Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The sign we give

I was pleased last year to have a bad back and so on Holy Thursday I had already thought about not washing the feet during the Sacred Triduum, I hesitated because the choir had already prepared the music for it and the chant for it had been printed in the Mass booklets. When Pope Francis decided to disregard the Church's law and follow his own instincts, I decided to follow mine and not wash anyone's feet but instead leave the bowl and towel that we would have used on the sanctuary step and invite people to come forward and put money in the bowl for the poor whilst the Mandatum was sung, they were very generous.

Before I understood the meaning of the rite I was happy to wash anyone's feet, because like the Pope I understood it to be about serving others. The CDW of course explained that it was about Christ specifically caring for the Apostles, those gathered with him at the Eucharist, who he would that evening commission to celebrate Mass themselves by saying "Do this in memory of me", it was obvious I was wrong and had misled people. I have had several battles, as have many priests, to do what the Law requires us to do and wash only the feet of men.. If the Pope chooses to break the Law, that is a personal choice, he has the power as Pontiff to change it but he has chosen not to do so.

I think the media and dissidenr Catholics likes to present the Pope as a latter day Robin Hood, adapting the Law and customs  to suit himself, the problem is of course that it creates confusion for everyone else and weakens the sense of the Law for the rest of us. Law can of course be oppressive but in the Church it is meant to preserve justice and to protect the weak, and ensure the strong do not exceed their authority or pervert doctrine.

My mother used to speak of everyone in authority washing the feet of those subject to their authority before Easter in her Yugoslavian village; fathers would wash the feet of their families, masters and their servants, employers their employees, teachers the feet of the children they taught, army officers the feet of their soldiers, even partisan leaders would wash the feet of their communist comrades. After the Reformation in England the Sovereign continued to wash the feet of the poor until the 18th century, the "Royal Maundy" continues without the washing, with the Queen giving money to the poor. I would very much welcome Francis and indeed the whole Roman Curia going out into the streets of Rome with bowls, ewers and towels to wash the feet of poor and to distribute alms all day on Holy Thursday - what a wonderful sign.

Here, for a brief time I used wash the feet of 12 male rough sleepers at Mass and give them a small 'offering', they would come along just for that portion of the Mass and go. I think people thought it was rather wonderful, I began to think it was crass and more about me, than the liturgy or Christ. Christ's sign is not one about caring for the poor, or even those on the 'peripheries' of the Church, rather it is about caring for those at the heart of the Church, it ends the continued bickering amongst the disciples about who is the greatest.

There is something very intimate about the sign of the Bishop washing the feet of his beoloved priests, as there was something intimate about Christ washing his apostles feet. Peter, and presumably the others, was deeply embarrassed by it. It wasn't a public act but one behind closed doors, in the Upper Room. Judas after all is the one the disciples presume is being sent to give relief to the poor, the faithful Apostles remained with the Christ. Foot-washing is an ad intra sign at the heart of the Church. It was indeed a statement about power and relationships in the Church's government. In Rome especially where there is huge gap filled by various 'leperous courtiers', (Francis' words) between the Bishop of Rome and his diocesan clergy, how beautiful the sign of the Pope getting down on his knees to serve those who in theory are supposed to be his co-workers and closest collaborators. There are two signs that were given by Francis last year, the first was washing the feet of boys and girls, some of whom were not Christians, the second sign, which is equally powerful though not noticed by the more casual observer was deciding not to wash his priest's feet.

There is something significant about Jesus washing the feet of the twelve then going on the share the Passover with them. There is something very important that he takes this heavily prescribed Jewish ritual and changes it. I wonder whether using a ewe rather than ram would have invalidated the rite, presumably the Angel of death would have struck down the first born if the victim's sex broke with Tradition, for the Jews this of course wasn't an issue they simply did what was handed on.. Playing about with signs and symbols and there language within the context of religion is very dangerous, we simply don't know what can of worms we are opening up.

The signs we give are always multi-layered, signs go beyond words, the don't have a fixed meaning, often the sign intended is not the sign that is received, different people perceive signs in different ways. Last year Francis' footwashing was taken by the world as a great act of his personal humility, for others it was a sign of inclusivity, involving non-Christians and women in this rite. I am afraid for me and for many others, it was a sign of lawlessness at the heart of the Church, the Supreme Lawgiver of the Catholic Church acting lawlessly. It became a sign of how during the Franciscan Pontificate the law -and tradition- should be interpreted, the Mandatum is after all about law and power. The chant that accompanies it says, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you ...", this is a commandment laid not on everyone but only on Christ's followers, the Church.

