By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

IMO, the Best Article Thus Far on Foot Washing Issue

(I do have to chuckle to imagine what people who are non-Christian or non-Catholic think when they see the recent titles of my blog posts. Humor gives perspective.)

Here is the link to the Religion News Service article. This article gives readers the broader, more realistic context.

 But, most important of all, to everyone of you: Happy Easter! ¡Feliz Pascua!

(Image below of Jesus Healing Woman on the Sabbath in public domain)

Another Catholic Blogger on Foot Washing Issue

Below is Jimmy Akin's observation, in part, on the situation. Go to his blog link at the end of this post to read all of his observations. The comment I have on this Akin excerpt is that the Vatican texts, which I have seen, never use the word "only" when refering to males in the rite. Otherwise, I think Akin is making unassailable common sense observations in this excerpt about the real situation before us. Here is the Akin excerpt:

Although the Church’s official texts use language that indicates only men (Latin, viri) can have their feet washed on Holy Thursday, the situation today is more complex. In 2004, the new archbishop of Boston, Seán O’Malley, was criticized for varying from the practice of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, and washing only the feet of men. He explained that this was what the law required but said that he would query the Holy See about the matter.

In 2005 the Boston Globe reported:

O’Malley promised to consult with Rome, and yesterday his spokeswoman said the Congregation for Divine Worship, which oversees liturgical practices, had suggested the archbishop make whatever decision he thought was best for Boston.
“The Congregation [for Divine Worship] affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual.” However, the Congregation did “provide for the archbishop to make a pastoral decision.”

Cardinal O’Malley then included women in the foot-washing rite. This sequence of events created a situation that was significantly muddier than existed before. If the archbishop of Boston was allowed to make pastoral exceptions to the rule, it would be difficult to argue that other bishops could not do the same in their dioceses. This had the effect of creating a doubt as to what the law requires. According to the Code of Canon Law, “Laws, even invalidating and incapacitating ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt of law” (CIC 14).

Until such time as the Holy See clarifies the matter, it appears that the law provides that only men are to have their feet washed in the ceremony but that the local bishop can choose to include women in his diocese if he deems it the best decision pastorally.
-------------End of Akin Excerpt---------------------------

Blogger: And so the Bishop of Rome did. Surely, in the centuries of development of the Western legal tradition, someone must have penned the adage: Res prima, lex secunda, Reality first, law second (or "law attending"). Maybe, that is a Latin way of saying what someone likely said in Aramaic: "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." The beauty of law is how it makes sense of and lends coherence to the facts and realities of life. This view of law is not anti-nomian ("against law"), but rather anti-positivist by looking at the context, practice, purpose, and intent surrounding the bare words of a command.

Moreover, when we look at the rubric or liturgical rule at issue, we see that, from the beginning, the rite of foot washing is an option directed to be used "where a pastoral reason sugggests it" (see U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops link) --hence, a pastoral expansion permitted by Rome to include women is in keeping with the original intent of introducing the rite in the first place.

Here is another blogger applauding the Pope's actions:

Read more from Akin:

Friday, March 29, 2013

A New Beginning

In Revelation, Jesus says that He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20). Sometimes, as noted by our Pope Francis, he does not knock to enter, but knocks from within to go out. To reach out to the "existential suburbs of sin, suffering, injustice, religious ignorance and indifference, and of all forms of misery."As happens with certain old buildings. Over the centuries, to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets. The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins. This was the mission that was received one day by a man who prayed before the Crucifix of San Damiano: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church."

--Sermon for Good Friday, by papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

It's time to see the forest and to stop choking on relatively minor things because life is short, the task is great--vita brevis, opus magnum.

(Image below via

Holy Week in Spain

The distinctive cloaks and hoods (capirotes) o...
The distinctive cloaks and hoods (capirotes) of Spanish Holy Week processions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Procesión de semana santa en Santiago de compo...
Procesión de semana santa en Santiago de compostela (Galicia - Spain) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After Jerusalem and Rome, the place to watch during Holy Week or Semana Santa is Spain with its many medieval processions. Even in very terrible economic times, Spaniards are still sacrificing to finance their processions as this N.Y. Times story shows. Why do they do it? In the article, one elderly retiree of humble circumstances says: “I consider the Virgin to be like my mother.”

For interesting photos of the various festivals, see this link and this link. Even the actor Antonio Banderas participates (see link). The most interesting new photo I have seen is of a unique medieval procession in the Catalonian region of Spain in which figures of death carrying scythes seem to dance in procession. The scythes are labelled: "Nemini Parco," which, in Latin, means "I spare no one." Very true.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pope & Foot Washing of Females (Yes, that is the issue)

[This post has been extensively and repeatedly updated and revised. Prudential Disclosure to All: I am not a canon lawyer. I am a civil ("regular") lawyer, although I was trained in the Louisiana Civil Code whose Roman roots possibly give it some distant historic affinities to the mindset of canon law--for example, it seems that both the secular civilian law tradition in which I was trained and the canon law tradition have great regard for the writings of legal commentators which are quaintly referred to as "doctrine."  In sum, I am a Catholic educated in non-canon, civil law rooted in Roman law, who has used over the years a study edition with commentary of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a commentary which was commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) and published in 2000. I also hold an M.A. in Theology from a Catholic seminary. I highly recommend getting a copy of the Code of Canon Law with commentary so you can ask relevant questions and raise relevant issues concerning canon law matters, as I do below. I will sometimes refer to this edition of Code and commentary as "CLSA" in my remarks below. For a summary of all my writings on this topic, see this link.]

