A Diocese responds: it is okay to violate the Holy Thursday rubrics

A reader read a piece on this blog about the washing of the feet of women on Holy Thursday and decided to approach the liturgy office of his local diocese. 

He received this response.

For now I will edit out the location and the names of the people. 

The Congregation for Divine Worship should receive a copy of the response for their opportune knowledge.  They will I am sure be interested to have this clarified for them.

Pay attention to the issue of "reprobation".

"Reprobate" means to abolish something in a quite severe way so as to make it impossible to appeal to custom even after future violations of law over a long time (as was the case with altar girls, etc. etc.).  But we are not talking about "reprobate" here, but "abrogate".

And so they appeal to "custom" so as to override anything Rome has legislated or clarified about the legislation.

My emphases.

February 23, 2009



Bishop XXXXXXXX has asked me to reply on his behalf to your recent e-mail.

In answer to your question ("Should not the May 2008 response from the CDWDS take precedence over the February 1987 article from the USCCB?), the answer is "no." The letter that you reference is a private correspondence, which in the system of Canon Law carries no juridical weight. Father Ward, from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, simply reiterated the content of the law and left its application to the diocesan bishop.

To understand the Congregation’s mind in this matter, it is important to recall that Seán Cardinal O’Malley, OFM Cap, did not wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday when he first arrived in Boston. Subsequent to a private exchange of letters with the Congregation, he changed his practice. In other words, the guidance offered by the United States Conference of Bishops that this is a pastoral issue best resolved by the bishop in his diocese stands as the norm in this country, a norm that has never been reprobated [it has to be reprobated before anyone will believe it should not be done?] by the Vatican (though the Congregation has had ample opportunities to do so). As the USCCB website states, "This is the latest statement of this Secretariat on the question. No subsequent legislation or instructions have necessitated a modification in the statement."

Most importantly, it must be remembered that in the system of Canon Law, the customs of dioceses and parishes must also be respected, as "Custom is the best interpreter of the law" (c. 23).  [contra legem custom]

You also asked if reserving the mandatum to men would "present a teachable moment for those who mistakenly believe the Church could ordain women to the priesthood." Again, the answer is "no."  [Really?  Does he has a crystal ball?] As clearly stated in the 1988 Circular Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Paschale Solemnitatis, the washing of the feet "represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve," (#51). [It has no other reason?] The same emphasis on charity and service, to which all the faithful are called, is found in the 1955 reform of the Holy Week rites promulgated by Pope Pius XII, when this practice was restored. Neither then, nor in any subsequent document, is there any mention of reading into the liturgical enactment of the footwashing a commentary on ordination.  [Perhaps violation of the clear Holy Thursday rubrics might send a message too.]

I hope this relieves any anxiety [A weasel phrase.  Do you think it did?] that parishes choosing to include women in the mandatum are in any way acting in a fashion contrary to what the Church allows.

Sincerely in Christ,
Director of Liturgy and XXXXXXXX

In the meantime, here is a photo of the rubric on p. 300 of the 2002 Missale Romanum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. tradition says:

    Dear Fr.,

    offering a photo of the Missale – priceless.

  2. FOLKS: Please spare us from predictable comments like “See?!? SEE?!? How wicked they are!” and “Why doesn’t the Pope hammer these people!” and “Go only to the TLM!”

    Just spare us…. for the traditionalists parce nobis.

  3. Ian says:

    Someone we know was recently directly told by his/her bishop in response to a query about using other Agnus Dei verses than what are written that the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship has “an unwritten understanding” with Rome that in America we don’t have to follow that rubric.

  4. Felicitas says:

    Considering that this is a very common argument made by liberals who post in the Liturgy and Sacraments section of a certain large and well-known Catholic forum, I am not at all surprised to see this. Those people have been taught by someone and these arguments don’t come out of thin air.

  5. Sawyer says:

    “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

  6. TJM says:

    The irony is they diminish their own authority when they diminish the higher ups. Tom

  7. Rebekah says:

    does the Vatican ever give unwritten and private permission to change things in the liturgy? I’m the person Ian was referring to, and my bishop told me that the Congregation and the USCCB have a “quiet, unwritten understanding” that it is all right to change the words at the Agnus Dei, even though the documents the Congregation has written prohibit it. I was also told that this sort of thing is common. If that is so, what can we, the faithful really trust as far as liturgical norms go? If there are private agreements that some things are okay, how can we really argue when parishes fail to “Say the Black. Do the Red”?

  8. LCB says:

    If it’s not too much a rabbit hole: is this what the documents of Vatican II envisioned the role of national councils of bishops?

  9. Kevin says:

    Father said:

    The Congregation for Divine Worship should receive a copy of the response for their opportune knowledge.

    And they soon will.

    Tom nails it:

    The irony is they diminish their own authority when they diminish the higher ups.

    This is why I’m concerned about seemingly minor issues: the pastors are showing they believe disobedience of the Holy See is acceptable. What they are really teaching, though, is that disobedience is acceptable. How can pastors then expect obedience on the really important matters, where souls are on the line?

  10. Tom K says:

    In our parish the pastor washes the hands of both male and females. And of anybody who wants to come forward.

  11. Alessandro says:

    But Father! They even quote the wrong canon: can. 27 is “Consuetudo est optima legum interpres” or “Custom is the best interpreter of the law”, NOT 23. Infact, what they quoted, reads: “Can. 23 — Ea tantum consuetudo a communitate fidelium introducta vim legis habet, quae a legislatore approbata fuerit”: so THEY need to demostrate that the legislator gives approval for their custom!

