A Cautious Man
April 07, 2004
Men Without Women
In the Catholic faith, the Mass on Holy Thursday includes special elements to remind the faithful of the life and message of Jesus, especially with regard to the night before He died. As part of this, the priest re-enacts Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet. As noted by the U.S. Catholic Bishops: "Christ's disciples are to love one another. For this reason, the priest who presides at the Holy Thursday liturgy portrays the biblical scene of the gospel by washing the feet of some of the faithful." As the bishops also note:
Because the gospel … 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 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.Unfortunately, it seems that the Archbishop of Atlanta has decided that he has a better idea:
Archbishop John Donoghue has limited Holy Thursday foot-washing services to men …The archbishop's position on the ancient foot-washing ritual came in a March 19 letter he sent to pastors telling them that 12 men were to be selected for the rite as the representation of "Christ's linkage of the institution of the Eucharist to the establishment of the ordained priesthood."As reported in the local news media, "The overwhelming majority of American bishops allow women's feet to be washed in the ceremony, although the decision is left to individual bishops."
Is there some important religious or liturgical reason for the Archbishop's decision? Doesn't seem so, especially since his interpretation of the meaning of the ritual, appears to be at odds with what is taught. Even if the Archbishop could sit down, and with extensive reference to Church teachings and linguistic analysis of the relevant Church documents support his position, does it still make it the right one? No, I don't think so. In case the Archbishop has forgotten, the U.S. bishops are still trying to regain the trust of a lot of people, Catholics included. With all of the tension and division nowadays, in the Church as well as in the world, Catholics are ill-served when one of the "shepherds" promulgates a rule which will simply be seen as useless and petty. But don't just listen to me. As the Archbishop's brother bishops have already noted:
The liturgy is always an act of ecclesial unity and Christian charity, of which the Holy Thursday foot washing rite is an eminent sign. All should obey the Lord's new commandment to love one another with an abundance of love, especially at this most sacred time of the liturgical year when the Lord's passion, death, and resurrection are remembered and celebrated in the powerful rites of the Triduum.