The build up to the Synod on the Family is an obvious example of the breaking down of certainties, after the Kasper intervention at the Consistory it seems, to some, that the Church's teaching appears to be in a state of flux by those who are looking for signs. I was told of a man recently who for over two decades has been living heroically in a 'brother/sister' relationship with an equally heroic woman whose first marriage broke down after ten years, they tried to get an annulment which failed, since then they have done their best to live according to the teaching of the Church. The man having read the text of the Cardinal's speech asked, 'Father, have we wasted the last 22 years?' He said that he now felt his faith was undermined, that the struggle he and his 'wife' had engaged in was by the Cardinal's teaching meaningless and vainglorious and that it was endorsed by the Pope who hadn't given any clear sign that he upheld the teaching these two people were trying to live by. There are many men and women in this situation, the sacrifices they have made have been truly heroic, for me they are signs of grace and often heroic virtue, now it seems that they might well have wasted their lives, this is another of the signs that is being given.


Not That Guy said...

Could not agree more.

nickbris said...

Quite right Father,the bowl on the Sanctuary is a much better idea and saves all the trouble of moving the furniture about.It was a phenomenal success last year

Chloe said...

The "heroic" man and woman you mention, do the Cardinal Kaspers of this world not understand the enormous kick in the teeth they give these people? Aside from what you quoted them as saying they will probably be jeered at and pressurised to not bother any more because "all that's changed now!" I've had a share of tat sort of rubbish, but to get it from senior clergy is the worst sort of betrayal. Thank you for this post Father.

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B. said...

Thank you, Father Ray.

John Vasc said...

Hear hear! I agree with every point you made, Fr Ray.
Although this is not quite comparable, take the example of a boss or head of a family who decides to conspicuously favour a wilfully chosen outsider at the expense of family or employees (eg for promotion, special status or inheritance). I'm sure many of us have seen this happen.
Its effect is rarely positive on the 'chosen one', and divisive and unsettling for the family/firm (even when the hurt caused is unintended).

Православный физик said...

Cheers to this post, excellent!, thank you for your fidelity.

Nicolas Bellord said...

"Why have I bothered?" That has been exactly my reaction to that kind of thing. Just tiresome rules - an ideal? But just look around at the results of not following these tiresome rules and you think again.

I always wonder what exactly those who propose a new sexual ethic are actually proposing. They never give the details: adultery okay on Wednesdays for example?

John Nolan said...

I think the furore over Pope Francis's foot washing last year would not have been so great had not Bugnini incorporated it into the Mass in 1955. Prior to that it took place after the stripping of the altars and Vespers. The fact that monarchs performed the ceremony, as did Mother Superiors in convents where they washed the feet of the sisters, should have suggested this was extra-liturgical.

I have another objection. The placing of the pedilavium after the Gospel and before the Offertory was a prototype of the Novus Ordo custom of interrupting Mass for the administration of sacraments such as baptism and matrimony. God knows where the reformers got this idea from - I understand the Eastern Churches object to it - and it was noticeable that at Pope Francis's installation the conferring of the pallium and ring was moved to a pre-Mass position, presumably the decision of Benedict XVI and Guido Marini.

The liturgical reformers got it right in some respects, but horribly wrong in others. And, of course, everything went out of control, which some of them actually wanted. Destroying a 1500-year-old rite in order to create a new one supposedly suited to one decade of the 20th century doesn't make sense to me.

Delia said...

Spot on, thanks!

LWC said...

Yes, and I'm certain Jesus Christ himself would be equally concerned with such exacting fidelity to rubrics. If one were to follow the rules to the letter of the law, is he any more righteous than one who believed but recklessly faltered in the same.

Deacon Augustine said...

LWC, fidelity to the rubrics is not a matter of self-righteousness. Rather, it is a matter of respecting the right of all the faithful to receive and participate in the Roman rite as it is given to us by the Church - not Fr. Tom, Dick or Harry's personal interpretation of the Roman rite.

When clergy, of whatever rank, choose to impose their own ideas on the liturgical rites, an attitude of pride and rebellion is revealed at the root of their actions. Expressions of faux humility are negated by the very acts which say: "I am above the law", "The law is good enough for others, but it doesn't apply to me.", "I know better than the Church.", "I am my own master."

Capricious, authoritarian clericalism and pride are the attitudes which are revealed by a disdain for the law - not humility. Perpetrators show that they do not give a fig for the canonical rights of the faithful.

LWC said...

Deacon Augustine, is it not a presumptive assumption their actions are 'of disdain for the law' as opposed to 'humility.' That's a pretty bold assertion. Are those who seek to impose rigid fidelity to rubrics any less inclined to ulterior motives? I'm a simple parishioner who is now confronted with an idea that my worship over the last 40 years has been sub-standard, unfitting, unworthy. I, and many others, believe such exacting rubrics do nothing but trivialize our faith into vacuous exercises. Until now, these 'rubrics' have been absent within our practice of faith and our faith is of no less fidelity than those who choose to exercise such rubrics. You can certainly understand the human instinct when it is implied one's worship of God 'isn't good enough.'