  12. Tom K says:

    In our parish the pastor washes the hands of both male and females, and also of anybody who would like to come forward.

  13. Garrett says:

    So are we to interpret from this that these “secret agreements” really may exist? Or is it just an obvious lie?

  14. Tiago says:

    Father, I’m a little curious.
    As a Brazilian speaking a latin “sourced” language (portuguese), I thought it could be similar. In portuguese, when you have two diferent genders, like a man and a woman, we use the word “eles”, in english “them”, just the same as the male gender plurals. But, in latin, when we refer to a group of men and women, how would it be?
    I’m not sure, but “viri selecti” in portuguese would be “os selecionados”, and that could mean men and women. Could the latin experts clear it for me? I’m really curious.

  15. Matt says:


    I was just stating that what you posted is the common reaction from many Diocese in the United States. I was not championing the TLM. I did not even mention it. I did ask for the Pope to hammer anyone. I just said that many Diocese will not change a position unless they are forced to. I was not advocating that they force them. It is just disappointing when one sees the Vatican’s intentions leaning one way and the diocese reaction going the opposite. What is a Catholic supposed to think? I was just expressing my wish (As you do many times) that the diocese interpret these issues in light of tradition.

    I have brought this same question up to an Institute of Christ the King priest and his response was “That is so 60’s.” I have heard the same comment from non ICTK priests, but they are much less vocal about what they see as the root of these types of responses.

    I hope that I did not offend anyone.

  16. supertradmom says:

    In the Cathedral parish of our last diocese, the presider, either Bishop or Pastor (not the same), not only wash women’s feet, but children, and anyone who comes forward. We were there last Holy Thursday and will not return, as over thirty people from the congregation came forward to have their feet washed. The situation was chaotic, with children running back and forth, etc. I wish I had never seen this.

  17. Nick says:

    Presumably the symbolism of washing the feet [not hands] of twelve men [not women] is that of Christ washing the feet of the twelve Apostles, including Judas. Ideally, to make this rite completely clear, it should be a bishop who washes the feet of twelve priests. These latter may wonder which of them is Judas.

  18. Berthold says:

    In my former parish it was all the ‘important’ people who had their feet washed (i.e. those who talked a lot and, at least to a large part, supported We Are Church).
    Generally, I think that if one does the washing of the feet (and it is not obligatory for parish churches) one should return to the ancient habit of washing the feet of beggars or of old men, to avoid any displays of vanity.

  19. Viri is clearly “males.” A male adult in Latin is vir.
    People are gentes. The Latin word that denotes either a man or a woman,
    in fact, a person of either gender, is homo. When we say “homo factus est”,
    we are recalling that Christ was made man (human), not that (or not just that)
    He was made male.

    I am a woman, and I was once asked by a chaplaincy colleague to offer up my feet
    for washing by a cleric. I refused, and the cleric complained to my supervisor.
    I went ballistic. Men have no business washing the feet of women to whom they are neither
    married nor related. Talk about culture! Washing feet is now an intimate, not a
    a servile act, and really should be done among peers and as ritually as possible.

  20. RichR says:

    I think something that would help would be a “canned” sermon explaining why there should not be females. Yes, I know, some smart aleck will jump in and say, “It’s gonna be this way because that’s what the Big Red Book says,” but the average American has been exposed to women foot-washing for a number of years now, and this without any explanation other than inclusiveness. To not explain things would pass over a primo opportunity to catechize.

    Just trying to be constructive.

  21. Tomas says:

    Father – pardon the digression, but are you aware that when we open the Z-cam, an ad for dianetics appears right next to you? Argh. [An unwelcome digression. For the zillionth time I DON’T control the ads on that site. It you don’t like the ads, don’t look at the Z-Cam.]

  22. Father Totton says:

    I was surprised to read “men, women, and anyone else who comes forward” Besides men and women, who else is there? (Okay, children) but then I figured you all are saying the number is more than 12! I know of a parish where the celebrant has the folks wash HIS feet, (he may wash theirs too) and then a line forms whereby each who has his (or her) feet washed is the next to wash the feet of someone behind them. Again a very confusing issue.

    Thanks for the reminder, I need to start looking for 12 “viri selecti” ahead of time (last year I think I only had 6!) It can be difficult to get men to agree to it – many are, understandably, embarassed.

  23. supertradmom says:

    Father Totton,

    Cannot altar boys over the age of 18 be considered men?

  24. I have two parishes. The first parish has always had just men at this point, but has had a kind of re-enactment of the Last Supper with tables set up a certain way, etc. My predecessor put a stop to that, but I don’t know if he included women. In my time here, we’ve used just men and I’ve not heard a thing.

    My second parish has done all manner of things involving various numbers, sexes and bodily appendiges being washed. Last year was my first opportunity to celebrate this Mass, and I faced a dilemma on how to handle this. After some praying, consultation and so forth, I arranged for 12 men (as far as I know, the number is not specified, but 12 is traditional). Only a few peeps that didn’t reach me.

    What helped me decide to do this was the realization that this ritual is not a required part of the Mass! It can be omitted!

    So…I reasoned that if the form of the ritual is objectionable, the solution of dropping it is readily available. In fact, I discovered priests are not so fond of it, because it can detract from the Mass, even done properly. A priest I know dropped it years ago, and not much fuss.

    Thus, if there is a row about it…that’s what I will do. And, I have offered to wash feet without discrimination…outside of Mass.

  25. supertradmom says:

    What great news to know that the washing of feet is optional in the NO. Perhaps this newish custom can be easily dropped.