I noticed a little controversy on the internet today about Pope Francis' washing the feet of a group of young people in prison--a group that included two females.

Well, as an American, I dutifully went to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website before I burdened the world with my own contribution to the discussion. Here is what I found. As I read it (the entire statement is reproduced below at the end of this blog post), the U.S. bishops (through their authorized agent or delegate) have apparently endorsed the Pope's inclusion of females well before our new Pope arrived on the scene. In fact, the practice has been endorsed since 1987--over 25 years ago. By the way, another question that occurs to me as a civil lawyer (not a canon lawyer) is whether custom over many years can abrogate a liturgical law, as this 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia entry seems to say. Although the substance of this particular liturgical practice of foot-washing is not addressed in canon law (see Canon 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law), canon law does contain provisions ("canons") governing how custom can overturn even an explicit provision of ecclesiastical law under certain circumstances (see link).

As an aside, in 1988, the Vatican "congregation" (department) on liturgical questions issued a wide-ranging letter on all the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter in which, among many other matters, it simply referenced the liturgical law quoted below for the washing of feet of chosen males. But the issue or controversy of whether women could or could not be included in the foot washing rite was not addressed. Some take that 1988 letter as rejecting the inclusion of women; I do not take it that way since the controversy was not specifically addressed at all. It's a judgment call, but I do not see the 1988 letter as adding anything significant to the discussion; in my view, the letter and subsequent editions of the liturgical books, over the years, have simply ignored the issue. Here is the link to the 1988 letter (go to paragraph 51). [Moreover, the 1988 letter does not say that "only" males can be chosen for the rite; in contrast, when affirming the teaching that the ordained priesthood must be reserved for males, John Paul II wisely applied the adjective "only" (tantum in Latin) to males in order to settle the matter conclusively (see link). The liturgical law on foot-washing also does not use the term "only" when referring to the males selected for participation in the foot-washing rite.]

My conclusion: a pastoral exception permitting women to participate in this rite has arisen as a customary liturgical practice over several decades with the toleration and even, at times, the explicit approval of the Vatican (some Catholic sources report that explicit permission to include women has been granted in the past to certain bishops, including the archbishop of Boston in 2004 when Benedict XVI was in charge). Note that I am not using the words "customary" or "custom" in the technical, canonical sense of a custom with the force of law, but rather in the sense of ordinary English usage. Whether this custom meets the technical requirements of canon law for a legally binding custom (see Canons 23-28 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law) depends on how you interpret the actions and inaction of the Vatican--and now, most recently, the dramatic, public, and videotaped action of Pope Francis--over the many years that this practice has endured in the U.S. and in other nations. (I am also assuming that the canon law requirements for a binding custom with force of law apply to liturgical practices not treated in the Code of Canon Law itself because liturgical rubrics are themselves considered ecclesiastical laws even if outside the Code, but this assumption was not obvious to me when I first read the Code. I mention this assumption because one European canonist whom I consulted informed me that the canon law provisions on custom do not apply to liturgical questions.) 

In my view, this liturgical custom (in the ordinary sense of the term "custom") has in effect been fostered over the years by the Vatican itself by its inaction and by giving permission to some bishops to include women in the rite. So what Pope Francis did--which was appparently a continuation of his longtime practice in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires--is not surprising at all. 

Now, I respect the view of those who oppose this pastoral exception, although I do not share their opposition. Yet, it seems clear, regardless of one's personal view of the matter, that a pastoral exception has in fact existed "on the ground" for many, many years with great impunity and also, at times, with explicit approval from Rome. For those who like detailed analysis, my own interpretation of the relevant canon law follows in the addenda below.

Addendum on Practical and Prudential Flexibility for the Legislator: It may be that some commentators are at cross-purposes because the issue is conceived differently by different individuals. On the one hand, you can look at the matter as an either/or proposition: the norm in the Roman Missal is either true without exception (no women period) or not. I, on the other hand, view it more as a "both/and" proposition: the Roman Missal states the general, default rule (no women included), while practice encouraged by both Vatican action and inaction provides for a pastoral exception. Is such a "both/and" situation legally possible? Is the legislator free to make a pastoral exception without formally amending the Roman Missal? Would not a cautious, prudent, and conservative legislator prefer to proceed with an informal pastoral exception while waiting for the situation on the ground to develop further and organically through several decades before making a written amendment, as has happened in this situation? Is the legislator really lacking the freedom for such practical discretion and prudence? Or must the legislator rewrite the Roman Missal as soon as possible, even where the Roman Missal fails to use the word "only" in reference to the inclusion of selected males in the rite?

