Tagged: Foot Washing

On Pope Francis, Feet Washing, Tradition, and Canon Law

Pope Francis - Foot Washing, Mandatum, Holy Week
Pope Francis washes the feet of young ‘offenders,’ including two women, during Maundy Thursday Mass.

The Catholic world is in an uproar right now. In fact, the AP posted a story: “Pope’s foot-wash a final straw for traditionalists.” The problem is focused on the Mandatum Mass, where there is an optional “foot washing” that can be done during the Mass by the priest. The Rubrics, which are supposed to be followed – because they exist, call for men’s feet to be washed.

Many Catholic blogs through the years have focused on this, again option, portion of the Mandatum and have written extensively, myself included. As I, and others, have said – the Rubrics are clear and priests should follow the Rubrics.

This isn’t to say that the Rubrics must say this, or that priests even elect to do this ceremony during the Mass.1 Some have gone so far as to argue that the foot-washing should remain men only because of its symbolic link to the priestly ministry. Yet, some others have argued that it isn’t that women’s feet shouldn’t be washed ever, but that the Rubrics say what they say, and therefore should be followed.

The issue is rather complex actually, because it touches upon several areas, and layers, of Church law. No one better than Dr. Ed Peters can break down a complex issue, and speak about it in a way that educates, analyzes, and charitably explains it in the simplest of ways. So when I was his post on this issue I was reminded of just how well he does exactly that.

So on this issue, he is really worth reading. His post: Retrospectives on the Mandatum rite controversies is very well done. You should read this whole thing, and I concur almost completely with the entire post.

A part I found to be the most well said, really affects both traditionally minded Catholics that are full of anxiety due to the Pope’s actions, and those that are attempting to argue that it means more than it probably does. Peters says:

 A pope’s ignoring of a law is not an abrogation of the law but, especially where his action reverberated around the world, it seems to render the law moot. For the sake of good order, then, the Mandatum rubrics should be modified to permit the washing of women’s feet or, perhaps upon the advice of Scriptural and theological experts, the symbolism of apostolic ministry asserted by some to be contained in the rite should be articulated and the rule reiterated. What is not good is to leave a crystal clear law on the books but show no intention of expecting anyone to follow it. That damages the effectiveness of law across the board.

I agree. One of my favorite bloggers said it best, Terry – Abbey-Roads:

I get the feeling everyone is so busy pigeonholing the Pope, scrutinizing everything he does or says, measuring him according to their preconceived notions on what and how he is supposed to be doing things, that they are hardening their hearts and not listening to what the Holy Spirit is doing or saying.

Unfortunately, that is probably true. Although, I do agree with Peters, that the best thing to do is keep with the Rubrics, or to change them and provide Catechesis.

Not to compare the brother Popes, but what Benedict always did well, was to provide Catechesis for any changes or reforms. We knew exactly what and why.

Lex orandi, lex credendi.



  1. In fact, I have pondered whether the ceremony might be done prior to the Mass, for many reasons, as are other various rites for certain occasions. []