  26. Charivari Rob says:

    Paragraph 1 – refute something tends to support one position on the grounds that it is an item of “private correspondence [with the CDWDS], which in the system of Canon Law carries no juridical weight”.

    Paragraph 2 – in supporting the other position, cite as precedent “a private exchange of letters with [the CDWDS]”

    Did these folks have a debate club in school?

  27. Tina says:

    I have been wondering something for awhile. I wonder if the amount of funny stuff/liturgical abuses/etc, has anything to do with the age of the parish. It seems if you have a very old parish, there is a collective memory of how things were done and how they ought to be done. Whereas your newer parishes wouldn’t have that collective memory.

    I will say that when I was in 2nd grade, we had our First Communion on Holy Thursday. The priest, who was getting on in years, thought it would be really nice if one of the first communicants had their feet washed. I think they randomly chose someone one. A little girl was picked, and she was wearing nylons. Poor Father didn’t know what to do. I think that was the last time they had females feet washed…..

  28. Midwest St. Michael says:

    TJM is 1000% correct. Why would these individuals who distort the rubrics of the liturgy ever expect obedience to them – when they themselves are disobedient to the very authority that gave them their particular authority in the Church?

    I cannot wrap my mind around this blatant disobedient thinking.

    It is as Fr. Richard Gilsdorf says of the liturgy today in his book, “The Signs of the Times” -there are simply too many options, except, as Fr. Z showed us, this is not an option, correct? (unless you are a dissenting diocesan liturgical guru like the one we read posted by Fr. Z)

    1 Sam. 15:22 – “Obedience is better than sacrifice…”

  29. At my parish, no girls, no fuss…

  30. I agree with felicita. Is there some sort of gathering the dissenters go to figure out how to respond to these questions so they can obfuscate the issue and appear within bounds? That letter could have been written by our diocesan vicar.

  31. Fenton says:


    Is Washing of the Feet mandatory?

    Anyone know? [It is optional.]

    Our pastor “doesn’t do feet” (his words), which is the first time I’ve ever heard these words!

  32. Decline to state says:

    I think Dr Edward Peter’s professional opinion trumps yours:


  33. Dear All,

    It seems to me that there have been permissions granted to certain bishops regarding the participation of women in the mandatum.


    In those places, where a bishop is permitted to wash women’s feet, let him do so if he chooses (why he would do so is not really clear to me at all, but then, I’m not a bishop – something about which we can all be thankful).

    It does not seem to follow, even in a diocese where a bishop has permission, that, as the chancery writes in the reply Fr. reproduces above: “I hope this relieves any anxiety that parishes choosing to include women in the mandatum are in any way acting in a fashion contrary to what the Church allows.”

    In other words, I am not sure, and in fact doubt that people without specific permission to deviate from the rubric have the right to deviate, even when their bishop does.

    The deviation really does raise needless complications, the resolution of which costs more time, energy and good will than it (the deviation) could ever possibly hope to save or inspire.

    The inclusion of women in the mandatum, however, strikes me as well-intentioned pastoral idiocy, rather than faithlessness or contumacy.

  34. B Knotts says:

    So, your claim is that Dr. Peters’ opinion trumps the clear language of the Missale?

  35. James says:

    the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship has “an unwritten understanding” with Rome that in America we don’t have to follow that rubric.

    Works well out here in Los Angeles…

  36. ssoldie says:

    “Viri” Men “feet” not hands “closed subject”

  37. dcs says:

    I think Dr Edward Peter’s professional opinion trumps yours:

    Dr. Peters doesn’t offer an opinion on whether one may wash women’s feet (although he does say that bishops who follow the law “as it reads” are correct), he only offers an opinion of what he thinks is wrong with the current legislation.

  38. ckdexterhaven says:

    Fr. Z, you are 100% correct in using the word “weasel”. Sometimes that word… just fits, don’t it?

  39. michigancatholic says:

    Nope. The answer is: Put your big girl panties on and go to church at some other parish. You’ve had all year to scope out one that won’t scandalize you too terribly badly during Holy Week. In some parts of the country, it’s still possible, fortunately.

    If you absolutely have to go to your local neighborhood parish, either because you live in one of the awful areas or you’re just unaccountably attached to the place, then don’t give them any money. Give them a nastygram in the collection plate instead, ie. “You would have had my tithe but because of your foot-washing antics, Mother Angelica got it instead. She deserves it because unlike your “volunteers,” I didn’t have to see her waving her foot around so I could see the seat of her pants. Have a nice day.”

  40. Mitchell NY says:

    Trying to keep it all in perspective I was surprised to read that in the US there are some unwritten agreements that allow for violation of rubrics. Perhaps a Priest or someone inside Rome or the Vatican could verify this? If so it would save many traditionalists from banging their heard against a wall and coming across as argumentative, combative, or evenly politely foolish for bringing up the rubrics in the first place on this particular issue if indeed we have no right too. Roma locuta, causa finita…Is it so or not?? How can one be faithful, and still be correct in their conscience if we are somehow violating secret agreements. If it comes to light this is so I will never question it again. Under this scenario all roads that lead to Rome only u turn there back to the US. The search for knowledge and any attempt to form a correct understanding would be futile if this were the case and only lead to greater confusion.

  41. Federico says:

    The ugly reality is that it is forbidden but if practiced long enough, custom contra legem that is not suppressed acquires the force of law (but is not law). The irony here is that sufficient looking the other way can put a pastor who wants to suppress the contra legem practice in the wrong (and will require either establishment of a contrary custom or assistance from the legislator).