Addendum on the 30-year Period For a Factual Custom to Become a Legal Custom: The canon law argument is also made that a factual custom (say, the practice of including women in the rite of foot-washing) supposedly contrary to canon law can become a legal custom with force of law (assuming all other requirements for a legal custom are met) if it is in continuous operation for 30 years (Canon 26 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law). But the commentator in the study edition that I read (Huels) tells us that the 30-year period is interrupted by "the repetition of a norm in a new edition of a liturgical book" (p. 92). Thus, it seems, for example, that any revision of the Roman Missal would keep interrupting the time period required and thus a factual liturgical custom--especially in this day and age in which technology makes frequent revision very convenient--would seem to never be able to get anywhere. This result seems very odd to this civil, non-canon lawyer, especially if a long period of time is needed and desired so that a factual liturgical custom can prove itself. The commentator's view on continual interruption of the 30-year period by the issuing of new editions seems to me to be self-defeating if the goal is to give factual customs the opportunity to prove themselves over a long period of time. Maybe, Pope Francis should eventually turn to canonical reform given that "canon law, too, is permanently in need of review, ius canonicum semper revivendum" (p. 2; my translation: "canon law must always be refreshed"). It is always good to recall "that laws must be interpreted in such a way that they do not result in anything unjust or absurd" [p. 75, note 109, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Canon Law Society of America: 2000)].

Addendum on a Pope's Approval of a Factual Liturgical Custom (see also last Addendum below): Canon law also states that the Pope's approval of a factual custom contrary to canon law (Canon 26) obviates the need to meet the required 30-year period discussed above. Well, when Pope Francis goes to a coed juvenile prison, washes the feet of two females, and has that event videotaped, broadcast by radio, and so published to the world with foreseeable media attention worldwide during Holy Week, I would argue that he is approving the inclusion of females in the foot-washing rite for pastoral reasons--a result which matches the factual custom that has taken root since the nineteen seventies, at least according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (in 1987, the USCCB issued a statement--see below--saying that this factual custom was present during the previous 10 or more years; doing the math, then, we have a period from at least 1977 to 2013 or a total of about 36 years culminating with the highly publicized actions of the Pope on Holy Thursday, 2013). There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Pope Francis approves of bishops'  allowing the inclusion of women for pastoral reasons in the rite of foot-washing. He himself did it as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and is also doing it now as Pope. As one American canonist told me via email, the Pope as Supreme Legislator can legally do as he judges best. Let's see what happens next year!

Addendum on the Precedential Value of Administrative Acts (Canon 16.3):
Another argument made is that, when Vatican administrative personnel tell a bishop that he has the discretion to include a woman in the foot-washing rite for pastoral reasons (as has indisputably occurred, at least in the U.S.), this administrative interpretation is "private" in nature and has no effect on others. My observation is that the interpretation, if it is "private" in nature, is so in a trivial or Pickwickian sense: it is not an interpretation to resolve a particular quarrel (ad litem) between particular individuals, but rather more in the nature of a declaratory judgment (I am using "declaratory" in the sense used in civil, not canon, law) intended to clarify the general powers of a bishop in a liturgical practice that affects everyone in the diocese now and in the future.

Nevertheless, even if the administrative interpretation does not create a binding legal precedent, the issue in the foot-washing controversy is not about creating a binding precedent, in the strong sense of the term, that can force other bishops to include women. Rather, the issue concerns the options available to a bishop, whether he is in Boston, Pittsburgh, or Baltimore. When administrative interpretations recognize and authorize the option for some bishops to include women, there are real and significant effects that establish precedent for other bishops. Thus, these administrative interpretations indeed have value in fostering the factual custom of including women and making the factual custom more widespread. Even the commentary on this canon states that "there is a kind of precedent in the administrative arena  . . . . Lower level administrators and their advisors look to the practice of the Roman Curia for indications of how to settle similar cases" (p. 73, of the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law published in 2000 by the Canon Law Society of America). And the term "administrators" includes all diocesan bishops (as the same commentary states at p. 72). When the Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy) repeatedly tells bishops that they have the power to include women for pastoral reasons, the practice creates a precedent for the Curia itself and, most importantly, for all bishops precisely because of its obvious general applicability to a public, liturgical issue affecting all Catholics in all dioceses in the Roman Rite as part of the perennial liturgical cycle. As the factual custom gains ground, encouraged by such administrative precedent, and as the Vatican takes no measures whatsoever to reject the custom, the cumulative result, in my opinion, is that the liturgical norm has indeed been changed to allow bishops to include women in the rite. Yes, it is a gradual, organic, slow, and inefficient way to go about it; but the slow route prudentially allows consensus to develop and allows the authorities to observe the ramifications of the custom on the life of the Church.

