"Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one's feet and dries them. ...The general intercessions follow the washing of feet, or, if this does not take place, they follow the homily" (emphasis added).These instructions allow no substitutions of the rite, such as the washing of hands.
The only options are 1) to wash feet or 2) not to wash feet.
It is a priest who performs the washing of the feet - not a deacon, not a lay person.
1) The Mandatum is optional.
2) A priest (not a deacon, not a lay person)
3) washes men's (not women's not children's)
4) feet (not hands, not elbows).
Why Is the USCCB Wrong?
In February, 1987, the USCCB claimed, via the Chairman of the Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy (BCL Newsletter), that the washing of feet is merely an act of charity, and thus may properly include both men and women.
“While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary,(emphasis added) which mentions only men (viri selectii), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, "who came to serve and not to be served", that all members of the church must serve one another in love.” (BCL Newsletter, February 1987, Volume XXIII)
A) Notice the words in bold. The BCL admitted the washing of women's feet ‘differs’ from the rubric of the Sacramentary. That is, the BCL acknowledged the authority of the Sacramentary and then went against it! The BCL intentionally attempted to legitimate liturgical abuse.
B) We must keep in mind that, in order for liturgy to be changed, an indult has to be requested in which the change is:
- voted on and approved by 2/3rds of the whole bishops' conference, then
- sent to and approved by Rome.
- NOT authorized or voted on by the body of Bishops, much less approved by 2/3rds of them,
- NOR was it approved by the Holy See.
As such, the BCL response has no legislative force whatsoever. Any appeals made to this subcommittee document are not only null and void, they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding on how liturgical changes are made.
What Does the Vatican Say?
In 1988, less than one year after the sub-committee opinion was issued, the Vatican produced the document Paschales Solemnitatis.
- The washing of the feet of chosen men (emphasis added) 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, Paschales Solemnitatis #51, "Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts," January 16, 1988.)
What Does Scripture Say?
So, why do people push for the washing of women's feet?
Because this abuse is intimately linked to the push for women's ordination. Christ washed the feet of his priests, who in turn care for the congregation through the confection and application of the sacraments. In the Mass of the Last Supper, the priest is Christ who washes the feet of his priests, men.
And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of the testimony, and having washed them with water, Thou shalt put on them the holy vestments, that they may minister to me, and that the unction of them may prosper to an everlasting priesthood. (Exodus 40:12-13)
He said: This is the word that the Lord hath commanded to be done. And immediately, he offered Aaron and his sons. And when he had washed them, he vested the high priest with the strait linen garment, girding him with the girdle, and putting on him the violet tunic: and over it he put the ephod. (Lev 8:5-7)
The only people who specifically get feet washed in the Old Testament are the angels that visit Abraham (Gen 18:4) and the angels that visit Lot (Gen 19:2).
The Old Testament records that only those who came from heaven had their feet washed. Christ had His feet washed in the New Testament, a recognition that He came from heaven (Luke 7:38).
Meanwhile, in the Old Testament, those who were ordained as priests were ritually washed. When Jesus begins to wash the apostles' feet to illustrate that what He was making them like the ministering angels who came down from heaven, Peter finally accepts by saying, “wash my hands and my head as well," that is, "make me your priest." Christ replies that the washing of feet is sufficient. He also says that the apostles should "do this unto one another."
With the command "Do this in memory of me," Christ made them priests. With that command, He completed what was begun with the washing of feet. He made the priests holy, and like unto ministering angels. They minister the sacraments to us.
So, when Christ speaks of "doing this (washing of feet) unto one another," He is telling them that He has established His new priesthood to sanctify the people. When the people are made holy by the sacraments, they, too, will be like ministering angels unto the world.
In this context, it is interesting to note that King David kills Uriah precisely because Uriah refuses to go down into his house and "wash his feet," that is, he refuses to have intimate sexual communion with his spouse and thereby cover over David's adulterous sin with Bathsheba. He refuses on the grounds that the ark of the covenant is in the field with the armies of Israel, and it would not be right to take his ease while Israel is suffering.
Thus, Uriah becomes an interesting foreshadowing of both Christ who is Spouse to us, made adulterous by our sin, and Peter, who refuses to have his feet washed, that is, who refuses to enter into intimate communion with God, out of concern for the propriety of the act. Uriah dies so that the reputation of the King might live, just as Christ died so that the nation might have life. The prophet Nathan reveals the sin of the king just as Peter, in Acts 2, reveals the sin associated with having crucified Christ. David's first-born son dies, as God's first-born Son died, but, in a foreshadowing of Christ's resurrection, the second son from Bathsheba was Solomon, the wisest man in the Old Testament, a king who stood before the ark and offered sacrifice as a priest.
