About Washing Women’s Feet

This is also posted at Catholic Insight, catholicinsight.com

pope francis washes woman's feetPope Francis washes the feet of women on Holy Thursday and the Catholic world goes crazy!  The “yays” and the “nays” are not so quietly lining up on both sides of the line drawn in the sand.  But the rubrics!  He’s going against the Holy Thursday  rubrics!  Yes, he certainly is, but since he’s the Pope, it follows that he can grant himself the necessary dispensation.

Ever since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Catholics of all stripes have an opinion.  Those of us who place ourselves squarely in the  more conservative Catholic camp are understandably a little nervous right now.  We’re not used to so much change in so little time. If I had my way, Mass would be celebrated ad orientum with the edifying sounds of a pipe organ and altar boys in shiny black dress shoes and child-sized cassocks assisting the priests, who will always be men.  Holy Communion will only be received on the tongue while kneeling at a communion rail.  The words “liturgical” and “dance” will never be found in the same sentence.  Latin Mass will be more widely available and all women will consider mantillas and church veils part of our Sunday wardrobe.  I can say that from my comfortable pew in my affluent parish.  I also believe that as far as liturgy is concerned, we have nothing to worry about.  Pope Benedict made sure of that, and thank the Lord he did.

In some parts of the world, Catholics don’t have the luxury of arguing over the same issues.  Some of them don’t see a priest for months because there aren’t enough to cover impossibly large parishes and transportation is limited at best, precarious at worst.  Some of our brother and sister Catholics suffer injustice and reprisals because of their beliefs.  Some die because of them.  I doubt that they argue over ad orientum vs. ad populum; guitars vs. pipe organ; altar girls vs. altar boys.  Maybe, just maybe, this is what Pope Francis is trying to highlight: the needs and concerns of all Catholics and not just a select few.

It’s not all about us.

Pope Francis has been the target of unfounded criticism, all of it seemingly from Catholics. Yes, his more simple preferences are being hijacked to criticize previous Pontificates and have given ammunition to anyone looking for yet another way to attack the Catholic Church.  I contend that he is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  Everything he does is going to be misunderstood and condemned by someone so he might as well do what he thinks is best for Holy Mother Church.

What if Pope Francis is doing things differently because he feels this is where the Holy Spirit is guiding him, guiding us?  What if he’s trying to show us how to put the words of his predecessors into concrete action?  What if he’s trying to shake us affluent first-world Catholics out of our comfort zone and show us what Catholicism needs to look like in the 21st century?

What if, by washing the feet of women, he is telling us that we are all priests – not ordained priests – but priests in that we are to obey the admonition to spread the Gospel?  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).  To my mind, and it seems, to Pope Francis, that’s what it means to wash feet.  That’s what it means to be Catholic:  corporal and spiritual works of mercy grounded in prayer, given life and sustained by the Sacraments.

As I write this, I realize that in my circle of friends, there will be those who disagree, some vehemently so.  In my head right now, I’m seeing the face of someone whom I love dearly and whose opinion I value and it doesn’t look happy.  Oh boy.

So, I’m holding down my mantilla because the winds of change seem to be blowing through my Church.  I’ll continue to refer to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who has articulated so well and in so much depth, the beauty, richness and timeless teaching of my Catholic Church that I would like to think I would defend to the death.  At the same time, I’m also going to trust that the Holy Spirit is working in a black-shoe-wearing, women’s-feet-washing Latin American Pontiff who has been called to lead us – all of us – deeper into the beauty and meaning of what it means to be Roman Catholic.

Deo Gratias

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23 Responses to About Washing Women’s Feet

  1. SaintlySages says:

    One good thing about uncertainty is that it affords us an opportunity to place our trust in Divine Providence. St. Paul assured the Romans that God makes everything work together for the benefit of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). God bless!

  2. The ritual of washing feet on Holy Thursday is, in the end, pointless to those who lack the faith necessary to make the practice of humble and generous service a habit in our daily lives.

    Jesus asked the apostles “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (Jn 13,12). I’m kind of thinking that the time we spend discussing rubrics is evidence that we don’t, in fact, “understand”.

    Peace,

    Paul

  3. SR says:

    Well said, 8 Kids, well said! I am happy you did this post! I also do not feel some “Catholics” have even given Pope Francis a chance. From the starting gate, so many accusations have been made. All of them I have read and heard have been so unfounded. I agree with all you said regarding Mass also. Good post and enjoyed reading! God Bless, SR

  4. Anabelle says:

    Terry, what a great post! You said everything so well. There are countries who don’t have the extravagance of the West and in such countries, the humility of the faithful is not showy, it is remarkable. My mantilla will stay on and my love for the Latin Mass will not diminish even as I trust the Holy Spirit and our Shepherd. You need to submit this to Ignitum Today and Catholic Stand.

  5. Your insights are inspired by The Holy Spirit, especially considering your comfort zone. I am so joyful, even though staunchly conservative in outer practices and are NOT rigid in you inner life but rather open and yielding to the Spirit. You are living Pope Francis/ Holy Saturday message that God always challenges us to move out of our comfort zone

  6. alexanderschimpf says:

    Having a new pope is like getting a new parish priest after 8 years–it is always a little uncomfortable, no matter what “side” you are on. Good post.

  7. Me says:

    Thank you for this post! I loved that he included women in the washing of the feet. Again, it showed his humility and love for all. Some people read too much into it and thought he might allow women into the priesthood. Not likely. He is firm and gentle, proven by his other stances with our beliefs.
    Others were upset that he washed the feet of a Muslim. Who cares?! He is showing that we are all children of God and that he is there to serve us.

  8. reinkat says:

    This is a wonderful post. As so many have commented above, it is so well said. I have been astonished at the furor over him washing the feet of women. So what? This is about humility and service, not about who gets to be a priest. I am sure that if Mary Magdalene, or Peter’s wife, or Jesus’ own mother had been at the Last Supper, the Lord would have washed their feet as well. Anyway, in my parish, and in my former parish when I lived in another state, women were included amongst the “washees” every time. None of us prayerful witnesses to this ritual over the last 40 years had a clue that there was something unusual and shocking about this.

  9. genericmum says:

    I didn’t know that this was ‘against the rules’. I just thought it was nice that the woman was holding her baby.

  10. dgcree says:

    Well said, I’m preparing the hurricane shelter, but I suspect it will be done on the waft of a gentle breeze – LoL! God bless our Pope Francis, God grant him ” ad multos annos”

  11. The choice of pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. We may not understand precisely what’s going on, but whatever it is, it’s what is needed at this juncture.

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