Saturday, March 30, 2013


For those of you scratching your heads about the peculiarities of the recent Holy Thursday papal foot-washing ceremony at a Roman juvenile prison, here's a reasonable article by Jimmy Akin. It's essentially an apologia, and Akin, as usual, does a good job. However, I want to point out some issues with Jimmy's apologia. 
St. Catherine of Siena

Akin, in attempting to downplay the significance of the ceremony, notes that the directives in the current missal for the rite, while specifying that it is "men" whose feet are to be washed, the number is not limited to twelve. Akin appears to elaborate this a bit to show that there is some flexibility in the directives. 

However, perhaps the main reason the number twelve is not specified is because the church is assuming that there would be no question. The ceremony occurs during the Mass for Holy Thursday which represents the events of the first Holy Thursday in which both the priesthood and the Eucharist are instituted and the focus is on the Twelve. That there would be twelve who have their feet washed on Holy Thursday should not be a question.

Akin, goes on to note that in John - the only Gospel to note this event - the word "disciples" is used and not "apostles". Akin notes that Jesus had many disciples, giving rise to some question as to just how many feet Jesus washed, and again, posing possible flexibility.  However, at this point, the Twelve were still disciples, not apostles. Disciples means followers, apostles means those who are sent. The Twelve would technically become apostles at the Ascension when there are told to "go and teach all nations". But here, in the upper room, the night before the crucifixion, they are still just followers.

But what is difficult in all this is this sort of preponderance of "gestures" we are suddenly having to grapple with and find reasons for. The pope says he wants to make a point - from everything to paying his hotel bill to doing Holy Thursday at a prison. Fine. But I don't believe that St. Francis hugged lepers and lived in poverty to make a point. Also, St. Francis was not the Pope with a responsibility to the whole church. In fact, as his order grew, St. Francis became extremely conflicted over his increasingly administrative role. In the end, he left (at least physically) the order he started.

Some are deriding any criticism or questioning of the new pope's unusual actions. A pope cannot err in teaching faith and morals, but he can err else-wise, and history is full of such examples. While I don't see any reason for true alarm, I do see the need for the laity to be vigilant. After all, it was a humble lay woman from Siena who restored the Church to Rome in the 14th century after 70 years of the popes hiding out in France. It would be good to read the book TRIUMPH by H.W. Crocker if you haven't already. It appears that we we are in for an interesting time, and a strong sense of history will be required.

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