    Please consider the quote below and, folks, don’t shoot the messnger. I’m not the legislator, and I did not write the article from which this excerpt comes. I also don’t like the fact that custom contra legem can acquire the force of law, but that is the law of the Church. I also think the strategy described below is slimy and demonstrates a lack of leadership in the group of bishops described.

    That said…excerpt from: John Huels, “Back to the Future: The Role of Custom in a World Church,” CLSA Proceedings 59 (1997) 23-24.

    Several years ago I was at a meeting with a group of bishops who needed advice on what to do about a controversy concerning the use of women as well as men for the rite of foot washing on Holy Thursday. The 1970 Roman Missal states that men are to be chosen for this rite, so the use of women is contrary to law. The bishops of a few American dioceses had previously begun to enforce the law, and they issued orders forbidding the participation of women in the rite. This resulted in resistance and outright opposition in some parishes, protest demonstration in front of chanceries and cathedrals, and major media coverage. The bishops with whom I was meeting had not taken any action themselves, but they were feeling pressured to do so from both proponents and opponents of the practice. They were in a quandary about what to do, because they recognized that the use of women for the foot washing was against the letter of the law, but they knew full well the vehement reactions and negative publicity that they would have to face if they tried to impose the law on their people.

    I first suggested that this was a disciplinary law and, as such, each bishop could dispense from it. This suggestion was greeted by glum faces and stony silence. I quickly realized the bishops did not consider a dispensation a desirable response to the problem, so I hastily ‘shifted gears’ and began to talk about how canon law recognizes the place for the development of contrary customs. The washing of women’s feet was such a custom, I suggested. I said that a contrary custom does not have to be approved explicitly by any direct action of the bishop. As long as he tolerates it by ignoring it, the practice could continue on its way to achieving the force of law. You should have seen the smiles on the bishops faces! Their legal quandary was solved. They had a legal solution they could explain privately to those demanding some response. But they did not have to issue any public statements. For this group of bishops, it was the best solution to a ‘no win’ situations.

  42. John says:

    I left the Roman Rite and went to the Romanian Rite. I now don’t have to worry about heretical inventions, illicit or invalid consecrations, disobedient pastors & bishops, and modernist teachings. The eastern rites have not been plagued by the “inventiveness” of the west — they are too busy just trying to survive persecution. I put up with the disobedience and nonsense of liberal (read disobediant and pride-filled) priests and bishops for 40+ years. Thank God I found the Byzantines.

  43. Mitchell NY says:

    Sounds qualified..I will say no more when I encounter it. What a shocker…………

  44. dcs says:

    The ugly reality is that it is forbidden but if practiced long enough, custom contra legem that is not suppressed acquires the force of law (but is not law).

    Federico, correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t there need to be 30 years’ uninterrupted observance of a custom for it to be considered “immemorial”? So a parish would have to show that it had practiced washing women’s feet for 30 years in order for a pastor who tried to suppress it to be in the wrong.

    I don’t quite have words to describe what I think of a canonist counseling bishops to look the other way while customs contrary to the law “develop.”

  45. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    St. John’s Gospel indicates “disciples” during the washing of the feet — not Apostles only. (John, in fact, never uses the term, apostle, anywhere in his Gospel.)

    There is, therefore, no ipso facto reason why women cannot be included in the Mandatum ceremony of Holy Thursday . . . except, for the fact that women have been rubrically excluded.

    This is not about the institution of the priesthood. For John the Evangelist and Theologian, Christ’s “commandment [mandatum]” was for His disciples to follow the example of their Master. This doesn’t apply to women?

    The “traditional” practice of washing males’ feet during the Holy Thursday liturgy only came back into vogue with Pope Pius XII’s Holy Week reform. Give it another 60 years, and the practice of washing women’s feet will be “immemorial tradition” as well!

    [This is off base. The rubric is clear: viri selecti.]

  46. Fr Fenton says:

    Seraphic Single,

    Viri does indeed mean men; gens/gentis means people (singular as in race, not the modern plural of person). Homo/hominis means man also. The difference has been understood that homo means “man” in the sense “human being”, whereas vir means “man” as opposed to woman. That is how it is used in Church Latin (classical, some argue was different).
    So, Tiago,
    Church Latin would say homines selecti if they meant selected persons with no gender specificity. Viri would be all men.

  47. quodvultis says:

    There is also the question of good faith. One cannot knowingly and willfully contravene the law in order to establish a legitimate custom contra legem.

  48. Patricia Gonzalez says:

    Our pastor once actually said to me that “when something comes from Rome, we just close our eyes”. We have female altar servers, less-than-ideal music, and just about everything liturgically incorrect you can think of. As far as the washing of the feet goes, though, it’s surprisingly “kosher” — although a couple years ago, the candidates for confirmation were chosen, both male and female. Maybe that will happen this year again — I wouldn’t be surprised.

  49. dcs says:

    The “traditional” practice of washing males’ feet during the Holy Thursday liturgy only came back into vogue with Pope Pius XII’s Holy Week reform.

    Doing it during Holy Mass might not be traditional but the mandatum is very ancient. In fact the name Maundy Thursday comes from the word “mandatum”. Before the Pius XII revisions to Holy Week it was 13 men representing the Apostles and Our Lord. If memory serves it was St. Gregory the Great who changed the mandatum from 12 to 13.

