Rorate Caeli

The inevitable: Pope Francis decrees that Maundy Thursday foot-washing can include women

When, within two weeks of his election, Francis chose to include women (including a Muslim) among the "viri" whose feet he washed as part of the Maundy Thursday Mass, we immediately grasped its significance and posted that it was "The Official End of the Reform of the Reform - by example". He repeated the inclusion of women in the foot-washing rite in 2014 and 2015, which could only have meant that he desired to normalize the practice. Today's reform was inevitable. It was only a matter of time. 

We predict that before long, like many other “options” such as communion in the hand, female altar boys, “extraordinary” ministers of holy communion and “ad populum” celebrations, having women take part in the Maundy Thursday washing of the feet will become virtually obligatory, with the priests who refuse it being stigmatized as “reactionaries” and punished in a variety of ways. 

Francis pushing this decree through Robert Cardinal Sarah is another reminder that, no matter what the highest officials of the CDW say and do in their private capacity, it is still the express will of the Pope that matters in the end. Beautiful reflections, edifying personal example and words of encouragement are no substitutes for clear legislation. As long as the “Reform of the Reform” is not embodied in clear legislation that is vigorously enforced from the very top, it will never take off the ground and will never be more than the hobby of a tiny minority. No amount of brave talk from a handful of bloggers will change this.

At the same time this "reform" should not be surprising, as it flows from the intrinsic malleability of the “Novus Ordo” (by which we mean not only the Mass but also the entire range of liturgical books associated with it.) The reality of the Novus Ordo makes slogans such as “say the black and do the red” and the entire concept of “liturgical abuse”, essentially meaningless. When the “black” and “red” could be changed anytime under the pressure of clerical and lay disobedience and the whims of those in power, today’s “disobedience” could end up being tomorrow’s obedience to the “God of Surprises”. 

One last point: the new rubrics for foot washing still limits it to the "faithful", members of the "People of God". Muslims are definitely not part of the "People of God", no matter how much one tries to stretch the meaning of the term without losing all coherence. Next Maundy Thursday, will the Pope still wash the feet of an unbaptized woman or two?

There is a silver lining to all this, of course: our fellow Rorate contributor Joseph Shaw explains in his Statement on allowing the washing of the feet of women at the OF mandatum:

These concessions have moved many to reconsider the Extraordinary Form, which is not affected by this decree, or similar concessions to liturgical abuses in the past. It is in the Extraordinary Form that the Church's liturgical traditions are maintained.



From Vatican Information Service:

The Pope decrees that not only men may be chosen for the washing of the feet in the Liturgy of Holy Thursday
Vatican City, 21 January 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father has written a letter, dated 20 December and published today, to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in which he decrees that from now on, the people chosen for the washing of the feet in the liturgy of Holy Thursday may be selected from all the People of God, and not only men and boys.

The Pope writes to the cardinal that he has for some time reflected on the "rite of the washing of the feet contained in the Liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini, with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus' gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity".

"After careful consideration", he continues, "I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the Washing of the feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the Pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen".

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has today published a decree on the aforementioned rite, dated 6 January 2016, the full text of which is published below:

"The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.

In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.

In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.

To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully".

[New Catholic: Two comments on historical matters. (1) This is one of the signs of irreformable acts by Francis. Since the beginning of his pontificate, his main supporters, including Cardinal Maradiaga, have insisted that the Pope wanted his reforms to be so great and symbolic no successor of his could ever overturn them. This is surely one example. (2) What is most tragic is to see the very same impulses that imploded Anglicanism imposed on Latin Church decades later. These impulses are not only untraditional -- which may be an advantageous characteristic in the Pope's mind -- but counterproductive. Unless the intention is to destroy the soul and strength of the Church, weaken Her even more, and to sow doubts on the immutability of symbolic explanations for the Male Priesthood in the Catholic Church. Surely that is not what was intended and what was sought. Surely not!]