In addition, these administrative precedents are valuable evidence that the factual custom of including women for pastoral reasons is "reasonable" as required by Canon 24. "Reasonable," as a term of art in Canon 24, applies to factual customs that are not "against faith and morals," do not "occasion sin," are not "opposed to the constitution or liberty of the Church," do not "harm the common good, or disrupt the 'nerve of ecclesiastical discipline'" (see commentary at pp. 88-89, in CLSA). If the factual custom of including women did not meet this test of reasonableness, then the Curia would not have given bishops the option of including women for pastoral reasons. Thus, there is real value in these administrative precedents, just as a common sense observer would expect there to be. The administrative precedents cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Does this sort of amendment of liturgical law discourage respect for the law? Not at all,  because the authorities have been duly consulted by conscientious bishops of unquestioned orthodoxy; and these consultations are common knowledge. People know that Rome knows, and Rome approves. Otherwise, Rome would not grant permission and would take corrective measures. No one is under the illusion that the Vatican fears to take corrective measures which it deems necessary and urgent. And, certainly, when the Pope himself exercises his pastoral discretion to include women, no one is under the illusion that rogue bishops are flouting Rome by including women. In sum, you look at the text of the liturgical rubric (which does not say "only" men can participate). Then, you look at the Vatican's application of the rule. The end result is that the liturgical norm grants discretion to bishops to include women or to exclude women from the rite. Textual rubric plus authorized practice (now affirmed by papal approval) yields norm. By the way, Canon 27 of the 1983 Code of Canon law states this ancient principle: "Custom is the best interpreter of laws," a principle which compels us to consider custom in addition to the written liturgical rubric. This principle originates in Roman law, which is also the source for the type of non-canon, civil law in which I was trained to analyze legal issues. Any consideration of this liturgical issue without considering the issue of custom is, at best, superficial and woefully incomplete. Ignoring the issue of custom would also be a misrepresentation of the elegance and beauty of the Code of Canon Law which generously provides a way by which a reasonable custom can change law.

Addendum on Specific Approval by the Pope of a Factual Custom (Canon 23 and commentary at pp. 87-88):

The Pope is the supreme legislator for the universal Church (see the commentary at p. 435, following Canon 331). As such, the Pope can specifically approve a custom so that the custom becomes binding in law immediately (see commentary at p. 87, following Canon 23). The Pope can approve a custom in two ways: expressly "by explicitly stating this fact in a public document" (p. 87); or 2.) tacitly (commentary at pp. 87-88).

On March 29, 2013, the Vatican Press Office issued a public statement from the papal spokesman that can be plausibly termed express approval by the Pope of the custom of including women in the foot-washing rite for pastoral reasons (see link).

In addition, it can be plausibly argued that the Pope tacitly approved the custom of including women in the foot-washing rite when he held the videotaped, highly publicized event (also broadcast on radio) at the juvenile prison in Rome on Holy Thursday, 2013. Why is that? Read the commentary at pp. 87-88: "He [the legislator] tacitly approves a custom when it is certain that he is aware of the custom's existence [undisputed] but does nothing to eliminate it [undisputed], for example, when he celebrates the Eucharist at which the custom is observed [exactly what the Pope did at the juvenile prison on Holy Thursday, 2013]. Specific approval may be given at any time within the thirty years it would have taken the custom to attain the force of law by legal approval."

This scenario of tacit approval (as also previously sketched in an earlier addendum) matches what happened in this foot-washing situation. In my opinion, the custom of including women for pastoral reasons has been approved by the legislator, the Pope. Yet, a bishop can choose not to follow the custom himself or not to have it followed by the priests in his diocese. In fact, a cleric can choose not to hold the foot-washing rite at all because it is optional according to the liturgical rubrics. Thus, the Pope as supreme legislator has acted in a way consistent with canon law without imposing any practice on a bishop or priest who wishes to do otherwise. There is no anti-nomianism present in the Pope's conduct. What the Code of Canon Law envisions is exactly what happened. Maybe, as time passes, this reality will be recognized, although sensational and misleading headlines have already been written and disseminated that paint a false picture of "disarray" in the Catholic Church.

I believe that some good may emerge from all of this rigamarole. My hope is that we will recognize that the law is not as "legalistic" and "rigoristic" as it is sometimes presented to us or as we may assume. There is no need for "anti-nomianism" because the law is not such a bad fellow after all, but is in fact our friend--although a friend that could probably use a good dose of simplification.

Addendum: What Practice Is At Issue Here?

I surmise that some confusion on the foot-washing issue arises because certain important things are being left undefined. It seems that at least some of those arguing against the propriety of the Pope's inclusion of females assume that the Vatican must now announce that the Pope requires that females must be included in the foot-washing rite in order for the rubric to be changed.

Well, that requirement of females has never been part of the factual custom or practice we see on the ground. What we see is that bishops have the discretion to include females for pastoral reasons. So, a Vatican statement that reaffirms that a bishop may include females for pastoral reasons, as the Bishop of Rome recently did, precisely approves what is really at issue here.

Thus, as in my analysis above, the Pope has expressly and/or tacitly approved the factual custom of recognizing the discretion of a bishop to include females. The alternative to including only men is not necessarily that you must include women. The alternative can be an exception to be exercised at the discretion of a bishop for pastoral reasons. In my opinion, that alternative is what we are seeing in these recent events; and that alternative is what the factual custom is, as approved administratively by the Vatican in some dioceses.

In sum,

1. Rubric: Chosen males are to be included.
2. Factual custom with Vatican administrative approval: But a bishop may admit females for pastoral reasons.
3. Pope tacitly approves this factual custom by doing exactly that (admitting females for pastoral reasons).
4. The Pope's spokesman releases a public statement describing just that (the Pope admitted females for pastoral reasons related to the setting of the Mass in the juvenile jail). I view this statement as explicit approval in a public declaration.
5. Either form of approval (tacit or explicit) is sufficient to give the factual custom the force of law.

The alternative to the rubric need not be that females must be admitted.