  50. In understanding how this practice can be so prevalent, it might be helpful to note that some otherwise very stereotypically conservative parishes wash the feet of both men and women. This is one abuse that isn’t restricted to the usual suspects to be rounded up on suspicion of rubrifraction.

  51. Federico says:

    DCS: Yes, you’re right. That puts us back to 1979. That’s not that long ago.

    Quodvultis: I disagree re. good faith. In fact, the custom that may be contra legem must be introduced by a community capable of receiving law (e.g. a parish) with the intent of allowing it to develop the force of law. Such intentionality implies awareness that the custom is contra legem. I’ve double checked a few commentaries and canonists around, and the unanimous take is that awareness the custom is against the law does not vitiate the operation of the law.

    Whether intentional violation of the law to establish a contra legem custom is compatible with “good faith” I’ll leave to your judgment. I have my opinion.

    Of course, custom against Divine law can never acquire the force of law, but that’s another story.

  52. Central Valley says:

    At least he got a response. I wrote a similar letter to my bihop but have not received any response so I faxed the letter off to the CDW.

  53. prof. basto says:

    Shouldn’t this be brought to the attention of the CDWDS?

    Perhaps they will choose to adress this question more formally given the diocesan resistance, either by means of including extracts from their correspondence in an official report, or by issuing a Declaration/instruction repprobating the washing the feet of women in a more solemn way.

    Of course, there are lots of documents that, immediately after the words in the vernacular, provide the latin “viri selecti” in brackets, so there should be no equivocation as to the meaning of the rubrics, and it is unfortunate that there is this resistance on the part of diocesan officials, even after individual exchanges with the CDWDS.

  54. thomas says:

    Omit the rite?
    Edward Peters is of correct to note that foot washing is a may not a must. One good reason for that is that the law must take account of celebrations where the only man present is the celebrant (e.g. celebrations of closed orders of nuns). But it’s one thing to acknowledge that and quite another to suggest that priests and bishops have an unfettered discretion simply to omit the rite. Clearly they do not. Such discretion must be exercised with due regard to the teaching of the Church – and there is firm teaching on the point: witness that of the Congregation for Divine Worship which states plainly in “Paschales Solemnitatis” (1988) that “this tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.”. Is Mr Peters suggesting that this leaves priests and bishops a free hand in the matter – that they are at liberty to substitute their judgment on this matter for that of the Magisterium and decide that the tradition is NOT to be maintained? It is also to be doubted that disagreement with the Church’s rules about the correct implementation of a rite could ever constitute a valid reason for exercising any discretion to suspend it. Discretion is discretion, but its exercise within the church must always be informed by legitimate considerations – personal disagreeement with church teaching cannot be one of them, surely. So I doubt that Peters comments on suspending the rite should be taken as informative, let alone authoritative.
    Please note that the letter from Rome you published goes out of its way to make it clear that there are no plans to issue fresh legislation on this matter. The refusal to bow to requests to change the rubric was also evident in the prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful attempts by some factions recently to get Rome to agree to a “re-translation” of this missal rubric so that it became gender neutral. So I am unimpressed by Peters’ disloyal speculation on this point.
    Correct implementation of the sacred liturgy wont be easily achieved in countries with a strong Protestant tradition. Minds are just too bold and vain. Glass of Sauternes, anyone?

  55. Marc says:

    Reading throught the thread after the heat of the action, so to say, two things strike me.

    Rome, whether the workers in the curial vineyards want to do it or not, needs to clarify the rubric viri selecti if in fact local ordinaries are given the right to admit women to the ceremony of the Mandatum.

    The second thing is that these threads sometimes recall to mind a scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited where the non-Catholic Charles asks a group of Catholics to explain… I don’t remember which practice or point of doctrine. They each adduce different and apparently mutually exclusive rationales, and end up working more confusion than clarity. Very amusing in the book and… sometimes elsewhere.

  56. Fr. Fox writes, Thus, if there is a row about it…that’s what I will do. And, I have offered to wash feet without discrimination…outside of Mass.

    Unfortunately, the row is encouraged by the rather weasely statement offered from the Worship office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati each year:

    In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, it has been the custom of priests to wash the feet of a representative group of parishioners: men, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, etc.

    You can read more about it here.

  57. my kidz mom says:

    Phx Diocese is also weasely: “In 1996, the U.S. bishops proposed a modification that
    would allow for the washing of women’s and children’s feet during the Holy Thursday service. This
    proposal received the necessary support of more than two-thirds of the U.S. bishops. Recognizing the
    support of the USCCB and in keeping with the tradition of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Olmsted allows
    for the washing of women’s and children’s feet in the Diocese of Phoenix.”


  58. Sylvia says:

    Nobody knows Latin. “Vir” was one of the first Latin words I learned, and it means “man”–not mankind or human (“homo”). It means “man” as in “manly,” which is where we get the adjective “virile.” There’s no room for any custom that clearly violates the rubrics, for those who would take the time to read and understand them.

  59. DarkKnight says:

    I think that it is just so exclusionary when words such as “virility” don’t take into consideration the feminine.

  60. A Catholic Boy says:

    Golly, some people need a catechesis on the difference between “ecclesiastical laws”, “merely ecclesiastical laws”, and “divine law.” See 1983 CIC, Book I, Title I; also Summa theologiae Ia IIae, qq. 90-97.

    Regarding the Mandatum,we should take our clue from the story of Jesus’ feet being washed by a “sinful woman” (Mk 14:3-9; cf. Mt 26:6-13; Jn 12:1-8).

