There is an adage: Qui bene distinguit, bene docet, that is, someone who makes distinctions well, teaches well.
Distinguished canonist Ed Peters makes good distinctions about the Holy Father’s disregard for the Church’s duly promulgated law when he chose to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday. My emphases and comments.
Retrospectives on the Mandatum rite controversies
March 29, 2013
It’s a very big Church and there are many issues competing for the pope’s attention. Let me address just that issue I know something about, namely, ecclesiastical law, and try to talk sensibly about it. I’ll leave to finer minds the task of situating legal concerns in the wider ecclesial context.
For starters, perhaps Fr. Lombardi was misquoted or taken out of context when he apparently said, “the pope’s decision [to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday] was ‘absolutely licit’ for a rite that is not a church sacrament.” That remark is confusing because it implies that liceity is a concept that applies only to sacraments; but of course, liceity is an assessment of any action’s consistency with applicable law (canon, liturgical, sacramental, etc). One would never limit questions of Mass liceity to, say, the matter used for the Eucharist or the words of institution (that is, the sacrament at Mass) [NB]as if all other rubrics were merely optional. No one understands liceity so narrowly, [ehem... I think some people do.] and so, as I say, we are probably dealing with an incomplete answer.
In any case, I think some conclusions can be drawn about the foot-washing incident already.
[Here is an obvious point that must be made to help liberals sober up a little.] 1. If liturgical law permitted the washing of women’s feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, [then] no one would have noticed the pope’s doing it. What was newsworthy (apparently, massively newsworthy) is that, precisely because liturgical law does not authorize it, the pope’s performance of the action was huge news.
2. I and many others have long been open to revising the Mandatum rite so as to permit the washing of women’s feet [I am not among them. However, Peters is making a different point...] although I understand that strong symbolic elements are in play and I might be under-appreciating arguments for the retention of the rite as promulgated by Rome. I take no position on that larger issue, it being ultimately a question for experts in other disciplines. My focus is on the law as issued by Rome (c. 838).
[We get to the crux of the canonical issue...] 3. Few people seem able to articulate when a pope is bound by canon law (e.g., when canon law legislates matters of divine or natural law) and when he may ignore it (e.g., c. 378 § 1 on determining the suitability of candidates for the episcopate or appointing an excessive number of papal electors contrary to UDG 33). Those are not hard cases. Most Church laws, however, fall between these two poles and require careful thinking lest confusion for—nay, dissension among—the faithful arise. Exactly as happened here. [In spades!] Now, even in that discussion, the question is not usually whether the pope is bound to comply with the law (he probably is not so bound), but rather [pay attention...], how he can act contrary to the law without implying, especially for others who remain bound by the law but who might well find it equally inconvenient, that inconvenient laws may simply be ignored because, well, because the pope did it. [That, ladies and gents, is the problem. Liberals are going to claim that because of what Francis did, they can do whatever they wish. Indeed, they will claim that others who uphold the clearly written law are wrong to up hold the law. They will, like gnostics, appeal to some vague super-principle which trumps all law (and reason).]
4. 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. [moot - "doubtful, theoretical, meaningless, debatable"] For the sake of good order, then [Peters' own recommendation...], 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.
Get that last point?
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.
This is a huge problem.
Liberals such as Michael Sean Winters, who does not in this matter seem to make distinctions at all, think that Peters and I are “obsessively focused on whether or not a bishop or priest can/should wash the feet of women during the Mandatum Rite in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper”. He is wrong. That’s just your usual liberal misappropriation of the situation.
Peters and I are actually concerned about the good order of the Church. A canonist and a man in Holy Orders ought to be. Winters, on the other hand, writes for the paper of record for dissenters and antinomians.
What this foot washing issue does is reveal how vast the gulf is now that divides those who maintain that order, law and reason are necessary in the Church and society and those who, like gnostics who possess secret powers of interpretation of even more secret teachings, apply super-principles which trump lesser matters such as reason, law and order.
The new gnostics (liberals) call upon “fairness” and feelings. There can be no valid response possible by argument or reason or precedent.
For a long time I have argued that we need a level of liturgical celebration which brings about an encounter with the transcendent, which cuts beyond our (by now) useless linear arguments. People today can’t follow a linear argument. You get to the end and they conclude, “That might be true for you…”. Now, however, we may be seeing more clearly, in reactions to what Francis is doing (not necessarily in what Francis is doing), the exaltation of the golden calf of immanence.
Have we entered an age of a new gnosticism, wherein only those who feel a certain way are the true authoritative interpreters?