Friday, January 22, 2016


Like many clergy (most?) the Pope washed the feet of women and now has changed the law so that he is no longer an out-law. Interestingly the number 12, to remind us of the 12 Apostles, of the New and Eternal Covenant, rather than the numberless disciple, is still kept in the Liturgy, so it is still about Apostles, not just any old lot of disciples. Interestingly Our Lady didn't get her feet washed, I have always wondered whether she or any other women were present at the last supper - though the pious may picture her receiving Holy Communion, scholars are divided.

Tradition has always seen the Last Supper, as portrayed in John and the other Gospels as a revelation of Christ's own priesthood and part of a rite of ordination of the 12, of which the ritual washing was an important part, which is of course intrinsic to the establishment of the 'New and Eternal Covenant'. I like the idea of the Patriarch of Moscow washing the feet of 12 bishops vested in liturgical vestments and wearing their mitres. I have memory of an image of the last supper in a French church with the Apostles at table wearing Latin Rite episcopal regalia, with Judas leaving and his tall mitre falling off his head knocked off his head by the lintel of the door. The Apostles at he Last Supper, including Judas, were Bishops after all.

My mother was an Italian from Pula in present day Slovena, when she was young it was the custom there for anyone with any authority to wash the feet of those who had authority to wash the feet of those he had authority over on Holy Thursday, thus my grandfather would wash the feet of his sons and any male employees and grandmother her daughters and female employees. In England kings washed the feet of poor men, queens poor women, the number varied often related to their age, thus a ninety year old queen would wash the feet 90 of her female subjects. In monastic communities part of the reception of novices is the washing of their feet by the Abbot or Prior. St Benedict of course says that all monastic guests should have their feet washed, as Christ washed the disciples feet. However, in church the idea of 12 males seems always to have been significant.

It seems there are two valid interpretations of this Rite which with the latest CDW instruction grapples with. First it is hieratic, do read this link, a priestly Rite that speaks directly of the nature of the Christian priesthood, secondly it it is Rite of humble service. 

I think that it is very significant that most priests, and certainly those of a particular age, are either unable to understand it in the first sense. I remember visiting a Church just before Holy Week and being curious to see a stack of plastic washing-up bowls, I was told, "I get the ministers (EMHC) to wash everyone's feet." I am not actually against this, I think it is wonderful thing to do but not during the Mass of the Lord's Supper. How wonderful if the Pope and every Cardinal in Rome, maybe even 'leprous courtier' washed the feet of pilgrims in St Peter's Square during Lent! Pius V used to do it regularly. Perhaps after the Chrism Mass, which is supposed to happen on Holy Thursday too, local Ordinaries would wash their priests' feet outside their cathedrals and then get them to wash the feet of lay people or notorious sinners, which would be at least a partial restoration of that other great Holy Thursday action, the restoration of public sinners. I heard of a group of Anglican theological students who offered foot washing at a railway station, they were disappointed that no feet were offered them.

Here, since the ambiguity of the Pope's first Holy Thursday and my own increasing inability to get up and down twelve times, it really does hurt, I chose not wash feet then and haven't done since. However I love the texts and the choir had spent ages practising them so we simply place the bowl and towel on the sanctuary step and invited people to come forward and give their Lenten alms for the poor, the resulting collection pays for our soup-run, and it fits in nicely with the idea of the Good Friday collection for the Holy Places and the Easter Collection which in my diocese is a personal gift to the Pastor. I do it is an abuse but it is an elegant one, it is a pastoral solution.
I haven't published all the comments on my previous post, there were so many and some seemed to express deep hurt or anger, which I can understand. I became a Catholic because forty years ago when every other Church seemed to fudge the words of Jesus on divorce and remarriage, the Catholic Church alone defended and proclaimed Jesus' teaching, I was taught this vividly by a couple who were themselves divorced and remarried. So many of the more significant speakers at the Synod seemed to argue against Jesus' explicit teaching. I know that the same fear exists over the proposed Synod that will touch on priestly celibacy, Christ was celibate, the Patristic tradition was that of Apostolic celibacy, people have a fear that Christ and his teaching and the Traditions that unite us to him are being pushed aside in a radical attempt to modernise the Church. I don't if the Holy Father is being realistic and facing up to the existing divisions in the Church, an open debate is better than sniping in corners. I do believe the greatest evil in the Church is a lack of transparency: back-room sell outs, manipulation by gangs of the privileged mafias and lobbies, cover-ups of scandals, denying the faithful their rightful voice. Personally I am enough of an Augustinian to believe that the truth does not need to be defended only in charity released. 

I believe too, though sometimes I am tempted by the Evil One to doubt, what Jesus Christ promised his Church: I will be with you until the consummation of the ages. I pray to God I will always believe this.