Below is what I found at the USCCB website (at this link):

Holy Thursday Mandatum

[Red emphasis below added by this blogger]

My parish liturgy committee has decided to allow both men and women to take part in the washing of the feet at the liturgy on Holy Thursday. I have always heard that only men may have their feet washed. Which does the Church allow?

The rubric for Holy Thursday, under the title THE WASHING OF FEET, reads:
"After the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each one, and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one's feet and then dries them."
Regarding the phrase viri selecti, the Chairman of the then-Committee on the Liturgy, after a review of the matter by the committee, authorized the following response which appeared in the Newsletter of February 1987:

Question: What is the significance of the Holy Thursday foot washing rite?


  1. The Lord Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper as a sign of the new commandment that Christians should love one another: "Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: by your love for one another" (see John 13, 34-35). For centuries the Church has imitated the Lord through the ritual enactment of the new commandment of Jesus Christ in the washing of feet on Holy Thursday.
  2. Although the practice had fallen into disuse for a long time in parish celebrations, it was restored in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a part of the general reform of Holy Week. At that time the traditional significance of the rite of foot washing was stated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the following words: "Where the washing of feet, to show the Lord's commandment about fraternal charity, is performed in a Church according to the rubrics of the restored Ordo of Holy Week, the faithful should be instructed on the profound meaning of this sacred rite and should be taught that it is only proper that they should abound in works of Christian charity on this day."1
  3. The principal and traditional meaning of the Holy Thursday mandatum, as underscored by the decree of the Congregation, is the biblical injunction of Christian charity: Christ's disciples are to love one another. For this reason, the priest who presides at the Holy Thursday liturgy portrays the biblical scene of the gospel by washing the feet of some of the faithful.
  4. Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the "Teacher and Lord" who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality,2 the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.
  5. While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men ("viri selecti"), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, "who came to serve and not to be served," that all members of the Church must serve one another in love.
  6. The liturgy is always an act of ecclesial unity and Christian charity, of which the Holy Thursday foot washing rite is an eminent sign. All should obey the Lord's new commandment to love one another with an abundance of love, especially at this most sacred time of the liturgical year when the Lord's passion, death, and resurrection are remembered and celebrated in the powerful rites of the Triduum.3


  1. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction on the Correct Use of the Restored Ordo of Holy Week, November 16, 1955 (Washington, DC: National Catholic Welfare Conference Publications Office, 1955), page 6.

  2. In biblical times it was prescribed that the host of a banquet was to provide water (and a basin) so that his guests could wash their hands before sitting down to table. Although a host might also provide water for travelers to wash their own feet before entering the house, the host himself would not wash the feet of his guests. According to the Talmud the washing of feet was forbidden to any Jew except those in slavery.

    In the controversies between Hillel and Shammai (cf. Shabbat 14a-b) Shammai ruled that guests were to wash their hands to correct "tumat yadayim" or "impurity of hands" (cf. Ex 30, 17 and Lv 15, 11). Priests were always to wash their hands before eating consecrated meals. The Pharisees held that all meals were in a certain sense "consecrated" because of table fellowship.

    Jesus' action of washing the feet of his disciples was unusual for his gesture went beyond the required laws of hospitality (washing of hands) to what was, in appearance, a menial task. The Lord's action was probably unrelated to matters of ritual purity according to the Law.

  3. For a brief overview of the restoration of the foot washing rite in 1955, see W. J. O'Shea, "Mandatum," New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX, 146, and W. J. O'Shea, "Holy Thursday," New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, 105-107; Walter D. Miller, Revised Ceremonial of Holy Week (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1971), p. 43. See also Prosper Gueranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, Volume VI, Passiontide and Holy Week (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1949), pp. 395-401. For the historical background of the many forms of this rite, see the following studies: Pier Franco Beatrice, La lavanda dei piedi: Contributo alla storia delle antiche liturgie cristiane (Rome: C.L.V. Edizioni Liturgiche, 1983); "Lotio pedum" in Hermann Schmidt, Hebdomada Sancta, Volume II (Rome: Herder, 1956-1957); Annibale Bugnini, CM, and C. Braga, CM, Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctae Instauratus in Biblioteca "Ephemerides Liturgicae" Sectio Historica 25 (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1956), pp. 73-75; Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy: An Account and Some Reflections, second edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 81.
This is the latest statement of this Secretariat on the question. No subsequent legislation or instructions have necessitated a modification in the statement.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jewels from the Poet Ovid

One benefit of the forced march ("magnum iter") through a long reading list of Latin authors is to collect a few nuggets or jewels here and there ("passim").  Below are a few from Publius Ovidius Naso (better known as "Ovid," 43 B.C. to 17 A.D.). All quotations are from Book I of his Art of Love (Ars Amatoria). When you read this work, you realize how little human nature and the relation between the sexes have changed. (The Latin text is from the Loeb Classical Library edition, whose English translation by Mozley & Goold was consulted.)

