Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hand-wringing about Foot-washing

"I have given you an example: as I have done, so you must do."
One month ago yesterday, Pope Francis signed a document (released today) changing the liturgical rubrics for Holy Thursday's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. Actually, all he did was eliminate the restriction of the rite of foot-washing to men (Latin: viri). The Pope's goal is that the rite express the breadth of Christ's mercy, which led him to give himself for everyone.

As Pope, Francis effectively changed the rubrics on his first Holy Thursday; now he just made it official.  I am not a big fan of women getting their feet washed (and certainly wanted to have nothing to do with it while the rubrical restrictions were in place), but my resistance is mainly from a sense of distaste at all it involves in terms of hosiery (not that ordinary women wear hose anymore).
This is a departure from the 1955 rite (which restored an extinct practice), and from the earlier customs. It is safe to say that the medieval and earlier foot-washings involved men alone simply out of reasons of decorum. Other ceremonial (but non-liturgical) foot-washings with women were carried out by women. Either way, participants were often chosen from the poor, offering exactly the sign that the Pope hopes the revised rite will help manifest: the "limitless charity" of the one who loved us and gave himself up for us. 

We may have gotten used to the visual of "twelve men/boys" representing the Apostles, but the washing of the feet was less about the priestly character of the Apostles than it was a graphic exhortation to service on the part of those who represent Christ--just as it was on that Holy Thursday night.


Anonymous said...

I've been asked and have declined to have my feet washed on Holy Thursday. My discomfort has nothing to do with hosiery, socks or pedicures I'm just not comfortable with having my feet handled by a man other than my husband or physician. Shaking hands is one thing, but the foot washing process more personal to me. Other women may feel differently, whether they're wearing a skirt or pants, but for me I'm out of the running.- Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Yes, too be quite honest there is a certain intimacy that is involved sms hopefully sublimated, but prudence is still a virtue!