Anonymous said...

Any attempt to redefine mortal sin, so as to exclude for instance, the denial of one's marriage, the refusal to carry out one's marital obligations, from mortal sin is an attack not only on the sacrament of marriage but on the natural law and a fundamental lie about the nature of man and marriage. It is also a dishonouring of the children to the subsisting marriage, and contemptuous of all, even unto subjecting the community to ongoing scandal. And all this before ever adultery arises. The sacrilege of intentionally giving Our Lord to persons in an objectively manifest state of continuing mortal sin is most egregious and most damaging to the Faith of the priest and to those in the community. It is to reject the deposit of Faith through the Source and Summit of the Faith, as well as an outright rejection of the objective truth of marriage and the family.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Our Lord is concerned that we show reverence and fidelity to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the good of our souls.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The problem is not 'the rubrics' but the disregard for them, which means you have been given something not according to the mind of the Church.

Being rubric-free sounds kind of fun, the rubrics tell us to use unleavened wheaten bread and wine, some people have suggested using coke and cookies, I have some rather nice Easter rabbit-shaped biscuits and champagne someone gave me, do you I could choose to use those on Easter day?

The rubrics are there to protect the faith and people like you from people like me, who can be over imaginative and can use their power to inflict damage on the Church and on what we have received.

LWC said...

Fr. Ray, I appreciate the response (and the forum to discuss). As for the scenario, perhaps I'm a bit naive, I'm not altogether certain many churches, if any, would go so far as champagne and cookies in place of the Eucharist. And clearly guidelines protect from gross misuse (and abuse) of the liturgy. And while indeed I have seen some fairly ridiculous representations of "Mass," I would hope they represent an incredibly small minority of Catholics who see a value in that sort of 'worship.' I recall a mass in Oakland, CA that included 'liturgical dance.' I was sufficiently disturbed I had to immediately leave (and go for a run around Lake Merritt). I was not suited for that type of worship; however, I cannot speak to the fidelity of faith those Catholics exercised in their worship. Did their actions rise to sacrilege? I don't know. I'm not addressing that degree of over-reach. I'm simply concerned with a growing critique against many of us who worship in ordinary parishes post-Vatican II who are now told our worship is less than ideal. It does me no injury for my fellow Catholics choosing to worship under the strictest fidelity to rubrics. Nevertheless, I trust you see the condescension of many of those who practice with such fidelity (though I'm certain if condescension were food, no one in the world would go hungry). I do value the perspective of all Catholics across the entire spectrum. A very Happy Easter to you and your parish.

Paul said...

'There are many men and women in this situation, the sacrifices they have made have been truly heroic, for me they are signs of grace and often heroic virtue, now it seems that they might well have wasted their lives, this is another of the signs that is being given.'

Pelagianism. Their primary relationship should be with God in prayer, and with the Church's official teaching. Not the obiter dicta of transient popes, doing their best to respond to a particular, perplexing situation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We are all 'unprofitable servants', remember? After doing no more than we were obliged to do.
The attitude of the chaste couples referred to, sounds to me not dissimilar from that of the Prodigal Son's brother.

I was in their situation for several years, with a partner with a severe addiction, who was not too happy about it. They should bless God for the grace He gave them; and pray for the lesbian couple with their out-of-kilter, 'make believe' little family.

Pétrus said...


You seem to take exception to people criticising the liturgy in your own parish because it doesn't follow the rubrics. Yet, you seem to be quite happy to pour scorn on a parish with liturgical dance. I am sure the parish with the liturgical dance would find your own attitude condescending.

Once a priest decides to make up his own liturgy (which he does by not following the rubrics) everything becomes subjective. Is it acceptable to ignore rubric A but not rubric B?

There is a correct way to celebrate Mass and that involves following the rubrics. If a priest doesn't follow the rubrics then the liturgy is celebrated incorrectly. The liturgy doesn't belong to individuals - it belongs to the Church.

It doesn't matter what you like and it doesn't matter what I like.

David said...

I think that there are many of us who are in a similiar state to the gentleman whom you spoke to. I was received into the Catholic Church 8 years ago at the Easter Vigil and am now plagued with doubts about whether I have wasted these years practicing a faith that may very well be untrue.

This coming Sunday the Church will declare Pope John Paul II a canonised Saint. This is a pope who actively participated in an Animist (i.e. Voodoo) ritual in Togoville in August 1985, contrary to the Church's traditional teaching that such active participation in non-Catholic worship is mortally sinful. I could multiply instances of other such violations of the First Commandment by the late Pope.

The Martyrs chose death rather than participate in pagan worship and were canonised for that very act of self-sacrifice. Was their self-sacrifice then a mere act of vainglory? In light of the impending canonisation of the late Pope who never publicly repented of his participation in what can only be understood as pagan worship it seems so.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...