1. They come to see [others], they come so that they themselves may be seen (Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae), I.99 (Reminds me of going to Starbucks.);

2. Small things capture frivolous minds (Parva leves capiunt animos), I.159 (I think of people who fuss over menus and other trivial matters);

3. And is it so much to be able to do without a particular man? (Et quantum est uno posse carere viro), I.328 (Apparently, for many, it is, even when the consequences are fatal.);

4. Often, a silent look has its own voice and words (Saepe tacens vocem verbaque vultus habet), I.574 (If you have experienced it, you understand the verse.);

5. Both Fortune and Love ("Venus") aid the bold man (audentem Forsque Venusque iuvat), I.608, (How true! But the bold man had better consider carefully if the quarry is worth catching.);

6. So that you may gain her, ask: she desires only to be asked (Ut potiare, roga: tantum cupit illa rogari), I. 711 (An application of the general rule--ask and you shall receive.);

7. Let love enter, hidden by the name of friendship (Intret amicitiae nomine tectus amor), l. 720 (Ovid is being a bit cynical, but we can extract a more profound truth.);

8. So it happens, that she who feared to entrust herself to an honorable man, [then], as something common and cheap, goes to the embraces of an inferior man (Inde fit ut quae se timuit committere honesto, Vilis ad amplexus inferioris eat), I.769-70 (Wow! These lines are a powerful psychological mirror.)

Why study classics? You just got an answer.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Why He Was Elected Pope

I reprint here a brief article from Vatican Radio (see link):

The archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, on Saturday read from a document given him by Pope Francis, outlining the speech he gave during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings of the Cardinals.
Cardinal Ortega had been so impressed with the speech he asked the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for a copy of the intervention.
Cardinal Ortega received permission from Pope Francis to share the information.

Listen to our report: RealAudioMP3 

Here is an unofficial translation of the text

Evangelizing implies Apostolic Zeal

1. - Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

2. - When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. (cf. The deformed woman of the Gospel). The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out. 

3. - When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness (which according to De Lubac, is the worst evil that can befall the Church). It lives to give glory only to one another. 

Put simply, there are two images of the Church: Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans; and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls. 

4. - Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.” 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

With Catholic Neo-Conservatism Exhausted, What Next?

You can get a taste of what may be next in this Washington Post article.  What may be next is the fullness of Catholic social teaching rather than the distortion that results when some American Catholic neo-conservatives excessively identify with right-wing politics and economics--some even identifying with the atheist celebration of selfishness fostered by Ayn Rand.

(Image of St. Francis of Assisi by Murillo in public domain)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rooted or Rootless?

Sitting in a packed Palm Sunday Mass at the student parish of a major midwestern university, I was struck by the great "social capital" possessed by those students who have a tradition, an ancient framework for the trajectory of their lives. The students at Mass are part of a long arc in history with many, many philosophers, theologians, novelists, and poets who reflect the drama of life in Christian terms--not to mention the Bible itself (larger in size for Catholics than for Protestants) which itself is a complex and rich library of life.

At whatever stage these students are--you, of course, cannot assume anything from mere presence at the liturgy, these students have some ancient and supranational roots. In contrast, I know and have observed many people of the same age or not too much older who live a completely deracinated life. They are not part of any great philosophical or religious tradition. The great landmarks and transitions of their lives are not marked by any traditional rituals. And, certainly, the passing of each week is not marked by the ritual of assembling with others weekly to consider what has happened in the past week and may happen in their lives in the coming week.

Many deracinated individuals are often caught up in consumerism and mindless self-entertainment because they lack relation to anything greater. Surely those students at the liturgy--like me and the rest of us--are very, very far from perfect; but they do have this one thing: they are not alone in navigating life. They are exposed regularly to sources of wisdom, and sometimes this exposure may even make a major difference in their lives. Being part of a community with a tradition of wisdom is powerful social capital for our human flourishing. Too many compeletely lack this social capital and thus seem to run in aimless circles.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Jesus in the Slums of Buenos Aires

Read this wonderful article from The Atlantic magazine:

Atlantic link.

We have a remarkable pope.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Religious Professional v. Jesus

The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt ...
The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I do not find the religious professional type appealing at all--and I am a Catholic who attends Mass weekly! So I can imagine how the exclusively secular person must react. So what do I mean by the "religious professional type"? 

I can best define the type by contrast with our present Pope Francis who constantly exhibits a sincere (read: not politician-style) warmth for all, especially for the most vulnerable. In contrast, the religious professional type impresses me as nothing to write home about: he or she has picked this job, as a teacher decides to teach but with no real warmth for the most challenging of students.

We see the contrast in the Gospels: the religious professional types (many, but not all, Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees) can't relate to the Jesus who travels, without status, teaching, healing, and counseling people whom the religious professionals would rather avoid for one reason or another.

Unfortunately, many who have dedicated their lives to being religious professionals pretty much follow the path of those Pharisees and scribes. And, yes, we have some religious professional types that the media loves and whose personalities "effervesce" in the opinion of many; but that Dale Carnegie effervescence, frankly, leaves me cold because it lacks the attractive profundity of identifying with the least of these.

Our broad intuition about people is often sound. Notice the impact Pope Francis has already made in a handful of days. This impact is more profound than that of the religious celebrities that the media loves to present. The gentle, humble solidarity with the least is charisma in the fullest sense of the term. We already have the other type of superficial "political" charisma in abundance among secular celebrities. There is no need for the religious to duplicate it. I hope that the contrast offered by Pope Francis has a dramatic affect on how we Catholics view our other leaders and on how our other leaders act. That change would be a great and needed paradigm shift.