The washing of the feet is no simple demonstration of charity. It is meant to tie together the priesthood of the Old Testament with the visitations from heaven, simultaneously reorienting this new synthesis towards the establishment of Christ's priesthood of the New Testament.
Didn't Bishop O'Malley Get Permission To Wash Women's Feet?
Well, in 2005, Archbishop O'Malley certainly claimed to have permission from Rome to wash the feet of women. However:
- He never produced the document which he said gave him this permission,
- No one in Rome ever produced a document which indicated he had permission (see the 2006 comments below from Fr. Edward McNamara "Another correspondent affirmed that the Holy See had informed an American cardinal that women were not excluded from the rite, but the writer was unable to provide sources. I have been unable to corroborate this affirmation from any official source. The above-mentioned statement from the liturgy committee explicitly states that no further official pronunciations have been made since 1987 (although the new Latin missal reconfirms the rubric regarding only men being called)." So neither Rome, nor the USCCB is aware of the existence of Archbishop O'Malley's "enabling" document),
- Even if he got permission and has this secret document on his person somewhere, this does not constitute a general indult for the entire United States (Fr. Edward McNamara, "This permission was for a particular case and from a strictly legal point of view has no value outside the diocese in question"). Liturgy is changed through open communications. Rome gives out public indults, not double-secret probation, nor does Her liturgy get promulgated through blacked-out, behind the doors skulking. This isn't Animal House,
- This is more thoroughly confirmed, as you can see below, by the fact that Rome specifically produced a document in May 20, 2008 that specifically says only the feet of men are to be washed.
Archbishop O'Malley caved in to the feminists.
That doesn't mean the rest of us have to.
Can't the Priest/Bishop Implement This on Their Own?
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council clearly stated that "...no 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 faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and laid down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The use of unauthorized texts means a loss of the necessary connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: "No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority." [Sacrosanctum Concilium, #22] And Paul VI of venerable memory stated that: "Anyone who takes advantage of the reform to indulge in arbitrary experiments is wasting energy and offending the ecclesial sense."[Paul VI, address of August 22, 1973: "L'Osservatore Romano," August 23, 1973.]
Canon 528 ß2: "The parish priest is to take care that the blessed Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to strive to ensure that the faithful are nourished by the devout celebration of the sacraments, and in particular that they frequently approach the sacraments of the blessed Eucharist and penance. He is to strive to lead them to prayer, including prayer in their families, and to take a live and active part in the sacred liturgy. Under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, the parish priest must direct this liturgy in his own parish, and he is bound to be on guard against abuses."
From these references, it is clear that individual bishops, even a committee of bishops, do not have the authority to change the liturgical texts. On the contrary, bishops have the serious responsibility "to be watchful lest abuses creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the saints..." [Canon 392.2].
It is not possible to appeal to the local bishop as having authority or power to change the liturgical rubrics.
The local bishop does NOT have the power to change the liturgy, nor do any of his priests.
Connecting the Dots
The Holy Thursday service is intimately linked to the institution of the priesthood, and the washing of feet has always been seen as an aspect of that institution. Indeed, if we return to the sources, as the Second Vatican Council heartily recommends, we must instantly recognize that women were for centuries not even permitted to enter the sanctuary, so close was the connection between every aspect of the Paschal Sacrifice and the priestly function of Holy Orders.
But if women can lector and be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, why can't they have their feet washed at the mandatum?
Because the Mandatum is directly linked to the ordination of the apostles as priests, as John Paul II taught in 2003:
The important paragraph:
2. So, while they are eating, Jesus rises from the table and begins to wash the disciples' feet. At first Peter resists, then he understands and accepts. We too are asked to understand: the first thing the disciple must do is to prepare himself to listen to the Lord, opening his heart to accept the initiative of his love. Only then will he be invited, in turn, to do what the Teacher did. He too must be committed to "washing the feet" of his brothers and sisters, expressing in gestures of mutual service that love which is the synthesis of the whole Gospel (cf. Jn 13: 1-20).Now, if we accept that in article #2, JP II literally means we do the mandatum on Holy Thursday only as an expression of the charity found in the heart of every Catholic, then we must also - by the fact of the last sentence in that same article - assume that lay people are supposed to consecrate the Eucharist.
Also during the Supper, knowing that his "hour" had now come, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, then gives it to the Apostles saying: "This is my body"; he does the same with the cup: "This is my blood". And he commands them: "Do this in remembrance of me" (I Cor 11: 24.25). Truly this is the witness of love taken "to the end" (Jn 13: 1). Jesus gives himself as food to his disciples to become one with them. Once again the "lesson" emerges that we must learn: the first thing to do is to open our hearts to welcoming the love of Christ. It is his initiative: it is his love that enables us, in turn, to love our brethren.
