18 April 2014

Washing Women's Feet

Every year we hear commentaries on the controversy about who should have their feet washed during the Mandatum, which was reintroduced into the liturgy by Pope Pius XII in 1955. The arguments that it should be open to everyone are quite valid, particularly since the legitimate interpreter of this law, the pope, interprets it that way. The argument that it must be adult males to represent the 12 Apostles is a good point, but has no basis in the present law. (The actual number of persons to have their feet washed is not indicated. The law only indicates it is symbolic of service, not of the Apostles.) The only valid argument that it must be adult males is the use of the word viri. However, this can easily be changed and the example of the Holy Father indicates that it should be changed. The problem is that such changes only take place when there is major controversy; therefore, both sides have to dig their heels in and fight like cats and dogs so the Magisterium can give us some clarity. It took rioting in the streets to clear up some controversies, but I hope we don’t have to go to that extreme.

One alternative to editing the present law to replace the word viri is to move the Mandatum from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to the Chrism Mass and only have the Bishop wash the feet of 12 priests. This would give validity to the possibly intended symbolism of representing the 12 Apostles. The symbolism would be even stronger if 12 deacons that would soon be ordained to the priesthood were chosen. This would leave no question open concerning the possibility of women having their feet washed since the rioting in the streets over the question of ordaining women was definitively answered by (very soon to be) St. John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It must be remembered that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis dealt with a question of doctrine, whereas the question concerning whose feet should be washed during the Mandatum does not.

You may have noticed that I haven't really taken a side on this controversy. I'd rather watch the rioting in the streets from a distance, and when the dust settles and the Magisterium gives an answer, I will not have been on the wrong side. Of course, at the speed the Magisterium usually moves on things like this, we'll all be dead. Now if you want to talk about the controversy concerning the predestination of the incarnation...

(It's great having a Franciscan pope who’s a Jesuit. Not even a Dominican can argue with a Jesuit.)