And, frankly, all our efforts to reach others with a religious message will flounder if we take the "religious professional" approach. That movie was screened centuries ago, and the non-professional was the hero.
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More Common Sense


"Humility is what guarantees the presence of the Lord: when someone is self-sufficient and has all the answers for all the questions, this is proof that God is not with him, conceit is perceived in all false prophets, in religious leaders who are mistaken, who use religion for their own ego" is what Bergoglio highlights in his upcoming book "Il cielo e la Terra" (“Heaven and Earth”) co-written with Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

Source: Vatican Insider, La Stampa, Italy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

True Catholicity

One of the primary dimensions of the term "catholic" refers to our diversity in ethnicities, languages, and countries. So I was happy to see one of my Latin students--who comes from China--tell me that she was rooting for an African pope (of course, she is happy with the Pope Francis we now have). I was struck that, like me, she was rooting for an African, presumably because of the power of such a choice as a witness to the entire world.

Since none of the famous Vatican analysts considered Cardinal Bergoglio a leading contender, I had looked around at the so-called leading contenders and rooted for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. But, amazingly, I now see that the best choice is indeed the Pope Francis we have right now. I do not say this because I share a Latin American background with him--although the Latin American way can bring and has already brought much fruit to this brand-new papacy.

Rather, I am overwhelmingly delighted with Pope Francis because of his powerful witness for putting simplicity and love of the poor at the center of his papal rhetoric and mission. That is a dimension that needed to be reemphasized because love of the poor is, for Christians, never icing on the cake but very much at the center of the substance of the faith itself.

What Christianity celebrates--in the words of Paul--is that Jesus became poor for us. That coming down into poverty reveals the nature of God, who is love. There is nothing more doctrinally orthodox than this affirmation from the words of Paul in the Letter to the Philippians. (By the way, the demolishing of ethnic barriers is also a central theme of Paul's writings--and hence of most of the New Testament and of Christianity, given that Paul's mission was to welcome all nations to the new covenant.)

Yes, a Chinese Catholic and a Hispanic Catholic were rooting for an African Catholic. And yet we are both delighted with our Latin American pope for all peoples everywhere, especially for the poorest among us. God knows best.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Good Soil

The old saying is that grace builds on nature. That teaching may explain something I have observed through life: the most sane among us are the ones who can be most convincingly Christian. What are the traits of the most sane?

1. No vanity-- their self-worth does not depend on possessions or ancestry or schools attended;

2. They do not seek power or control over others or to be the center of attention;

3. They have common sense;

4. They are indifferent to trivial matters such as the niceties of food or dress;

5. There are very few things they complain about or fuss over;

6. They have an instinctive sense of honor and shame--they have not forgotten how to blush;

7. They are naturally warm personalities;

8. They are eager to apologize for errors and to mitigate any harm that they have caused;

9. They do not have selective memories;

10. They are careful not to put others in dishonorable situations or to create situations of disrespect toward the dignity of another.

With that soil to work on, the Gospel produces great people. Without that soil, well, we are often left with pious neurotics that end up being "dis-angelists"--the dismal messengers who are the opposite of the good messengers or evangelists. Maybe, that is a reality the "new evangelization" should consider thoughtfully.

(Image below in public domain)

Sin Palabras

Francis Always Inspiring

Quote from John Thavis blog:

But Francis said ecology begins with the individual, who needs to guard against pride and envy, as well as emotions that “tear down.” People need compassion, he said, and he argued that “tenderness” should not be seen as “the virtue of the weak."


My own take: Francis also spoke of how St. Joseph led with silence, discretion, and humility. Oh yes, give us that type of leadership, instead of the blustering, politician types among the clergy and the laity. Let's have leaders with class, the class of St. Joseph, not ideologues haranguing us with pharisaical self-righteousness and smugness--the type of ideologues all too common everywhere, but most distressingly among those who identify themselves as religious but seem to have conveniently missed out on humility and self-effacement.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I Like Francis

I hope he is Pope for many, many years--long enough to cement the shift from pomposity to Gospel simplicity. It is delightful to me and likely to many others watching to see how all the frills keep dropping by the wayside. It's a good example not only for future popes but for many bishops and priests in affluent parts of the world.

It is also, very much so, a tremendous example to the thousands of laymen and women in affluent countries who pour their lives into the vain pursuit of possessions (houses, cars, elite educations, high-powered careers, etc.) as a way to feel good about themselves and to impress or to overpower others with materialistic awe.

What a liberation for all! It's like an exodus.

(Photo credit: )

Francis' Coat of Arms: Jesus in the Center

The traditional Jesuit portrayal of the first three Greek letters of the name of Jesus is in the center. The star symbolizes the Virgin Mary; the flowers, St. Joseph. I am happy to credit the John Thavis blog for this information and for the image below (see my other post today for the link to his blog).

The Latin motto "miserando atque eligendo", which I translate "pitying and also choosing [him]," refers to the call of Matthew by Jesus. My grammatical suggestion for Latinists in the audience is an Ablative of Manner indicating how Jesus saw Matthew and thus leading to the famous command "Follow Me." My own personal interpretation is that the two actions of being merciful and of selecting are inseparable. Part of God's mercy is giving us a great and meaningful task and challenge in life.

