Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mandatum Abuse

As the evening of Holy Thursday draws ever closer here in the Eastern Time Zone, we will in but a few hours time be celebrating the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  Traditionally, within that Mass, we see the practice of the washing of feet carried out.  In most parishes in North America you will likely see a mixed bag of men, women, and children.  An appeal to inclusivity no doubt, but a very problematic liturgical abuse.  The Roman Missal uses the words, "chosen men", (in Latin, viri selecti), this is the only place in the Missal where the Latin word vir is used, a word that is exclusive of male persons, rather than the word homo/homines which is often rendered in English as "men" but more properly means "people".  The washing of the feet is intrinsically connected to the priesthood, it is not a sign of Christian service or of being nice to everyone as it has come to be interpreted.  In the scriptures those coming from heaven (cf. Gen. 18:4, Gen. 19:2, & Luke 7:38) have their feet washed.  Before being consecrated as priests, the chosen men are ritually washed (cf. Lev. 8:5-7).  Christ is ritually washing the feet of his apostles, his viri selecti, to symbolize that the priesthood he is inaugurating at the Last Supper is no longer a priesthood of men, as in the old law, but is a priesthood from heaven, a sharing in his own divine priesthood.  The foot washing or mandatum is only recently returned to the rites of Holy Week, before 1955, it was restricted to washing the feet of priests, and so usually only seen in cathedrals, as the bishop washed the feet of 12 priests.  After the reforms to the rites of Holy Week it was permitted to parishes, but was meant to carry out the same symbolism.

For those who think that the rite has changed, or the washing of anyone's feet is permitted, the Congregation of Divine Worship issued an interpretation in 2008, in response to an inquiry.  The letter is given above, the text, which is a little hard to read in the image is given here with my emphases:
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments gratefully acknowledges your letter dated 12 April 2008, in which you enquire about the rubrics for the washing of feet during the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.

According to the Missale Romanum (tertia edito typica 2002), Feria V in Cena Domini, Ad Missam vespertinam, no. 11, the washing of feet is reserved to “chosen men” (viri selecti), that is, male persons. This is also stated in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum (editio typica 1984, reimpressio 1995), no 301. This Dicastery considers this legislation clear and wishes to add nothing further.

Should your problems persist, the Congregation would remind you that you write again to the Diocesan bishop who is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the liturgical life of the diocese (cf. canon 835 #1). He would be the appropriate person to contact.
With every prayerful good wish, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ

Fr. Anthony Ward, S.M.

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