    Three lessons: (1) traditionalism is usually a misnomer for folks such as yourselves, since you display an astonishing lack of awareness of Apostolic Tradition; [piffle… I have probably already forgotten more about that than you will ever know.] (2) Biblical literacy is often inversely proportionate to one’s intensity of rubricism; [Actually reading both, however, does help.] (3) misogyny is a grave sin. [A plainly stupid comment meant as a distraction.]

    And, for an examination of conscience, let us ask ourselves: If the Mandatum in the Gospel According to John is about service, do we resist washing the feet of woman because our attitude is like satan’s–“Non serviam“? [Satan? That get’s you the door, friend. Vade retro.]

  61. Tim Ferguson says:

    Thanks for the judgmental attitude there, Catholic Boy! That’s sure helpful, especially the part where you say “let us ask ourselves” when you mean “YOU should ask YOURSELVES,” as you’ve clearly got the situation well thought out. /sarcasm.

    1. The mandatum in the Gospel of John is about service, and is also about ordination.
    2. The purpose of liturgy is not to recreate historical events like one would in a play.
    3. While certainly divine law trumps ecclesiastical law, I don’t see any violation of divine law in the restricting of liturgical footwashing to men, as the rubrics call for. Has God divinely ordered that, on Holy Thursday, at Mass, both men and women must have their feet washed by the priest? As they would say on Saturday Night Live, REALLY?
    4. misogyny can be a sinful attitude. As can the attitude that seeks to obliterate the divinely ordained differences between the sexes and try to create a world order suited to our own political ends rather than that crafted by the Creator.
    5. Casting unwonted aspersions at others, especially those of us here who display “an astonishing lack of awareness of Apostolic Tradition” (are you even aware of the academic credentials of the host of this blog?) is also sinful.
    6. It’s amazing that someone can actually try to make a case that someone seeking to follow the consistent law of the Church is patterned after Satan’s non serviam.

  62. thomas says:

    There is no need to clarify what is already clear. The letter from the Sacred Congregation which kicked off this string points out that the Missale Romanum and the Caeremoniale Episcoporum leave no room for doubt and that the issue is one of compliance. Moreover, there are no plans to add to or change the legislation: “This Dicastery considers this legislation clear and wishes to add nothing further.”.

    What do you want, Marc – for the Church to say that vires means men -isn’t that what she has already done in approving the translations you already have? It is also inescapably clear that the Bishop’s role in the matter is to guard and promote the law – he has no power to admit women. It does appear that at least one American Bishop sought an exception to the rule in a specific context and that this was granted by Rome: the power to say yes was clearly not the Bishop’s or he would not have needed to apply to Rome.

    Marc, this issue does not arise because of confusion or misunderstanding. The Bishops and priests who wash womens’ feet do not have that excuse. They know what the rule is. It is written clearly in their books. They know perfectly well that Rome has continued to resist relaxation of the rule. The sad truth is that they believe that they know better. We should not need to investigate the matter beyond that, should we?

  63. Dwight Goodman says:

    Mr. Ferguson and “thomas”,

    1. I wonder if “A Catholic Boy” has a point. This blog is replete with misogynic (sp?) posts, everything from No to altar girls to No for washing the feet of women.

    2. The mandatum is about ordination, fair enough. But aren’t priests ordained to serve women as well as men?

    3. The statement about history and liturgy are inaccurate–we certainly re-create history at Mass (Last Supper, anyone?), on Palm Sunday, and on Good Friday.

    4. The point about ecclesiastical laws and divine law, I think, was simply to serve our priority.

    5. According to a number of my priests friends, John Zuhlsdorf’s name cannot be located in the Catholic Directory and no-one can seem to find his diocese of incardiation. Is he even legitimate? His disparaging remarks about the Roman Curia and SSPX sympathies make me wonder. And where are his “impeccable crednetials” located? A number of canon law friends of mine complain about how vapidly ignorant he is of canon law. His credentials seem to be only his adulating fans.

    6. I was surprised to see Father Zuhlsdorf complain about the fellow who compared those who wanted to follow the Maundy Thursday rubric to Satan, but when I read the post itself, A Catholic Boy was responding to the attitude of “I will not serve”, not the rubric itself. Have we forgotten that Jesus’ gripe was mostly with those who meticulously followed the Mosaic Law? Have the Traditionalists become the Pharisees of the post-Conciliar peiod? Might be worthwhile reflection during our Lenten season.

    D. F. Goodman

  64. Geoffrey says:

    In my diocese the faithful are invited to have their feet washed, and then wash those of another. Priests also have their feet washed.

  65. Dwight Goodman says:

    1. I wonder if the “misgyny” characterization is a good one. There have been many postings on this website disparaging women, from people bragging about how their parish doesn’t have girl altar servers to the forbidding of women’s feet being washed at the Maundy Thursday liturgy. If the remark was a distraction, perhaps the irritation comes from a pricked conscience?

    2. When I read Father Zuhlsdorf posting about the person who compared those who wanted to follow the rubrics to “Satan”, I was surprised. But when I read the post itself, it seems as though Father Zuhlsdorf had mischaracterized that person–he was speaking of the attitude of “I will not serve”, not the extreme attention to rubrics. And, yes, Maundy Thursday is about ordination. But aren’t priests also ordained to serve women members of the Church? I think the posting yesterday about Doctor Peter’s remarks on this is one that should not be ignored.

    3. Every time I hear the Gospel proclaimed at Mass, it seems that Jesus’ bone of contention was always with the religious folk, especially the Pharisees and their unrelenting attention to the “rubrics” of the Torah. Have we forgotten this? I mean, the Name of Jesus is seldom mentioned here, and I wonder if the comment about one’s attention to rubrics is “inversely proportionate” to biblical literacy” has merit.

