The Holy Father Pope Francis has issued a decree (Decreto della Congregazione per il Culto Divino e la Disciplina dei Sacramenti sul Rito della “Lavanda dei Piedi”, 21.01.2016) signed by Cardinal Sarah making changes to the “Feet Washing” rite on Holy Thursday.
Lettera del Santo Padre al Prefetto della Congregazione per il Culto Divino e la Disciplina dei Sacramenti sul Rito della “Lavanda dei Piedi” nella Liturgia della Messa in Cœna Domini, 21.01.2016
Al venerato Fratello
Signor Cardinale ROBERT SARAH
Prefetto della Congregazione
per il Culto Divino e la Disciplina dei Sacramenti
come ho avuto modo di dirLe a voce, da qualche tempo sto riflettendo sul Rito della “Lavanda dei piedi”, contenuto nella Liturgia della Messa in Cœna Domini, nell’intento di migliorarne le modalità di attuazione, affinché esprimano pienamente il significato del gesto compiuto da Gesù nel Cenacolo, il suo donarsi “fino alla fine” per la salvezza del mondo, la sua carità senza confini.
Dopo attenta ponderazione, sono giunto alla deliberazione di apportare un cambiamento nelle rubriche del Messale Romano. Dispongo pertanto che venga modificata la rubrica secondo la quale le persone prescelte per ricevere la Lavanda dei piedi debbano essere uomini o ragazzi, in modo tale che da ora in poi i Pastori della Chiesa possano scegliere i partecipanti al rito tra tutti i membri del Popolo di Dio. Si raccomandi inoltre che ai prescelti venga fornita un’adeguata spiegazione del significato del rito stesso.
Grato per il prezioso servizio di codesto Dicastero, assicuro a Lei, Signor Cardinale, al Segretario e a tutti i collaboratori il mio ricordo nella preghiera e, formulando i migliori auguri per il Santo Natale, invio a ciascuno la Benedizione Apostolica.
Dal Vaticano, 20 dicembre 2014
[00085-IT.01] [Testo originale: Italiano]
“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”.
As expected, so-called ‘Traditionalist’ bloggers have taken to their blogs to voice their wrath and attacks against the Holy Father. Blogger ‘Rorate Caeli’ wrote on his blog:
[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!]
The changes allows the washing of the feet of women, men, children, the elderly, clerics, religion and possibly non-Catholics/Christians since the decree says, “both the chosen faithful and others.” This change reflects the call to mercy that Pope Francis has focused on since the onset of his pontificate and this year of mercy.
In the rubrics it says,
“After the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each one, and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and then dries them.”
The word ‘viri” is masculine and can mean men as in males or human beings in general, i.e MANkind, HuMAN, all MEN. Traditionalists believe that only men should have their feet washed since Jesus did choose 12 men. However, since the word ‘viri’ can mean both male(men) and humanity in general, then the rubric does implicitly allow for women and children to have their feet washed during the Mass of the Last Supper.
Pope Francis is using this change as a symbolic gesture showing that he is welcoming all just like Christ did. This is the purpose of the rite. We are called to wash one another’s feet regardless of gender or background. Traditionalists who believe the rite only pertains to males missed the point Jesus was trying to make in the washing of feet. Remember, the Last Supper washing of the feet was an example of what the apostles had to do. Naturally, they would have found themselves in scenarios that are not identical as the supper, so imitating the washing to the letter would not make sense.
“Rorate Caeli” and others do not have an argument in this case since Pope Francis clearly stated that participants must understand the meaning behind the washing of the feet. This means that the rite was not changed to accomodate feminists or water down Catholicism. Those who are chosen must know what they are getting into beforehand.
I must admit, I do have mixed feelings about this as many will take it out of context just like “Rorate Caeli” and others have. However, since the decree specifically states that pastors have to inform the participants on the meaning of the rite, then I am at ease. I think Jesus would approve of this since he was inclusive and merciful. The rites of the Church are meant to feed us spiritually. They are not meant to be habits that we blindly imitate. If a Catholic is worried about whose feet is being washed rather than why the feet are washed, then this Catholic is not internalizing the message. He or she is not growing spiritually and is focusing only on the externals just like the Pharisees. As one of my instructors from the Oratory wrote in his book On the Lord’s Appearing, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism the dead faith of the living.”
We must be careful not to become like the Pharisees who were living a dead faith based on rigid understanding and implementation of rules rather than absorbing the spirit of them. Moreover, the Pope has the power of the keys to change or leave things the as is. “Rorate Caeli” and others who think like him do not understand theology nor Catholicism. Perhaps it may be time for them to leave the Church and start their own just like Luther did if all they are going to do is complain, disparage and slander the Pope and adhere to nostalgia, rather than work on their salvation and that of others.