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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Papal Foot-Washing, Take 2

Pope's making history again - washing the feet of a woman and a Muslim.

What does this signify?

The washing of feet is an optional rite that is rooted in two different traditions:
a) the “Mandatum Pauperam,” or washing of the feet of poor people, and
b) the “Mandatum Fratrum,” the washing of the feet of “the brothers.” (e.g., the woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears)

When the rite was folded into the Mass in 1955, women weren't allowed in the sanctuary, so the rite of foot washing took on a third meaning: Jesus' washing of apostle's feet at the Last Supper. That is, it was now associated with the ordination of priests.

Pope Francis is dispensing with the new, third meaning and emphasizing the first two.

For Christians, a brother or sister is a baptized person, so when he washes a Christian's feet, his washing the feet of a brother or sister.

But in Christian theology, the poorest of the poor is the person who hasn't heard or accepted the Gospel. Muslims aren't baptized, that is, they haven't accepted the Gospel. So, when he washes the feet of a Muslim, he's washing the feet of the poorest persons.

Muslims might respond in one of two ways:
a) Some Muslims see this in terms of a Christian serving a Muslim. Since Muslims consider non-Muslims second-class citizens, a Christian who acts like a servant towards a Muslim is acting in a perfectly appropriate way. He is acting like a dhimmi, as he should.

b) Other Muslims see Christian acts of physical charity as a serious threat. When a Christian feeds, clothes, or otherwise physically cares for a Muslim, this "perturbs the mentality of a good Muslim" because it tends to make the Muslim think that Christianity may be true. Physical acts of charity lead the Muslim away from Islam. Christian charity is such a serious threat that in 2010  there was a “fatwa promulgated by 7,300 Moroccan Muslim doctors who recently declared that Christian charity ought to be considered religious terrorism.” 

What Christians call charity, Muslims call terrorism. Worse, not only is this an act of physical charity, some Muslims may be aware that this act can be seen as denigrating Muslims, casting them as the theologically poorest of the poor, unfamiliar with the ways of God. Even though it is intended as an act of service, it could be taken as a theological insult. In fact, given that Muslim nurses find the simple act of washing hands to be an offense against modesty, it could be taken as an insult in more than one way

The Pope is certainly aware of this element.

By returning to the traditional meaning of the washing of the feet, what Francis is doing is very seriously engaging the Muslim world, and he's taking a significant risk to do so.


Flambeaux said...

Or, like a "good" Jesuit, he's playing fast and loose with rubrics and laws to which he is indifferent with no deeper purpose or goal.

Ann said...

I am very confused. Last year when Pope Francis went to the prison and washed a Muslim's woman's feet and also another woman's feet, there was no mention of these other types of "mandatum", only that he had chosen to go against the rubrics of the Church to engage Muslims. This year, we have three types of washing of feet, and the Pope has just chosen to go back to an older version, but he is still reaching out to Muslims. I will stick to my comment from last year. There are hundreds of thousands of Catholics who do not know their faith and this gesture is more confusing than ever. Maybe we should just do away with all kinds of washing of the feet on Holy Thursday and do it as a separate action that is not tied to Jesus washing the feet of his apostles. Because, there is no way I can reconcile washing of any Muslim's feet with the Last Supper. Even Mary was not present at the Last Supper to have her feet washed.

MDL said...

I agree with Ann, if foot washing is to be a service to the poor or others, Holy Thursday doesn't seem like the right time since that's not what Jesus did at that time. The beginning of lent might be good since service to others is a good thing to do for lent. Also, am not sure why he kisses their feet since that's not part of cleansing and is not part of the biblical ceremony.