    4. Regarding Father Zuhlsdorf’s impeccable credentials, where can I find that on the website? I do not see it anywhere (although he seems to be a good Latinist). And my priests friends have often remarked that they don’t know his “diocese of incardination” and that his name is missing from the Catholid Directory. Is he even a legitimate priest? His nomenclature is not even used in the documents of the Roman dicastery. Comments like “say Mass”, his sympathies for the episcopi vagantes of the SSPX, and disparaging remarks about the Roman Curia have made me often quention whether he has legitimate faculties.

  66. Dwight Goodman says:

    I’m sorry my posting was put up twice…my IE closed suddenly and I thought I’d lost the posting. So forgive my redundancy!

  67. Mr. Goodman:

    1) “Misogyny”, from the Greek, means “hatred of women.” Supporting the following of a rubric of the Roman Rite does not translate into “hatred of women.”

    2) The provocative Satan comment was clearly meant to compare allegedly fanatical rubricists with the Devil, by opining that those who refuse to wash the feet of women are somehow akin to the Devil. It was, in short, an unhelpful and indeed indefensible comment.

    3) Rubric-breakers sooner or later try to lead us down the “What would Jesus do?” rabbit hole. Such casual, easygpoing, almost-anything-goes-so-long-as-it-doesn’t-hurt-anyone approaches to rubrics never seem to go the other way…as evidenced by the venom recently aimed at Father Finigan.

    4) So let me see, if a priest uses the phrase “say Mass” his faculties (perhaps even ordination?) are called into question? Gee, I know many priests who use the apparently bad words “say Mass.”

  68. Dwight Goodman says:


    See, this is what I mean. No sooner do I write a cordial, friendly post when there’s a barrage of remarks that appear more becoming of a Jehovah’s Witness or a Fundamentalist than a follower of Christ. I’ve heard it mentioned more than once that imitating the posters on this website is a school in how to go to hell, and fast. [?!?]

    “What would Jesus do?” as a “rabbit hole”? I thought there was a spiritual classic by the title The Imitation of Christ and that Saint Paul once wrote, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” I wonder how our Lord feels when he thinks, “These people call imitating Me a rabbit hole? I’ll enunciate “Blessed be the Name of Jesus” more clearly at Benediction tonight. [I am sure you sill do so will great self-satisfaction, as well. Do you think the author of the Imitation of Christ would condone disobeying the rubrics of the Church? The “What Would Jesus Do?” question is SPECIOUS.]

    Not only that, but “grace” vs. “Law” is an overriding theme in St. Paul’s letters. I’m worried that it is lost upon these people. Not that we should ignore ecclesiastical law, but there is certainly an hierarchy to Christian priorities. When the Pharisees tried to “catch” Jesus in their legal questions, He was rightly furious at their duplicity. I wonder if His furor anticipated the administrator and posters of this website. [“of this site…” … so… making it a personal attack. I will relieve you of having to worry about the question.]

    I’ve looked at Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s credentials. While they are above average, they are not “impeccable.” A patrologist pontificating on every matter liturgical seems to show someone who is out of his league. Perhaps that’s why he is a “former employee” of the Ecclesia Dei Commission? I’ll take Msgr. Kevin Irwin’s expertise on the sacred liturgy any day.

    God bless y’all, and have a Lent. “Rend your hearts, not your garments!”

    And be nice!

  69. thomas says:

    You Americans!

    This is neo-Protestantism – refusing to accept the requirements of the liturgical texts unless they happen to commend themselves to you!

    What are you arguing about?

    Nothing to do with politics, mysogony or anything else..

  70. Nathan says:

    Bretheren: Prudence, please!

    Dwight Goodman: “I wonder if the “misgyny” characterization is a good one.”

    Sir, this seems to follow the pattern of so much poltitical and religious discussion today. If one doesn’t agree with allowing a group to do something, then it is defined as hate. I know we’re trained to talk about things in this way, but does it hold up to scrutiny?

    For example, there have been a number of negative things said on this blog about my fellow “bitter trads” and “fly-in-amber Traditionalists.” Am I to conclude from those statements that the writers are “Tradophobes” and “haters?” I think not–they are people who, in good faith, have observed behaviors and opinions and disagreed with the behavior or opinion. And, as far as I can tell, I have learned much about myself and my assumptions from the exchange.

    Why, then, should a desire to follow Christ’s example as fully as possible and to obey the rubrics of the Roman Rite be “misgyny?” Agree or disagree with it, it’s hardly hatred of women at work here. Just because one may feel strongly about it, IMO, doesn’t make another who holds the other view a hater.

    In Christ,

  71. Mitchell NY says:

    I think that is an excellent point often misunderstood or missed altogether. “Liturgy is not an attempt to re-create history as in a play”…I agree with this and will pass it along if I may..I do not think we were supposed to duplicate events in their exactitude (and that is a key word which is often implied) or we would be sure Praying Mass in Aramaic. Maybe we are just supposed to be as close as humanly possible without deviating so far from original events such that said events become distorted. I stand to be corrected if need be Father.

  72. Prof. Basto says:

    1) The liturgy of the Church is the liturgy of the New Convenant. Ecce nova facio omnia applies to her as well. Therefore, there is no point in trying to compare the Church’s liturgy with the sclerotic laws that were implemented by the pharisees without any substantial devotion. The Liturgy of the Church is already a New Liturgy, animated by the Grace of Christ.