Ivan said...

I have a small correction: if we are thinking of the same Pula (where your mother is from), then it is in Croatia, not Slovenia.

Liam Ronan said...

I really wonder how far are we now from the Abomination of Desolation of which the prophet Daniel (and Our Lord) spoke?

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote, commenting on the second temptation of Jesus in his 2004 book ‘On the Road toward Christ Jesus’ (referring directly to Vladimir Soloviev’s ‘A Short Tale of the Antichrist’),:

“And a phrase of Soloviev’s is illuminating: The Antichrist believes in God, but in the depths of his heart he prefers himself.”

May I toss into the mix a certain inference the late Malachi Martin made in 1999 in respect of a future pope and the unfolding of the Great Apostasy?

Martin intimated that it had come to him through a reliable source that there would be a future pope either directly under the control of Satan or possibly possessed. He suggested the precise wording (I think he was alluding to the undisclosed portion of The Third Secret of Fatima) leaves room for one or the other reading.

Martin suggested it would all play out within 20 years of his (Martin's) 1999 statement.

On 13 May 2010 Pope Benedict said the following while visiting Fatima:

"May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity."


Alexius Parochus said...

In present days Pula is in Croatia...

John Nolan said...

It's not traditional to have the foot-washing inserted into the Mass; since the time of Pope Gregory the Great the number of clerics or poor people has been thirteen and not twelve; and until recently it would have been unthinkable, for obvious reasons, for a bishop or priest to wash and kiss the feet of a woman.

Patricius said...

I have missed the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper on no more than three occasions in the last fifty years. I have no recollection of ever having seen women's feet washed.

Woody said...

Tradition is the problem. We can look at history and read why certain actions were taken. As time has gone on, people, even priests (who become bishops, cardinals and popes), forsake Tradition as being old fashion, no longer needed, no longer relevant. When that happens, we have the problems we have today. If we forsake Tradition, we will lose the past and all it stood for. It is my belief you cannot have it both ways, even a little. You either accept all of Tradition or you don't. By whittling away of some of Tradition here and there, as has been done, you only delay the time when all of Tradition is gone. We need a courageous Pope who can stop the modernization of the Church and bring back Tradition. As Pope Benedict VI alluded to along time ago, it will be a smaller Church. But it will be a stronger Church, spiritually.

Delia said...

I wonder whether Pope Francis will allow a Baker's Dozen, and wash the feet of those 13 Cardinals?

Maybe I can now get the dog washed - brilliant! Small dachshund no larger than a foot. Nice and clean for Easter. What a fantastic service!

Liam Ronan said...


"A smaller Church" indeed! Perhaps small enough to stand under the same umbrella and not get wet in the storm.

Long-Skirts said...

Fr. Blake said:

"I have always wondered whether she or any other women were present at the last supper - though the pious may picture her receiving Holy Communion, scholars are divided."

Ummmmmmmmm...didn't Our Lord mention "One of you will betray Me." I can't imagine Christ
saying that with His Mother No!!!!

Mary said...

Mary and the other women Saints in Christianity, including St. Elena, the Empress, were clearly not egalitarians. Just read their lives, I feel many women should just read they lives. St. Elena did not demand to run the Church, the miracle making Mucenica did not demand to hold sermons and they haven't even preached to people and these were women who resurrected from death through Christ.
But mostly today there is this pressure from religious women to be acknowledged as men are to be priests. This is a deep misunderstanding of what the Church is and what the priests do, and also of the fact if you found Christ, that level of elevation and spiritual richness etc I doubt one would actually feel like they need any recognition from the world.
The idea that God does not see your Faith unless you get some medal for it is deeply unfaithful.
One who has found God will not demand anything from anyone because they found everything.
Oh and Mary bowed to her own son because He was God. She did not put her act of giving birth as justification for power. She is submissive all the way through NT.
Just saying, the political incorrect reality about Heaven and All.

Cosmos said...

The hierarchy and the theologians have been overcome with despair by the indifference of the culture to the Faith, and they see no point in handing on the Tradition. Its seems silly in a world of nihilistic agnostics who simply don't care. In fact, it can actually be counter-productive, because people only half-interested in what the Church is doing often misunderstand its actions.

So in a last ditch effort to attract people to the Faith, the Faith is recast. The question is whether they are actually handing on what Christ gave us? I have started to think the answer is no. I don't think Jesus or Paul would be welcome in many diocese.

gemoftheocean said...

Fascinating post Fr. Blake. I have always suspected Our Blessed Mother did NOT have dinner with the Finklesteins that evening, nor did other women close to the apostles. Call it a hunch that Jesus gave His own mother Communion.

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