Good Vatican Analysis: John Thavis Blog

One of  the benefits of having been intensively exposed to Vatican coverage over the last few days is that of being able to compare different sources. For insightful analysis, I recommend the blog of John Thavis, veteran Vatican journalist (also out with a new book Vatican Diaries--see below). Here is the link to the Thavis blog.


For My Evangelical Protestant Friends

See this interview with Argentine Evangelical Protestant leader Luis Palau at this Christianity Today link.

(Photo is said to show Cardinal Bergoglio--although the image is not clear enough to me-- receiving prayer from some evangelical Christians.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Graphic on Pope Francis (Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

                                         To read the detail, go to this link.

The New and Ever Old Evangelization

Jesuit Fr. Pedro Arrupe (photo credit: Iglesia Descalza blog)
It's old (in fact, ancient) and always new. I think we see it in the new Pope--a man very distant in spirit from political and economic neo-conservatism (note: I am not talking about theological conservatism). 

Here are the Jesuit roots of this new evangelization:

77 28.  From all over the world where Jesuits are working, very similar and very insistent requests have been made that, by a clear decision on the part of the General Congregation, the Society should commit itself to work for the promotion of justice.  Our apostolate today urgently requires that we take this decision.  As apostles we are bearers of the Christian message.  And at the heart of the Christian message is God revealing Himself in Christ as the Father of us all whom through the Spirit He calls to conversion.  In its integrity, then, conversion means accepting that we are at one and the same time children of the Father and brothers and sisters of each other.  There is no genuine conversion to the love of God without conversion to the love of neighbor and, therefore, to the demands of justice.  Hence, fidelity to our apostolic mission requires that we propose the whole of Christian salvation and lead others to embrace it. Christian salvation consists in an undivided love of the Father and of the neighbor and of justice.  Since evangelization is proclamation of that faith which is made operative in love of others, the promotion of justice is indispensable to it.

32nd General Congregation, Decree 4 (1974-75).  Source link.

Any evangelization, whether we call it new or not, grows from a spirit of humility. In a world of disillusionment, humility is credible. It has always been so. Twitter accounts, TV appearances, politician-style glad-handing won't work apart from humility. The medium must match the message. We can't preach humility and act like all the rest.  

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An Echo of Monseñor Quixote

Our wonderful new Pope Francis--God seems to give us more than we in our limitations can imagine--reminds me wistfully of Graham Greene's character Monseñor Quixote in Greene's novel by that name. Alec Guinness and Leo McKern (of Rumpole fame) made a fine movie based on the novel (unfortunately we are still awaiting a U.S. compatible version of the DVD). Of course, there is no one-to-one match with the plot of the novel or the personality of the main character--but there is a vague family resemblance of the humble, honorable, non-careerist priest capable of bold action and associating with all types of people. Pick up the book below if you have time. It is short (224 pages).


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Friday, March 15, 2013

My Candidate for a Pope from the USA

That candidate is the archbishop of the largest Catholic diocese in the U.S.: José Gomez. He had the guts to take at least some public action against the disaster that was his predecessor, Cardinal Mahony. Who else has taken such a stand in the U.S.? 

Here is the statement from Archbishop Gomez that, to my knowledge, has no equal in statements by the U.S. hierarchy (bold emphasis added by me):

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

This week we are releasing the files of priests who sexually abused children while they were serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious.

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.

I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011.

My predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara.

To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our Church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you.

To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry. We will continue to work, every day, to make sure that our children are safe and loved and cared for in our parishes, schools and in every ministry in the Archdiocese.

In the weeks ahead, I will address all of these matters in greater detail. Today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse.

I entrust all of us and our children and families to the tender care and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend José H. Gomez Archbishop of Los Angeles

Time for Honesty (Updated Post-Conclave)

The less "baroque" brand new papacy of Francis is wonderfully refreshing (I borrow the adjective "baroque" from the writer cited below). I confess that I never could relate to the previous pope's apparent emphasis on vestments. It struck me as excessive. Having said that, I have always and still do regard Benedict XVI as a great and incisive thinker and teacher. But I never liked that particular emphasis. Take the time to read this short article by Michael Winters on this topic, an article which is, in retrospect, the most prescient of all the articles I read about the conclave and a future pope (you need to scroll down once you get to the link).

I prefer the simplicity of Francis. As Winters said, simplicity can be dignified and impressive in itself. In fact, my personal view is that simplicity is much more dignified and impressive than the baroque. Auctoritas, gravitas, and majestas are old Latin terms with easy English equivalents: authority, gravity, majesty. Simplicity in dress, in liturgy, in protocol, and in personal routine increase each of those great traits. There is also a certain virilitas in simplicity. And we need more of that in the Catholic priesthood here at home and apparently also in Vatican City.

I have already seen the positive impact of this new simplicity on my Protestant brothers and sisters. Francis is telling us what St. Francis of Assisi taught long ago: evangelization is how we act and what we do--for that is what most wise people find most convincing and persuasive in a world where words and display are cheap commodities that often signify either nothing or even their exact opposites.

(El Greco image below of St. Francis of Assisi is in public domain.)