    How dare people invoke a personal interpretation of Scripture in an attempt to ignore the Church’s liturgical laws? What are we, Protestants? The Church interprets Scripture and She commands us to obey the liturgical laws that She has the authority to promulgate. Such laws, proceeding from the Church, are a patrimony cannot be compared to the laws of the imperfect structures that existed in the time of the ancient convenant, before the Church came into being.

    2) We are all tired to know that the inclusion of women in the rite of washing feet is subtext on the part of those who support women ordination; which female ordination has been declared ontologically impossible by the Church in a definitive judgement that is part of the Deposit of Faith. So, here too, lex orandi is lex credendi.

    Christ established his priesthood on Holy Thursday. The rites of that day are closely linked to the institution of the priesthood and the of the Eucharist. Those who promote washing the feet of women in this rite advocate women ordination. The Church, seeing the connection, prohibits washing the feet of women during this rite.

    There is no greater imitator of Christ than His Church! She commands the priest to imitate exactly what Christ did on the original Holy Thursday, when he washed the feet of men only, because his apostles were all men and his priesthood was to be exclusively male.

    This is no rubrical detail. It has to do with a principle that is de fide tenenda. So, only viri selecti are to have the feet washed because the apostles were all men and the priesthood then established was and is restricted to men.

  73. Sylvia Smith says:

    As a woman and long-time reader of this blog, I feel called to say that I have never encountered anything here that I consider disparaging to women. In fact, I can’t recall anything Fr. Z said that pertained to women as such–rather, the emphasis on the liturgy: the liturgy primarily serves to worship God, on a vertical plane, rather than engage our brothers and sisters, on the horizontal plane. Fr. Z is completely faithful to what the Holy Father has said and what the Catholic Church has said in her living tradition. We must maintain continuity, not rupture!

  74. “What would Jesus do?”

    We don’t have to ask that; rather, ask: “What did Jesus do?”

    He put Peter and the Apostles in charge, resumed his throne, poured out the Holy Spirit and wow! The Apostolic Church has been charging down the centuries ever since, with the Apostles’ successors still in charge.

    So “what would Jesus do?” He actually said, to the Apostles, “he who hears you, hears Me.”

    Jesus say, do what de pope say!

  75. kate says:

    Well put, Sylvia! Thanks.

  76. M. G. Hysell says:

    Wow this blog is getting ugly.

    I’ve been reading the Holy Father’s God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office and I was very surprised to discover that the First Vatican Council condemned not only episcopalism (a.k.a. conciliarism), but papalism as well. So, according to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Ultramontanism is as equally a heresy as Conciliarism. And, just today as I was browsing the library at my grad school, I came across a similar work by both Josef Ratzinger and Karl Rahner from when they were still periti at the Second Vatican Council (or slightly before–I missed the date).

    That having been said, two things. I think that, in light of what canon law says about each bishop having ordinary executive power in his own See, he can dispense from a law or issue a particular law, all of course within reasonable limits. I recall my canon law professor telling the story of +John Paul II’s apostolic journey to Canada, in which one of the northern bishops escorted the Holy Father in an aerial trip to his diocese. The ordinary was expressing how much his presbyters were given over to their pastoral ministry: “Sometimes our priests celebrate Mass three or four times a day!” The Holy Father, in surprise, said, “No, no: canon law says a priest may celebrate Mass at most twice a day”–and, tipping his zucchetto to the ordinary, he added–“but you are the bishop.” This, my canon law prof said, is the gist of the Code of Canon Law, Book II, Part II, Title I.

    Which leads me to my second point: Of course we have to follow the rubrics (and let us not be selective, either–E.W.T.N. violates the GIRM left and right). But we should also exercise presumption in favour of the diocesan bishop, who may decree a dispensation that is not reserved only to the Apostolic See.

    In which case, the “viri selecti” rubric may be dispensed. [Nooo… Nice try but it doesn’t work.] But this means that the proper channels need to be taken–out of respect for a merely ecclesiastical law, the diocese should have the dispensation in written, with a protocol number assigned, for clear and easy reference.

    The laws of the Church, as my canon law professor often said–and he is a protege of no less than Fr John Huels himself–should be used as a tool for ministry, not a weapon.

  77. Tiago says:

    Seraphic Single and Fr. Fenton, thanks for the answers!
    Indeed, “gentes” also in portuguese is people. Your explanations really cleared it for me! And I really like the expression “Church Latin”!

  78. Tim Ferguson says:

    M.G. Hysell – I would be curious to know what violations of the GIRM EWTN violates “left and right” but that’s a digression.

    the “viri selecti” may NOT be dispensed by the diocesan bishop because the alteration of liturgical law is reserved to the Supreme Legislator. A diocesan bishop does not have supreme authority even within his territory, there are ecclesiastical laws which he does not have the authority to dispense (otherwise MANY bishops would have been dispensing from, say, the ecclesiastical law of celibacy left and right for the past 40 years). The alteration of constitutive liturgical law (and that is what this rubric is) is the prerogative of the Supreme Legislator, not of a diocesan bishop.

    It is not those who seek to maintain and follow the law who are using the law as a weapon, it is those who are forcing a violation of the law in order to promote their view that there is no God-ordained difference between the sexes who are using the law as a weapon.

  79. MGH says:


    I’ve responded to you misunderstanding of the divine right of bishops and the power to dispense from a merely ecclesiastical law in my blog:


    I hope readers find it useful.

    Out of respect, I do not mention your name.

    Matthew G. Hysell

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