Therefore, the washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist: two expressions of one and the same mystery of love entrusted to the disciples, so that, Jesus says, "as I have done... so also must you do" (Jn 13: 15). (end article)
In fact, it is precisely because the washing of feet and the consecration of the sacrament are "two expressions of one and the same mystery of love" that we must derive precisely the opposite conclusion.
It is worthwhile to keep in mind that the Church has only given authoritative interpretation to about a dozen passages of Scripture, but two of those passages are Luke 22:19 and 1 Cor 11:24 "Do this in memory of me" - the passage JP II quotes here.
According to the Council of Trent (September 17, 1562, "Canons on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass," canon 2), that phrase made the apostles priests, it ordained them to offer His Body and Blood. Given the extremely small number of authoritatively interpreted passages in documents of the extraordinary Magisterium, JP II was certainly not unaware of that connection when he referred to 1 Cor 11:24.
Now, look what he does - he links 1 Corinthians with the Mandatum.
John Paul II says the 1 Cor 11:24 verse and the washing of feet are two expressions of one and the same mystery of love.
That is, JP II specifically teaches that the washing of feet is inextricably linked to the ordination of priests.
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
What we pray, we also believe. Our actions are prayers, especially the actions we take in the liturgy. Since this is true, washing the feet of women and children is, therefore, a liturgical statement affirming that women and children can be ordained to the priesthood.
Thus, one could easily make the argument that washing the feet of women and children is a heretical action. Given that the USCCB has no power to alter the liturgy, that the interpretation was never voted on by the USCCB, and so is not even properly a decision of the USCCB, the washing of women's/children's feet is most certainly a liturgical abuse.
Bishops and priests who permit this abuse do not, on some level, understand their own ordination to the priesthood. They also violate the clear teaching of Vatican II.
What Do I Do?
1) If you see this abuse, write a letter or e-mail to your pastor respectfully asking why this was done.
2) If he defends the action, take a copy of his defense and respectfully petition the bishop for a correction of this abuse.
3) If the bishop defends his priest's action, take a copy of both the priest's and bishop's responses, and send them to the apostolic nuncio.
- Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio
- Mailing Address: 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W, Washington, DC, USA
- Telephone: (202)333-7121
- Fax: 337-4036
Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Piazza Pio XII, 10
00120 Vatican City (Europe)
Be respectful in all communication. When sending documentation to Rome, you do not need to quote any documents. The Cardinal knows the documents. Simply send your communications and respectfully petition for relief.
It is critical that you be respectful throughout your communications.
Make it clear in each communication that you are willing to take it to the next level, perhaps with wording such as, "I know you are busy and this is but one issue among many on your desk. If I do not receive a response within thirty to sixty days, I will be happy to send it to (the next person higher up)."
You will receive a response.
No matter what anyone in the chain says, if you take it up the chain, the chances are quite good that you won't see this particular abuse repeated. Tolerance for this kind of stupidity is rapidly dropping in Rome.
The Supporting Documents (Last One Is Best)
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, explains this in further detail in his conversations with ZENIT below (relevant excerpts from the discussions are given below the links):
Fr. Edward McNamara of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum answered this question in a March 23, 2004 Zenit column, as follows, using the authoritative documents from the Holy See:
Question 2: I have learned today about the washing of the feet ceremony at Mass in my parish on Holy Thursday. To take the place of the twelve apostles, we are to have six gentlemen and six ladies. I would welcome your comments about this innovation. M.R., Melbourne, Australia
Answer 2: The rubrics for Holy Thursday clearly state that the priest washes the feet of men ([Latin], viri) in order to recall Christ's action toward his apostles. Any modification of this rite would require permission from the Holy See.
It is certainly true that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that all disciples are equal before the Lord. But this reality need not be expressed in every rite, especially one that is so tied up to the concrete historical circumstances of the Last Supper. One should particularly note the phrases above which state:
"This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained" and "in order to recall Christ's action toward his apostles".
There is also the added question and answer , which notes that deacons or the lay faithful DO NOT perform the foot washing rite in the place of the priest.
Questions 3: Each year I find it increasingly difficult to perform the washing of parishioners' feet at the celebration of the Lord's Supper because of stiffness in my knee joints which make it almost impossible to get back up on my feet when moving from one parishioner to the next. Is it permissible to delegate this function to an older server? C.D., Archdiocese of New YorkROME, MARCH 28, 2006 ( Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Answer 3: The rite of the washing of feet is not obligatory and may be legitimately omitted. However, this is usually not pastorally advisable.
While the rite may not be delegated to a non-priest , a concelebrant may substitute the main celebrant for a good reason.
