled by the Spirit of God could have established discipline which is ... dangerous and harmful " (Auctorem fidei, 78). This means that approved and universally promulgated ecclesiastical disciplines, such as liturgical norms, can never be harmful or dangerous to the faithful. Unapproved liturgical innovations have no such guarantee from harm to the faith.

Unlike many traditionalist Catholics, I see many benefits to the liturgical renewal of Vatican II. However, I also agree with the following caution given by Pope John Paul II: "Take care, nevertheless, that the norms of the liturgical renewal be everywhere observed; otherwise, regrettable misunderstandings easily arise. Many people accuse the Church and liturgical renewal of that which in reality is not the intention of the Church but rather goes back to individuals who act arbitrarily" (L'Osservatore Romano, February 22, 1988). And "you will have to take care that the established norms are respected, above all in the Eucharistic celebrations, which should never depend on the whim or the special initiatives of individuals or groups who disassociate themselves from the directives given by the Church." (L'Osservatore Romano, October 27, 1988).

And yet, the enigma seems to continue ....

According to the Boston Globe, March 19, 2005, "O'Malley to wash women's feet in rite" by Michael Paulson

"[Archbishop] O'Malley promised to consult with Rome, and yesterday his spokeswoman said the Congregation for Divine Worship, which oversees liturgical practices, had suggested the archbishop make whatever decision he thought was best for Boston.

The Congregation [for Divine Worship] affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual." However, the Congregation did ''provide for the archbishop to make a pastoral decision."
I'd sure like to see what the response from Congregation for the Divine Worship actually said. If the report above is to be trusted, it seems the CDW is saying, "the rubrics prescribe that ONLY the feet of men be washed, but for pastoral reasons, you don't need to follow the rubrics." (???). In other words, the CDW is saying that the rubrics can be disregarded for "pastoral reasons" on the authority of the diocesene ordinary? Eeeek! That kind of precedence can lead to liturgical chaos, I think.

God bless,



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