The rubrics describing this rite are limited to the essentials (selected men sit in a suitable place) and so allow for practical adaptations to the realities of place, time and circumstances.
Thus, taking the example of our Holy Father, as he has grown older, and less able to bend over, the seats of those whose feet he washed were first elevated so that he could continue to perform the rite. But in the last year or so he has been substituted by a cardinal.
Thus, if possible, the seats used by those whose feet are to be washed should be elevated, so that an elderly priest need not stoop too much.
Q: I understand that it is in fact liturgically incorrect to have the main celebrant at the Holy Thursday Mass wash the feet of women. Correct? -- J.C., Ballina, Ireland. During the Holy Thursday liturgy at our parish, there are a number of foot-washing stations set up around the Church, and the people in the pews get up and bring someone else to one of the stations and wash their feet. Most of the people in Church take part in this, washing feet and in turn having their feet washed. It takes quite a while. Is this liturgically correct? Are there any norms for foot-washing during the Holy Thursday Mass? -- B.S., Naperville, Illinois. On Holy Thursday, at the washing of feet, the people, mostly youth, after having their foot washed, preceded to wash the next person's foot. Then they placed four bowls of water and four places before the altar, and the congregation was told to come forward and have their hands washed by the same people who just had their foot washed. We didn't. Everything felt out of order. -- E.K., Freehold, New Jersey
A: We already addressed the theme of washing women's feet in our column of March 23, 2004, and the subsequent follow-up on April 6.
Since then, there has been no change in the universal norm which reserves this rite to men as stated in the circular letter "Paschales Solemnitatis" (Jan. 16, 1988) and the rubrics of the 2002 Latin Roman Missal.
Regarding the place and number of those whose feet are to be washed, the rubric, which has remained unvaried in the new missal, describes the rite as follows:
"Depending on pastoral circumstances, the washing of feet may follow the homily.
"The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers to chairs prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one's feet and dries them."
The number of men selected for the rite is not fixed. Twelve is the most common option but they may be fewer in order to adjust to the available space.
Likewise the place chosen is usually within or near the presbytery so that the rite is clearly visible to the assembly.
Thus, the logical sense of the rubric requires the priest, representing Christ, washing feet of a group of men taken from the assembly, symbolizing the apostles, in a clearly visible area.
Follow-up: Washing of the Feet Date: 2004-04-06
Our replies regarding feet washing and the use of the crucifix rather than a cross ( March 23) generated a high level of correspondence some of which was very informative and which also leads me to review some of my previous statements.In the event, it doesn't appear Fr. McNamara's position will have to change. The Sacred Congregation on Divine Worship has authoritatively interpreted the document.
Regarding washing only men's feet on Holy Thursday, several readers asked about a statement published by the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee in 1987 (see www.usccb.org/liturgy/q&a/general/feet.htm ).
Paragraphs 4 and 5 read:
"Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the 'Teacher and Lord' who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality, the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite that both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.
"While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men ('viri selecti'), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, 'who came to serve and not to be served,' that all members of the Church must serve one another in love."
One correspondent, a woman, asks: "Did the U.S. conference have the authority to change the rubric of the Sacramentary? Did it get the approval of Rome? Certain dioceses will allow men only to have their feet washed; Jesus chose 12 men, his apostles."
I was not unaware of this statement. But since the entire text is couched in ambiguous terms and does not claim any authority whatsoever (in spite of the aura of officialdom in its being published by the liturgy committee) I did not consider it a relevant source.
What is surprising in this document is that it does not question the premise that a pastor or even a bishop has the authority to change or vary a specific rite at his own behest. He does not have such authority except where the law specifically allows him to do so.
This said, other paragraphs of the above statement correctly recall that this rite was reintroduced into parish celebrations relatively recently (1955) and so, as a rite, cannot claim a long liturgical tradition directly linking it to Christ's action on Holy Thursday -- although this is the obvious interpretation.
Thus, at least hypothetically, it could be subject to a reinterpretation to "emphasize service along with charity" in such a way as to be also open to women.
Yet the proper authority for such a reinterpretation is the Holy See or a two-thirds vote of an episcopal conference ratified by the Holy See and not an individual bishop or pastor.
Another correspondent affirmed that the Holy See had informed an American cardinal that women were not excluded from the rite, but the writer was unable to provide sources. I have been unable to corroborate this affirmation from any official source. The above-mentioned statement from the liturgy committee explicitly states that no further official pronunciations have been made since 1987 (although the new Latin missal reconfirms the rubric regarding only men being called). If this affirmation is confirmed, then obviously our position would have to change.
We are bound to follow Rome's liturgical directives.
Any priest or bishop who refuses to do so is disobedient to the Church.
Please click on the document image below to see the latest directive from May, 2008.