Preparing for a yearly Triduum controversy

Brace yourselves.

In the week’s ahead, as we move into Lent, enemies of the Pope will no doubt remember that he changed the Good Friday prayer for Jews in the 1962MR.  Then the whole anti-Jewish thing will have another round in the news cycle.

But there is another yearly controversy we should get ready for.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

The Church clearly … crystal clearly… states that in the optional Mandatum ceremony of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, only men should be chosen.  Let’s state that again: only men must have their feet washed in this optional ceremony on Holy Thursday.

Yet many priests and bishops – who like to have their own rules followed – simply blow that off and do what they want in this regard, to the consternation of many.

A reader sent me a copy of this interesting letter addressed to him from the under-secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Fr. Anthony Ward.

The salient part:

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

Should your problems persist, the Congregation would remind you that you write again to the Diocesan Bishop who is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the liturgical life of the diocese (cf. canon 835 §1).  He would be the appropriate person to contact.


At this point, you will be saying "But Father! But Father!", with hands trembling in frustration.  "What if the local bishop is the one who is violating this clear legislation?  Would that Dicastery have anything further to say then?" 

I don’t know.  But the Congregation does have an address and a fax machine, were you to have printed evidence that there are plans to wash the feet of female persons… you know, non-males… the opposite of viri selecti

"But Father! But…"

Yes… I know what you are about to ask.

Remember that the CDW’s document Redemptionis Sacramentum par. 184 reaffirms the right of every Catholic to have recourse directly to the Holy See.   People may write directly to Rome to express concerns.  Sure, it is best to work your way up the ladder, as it were, with respect and with charity… and concrete evidence. 

But people can write to the Congregation at any time during the process.  And that, in fact, seems to be necessary when there is little or no hope of local recourse.

Should people make a fuss over this?

That is up to you.  I think that the Sacred Triduum is important.  The rite of the Mandatum is important.  Our right to have our rites celebrated correctly by our shepherds is important.

Make up your own mind.

Redemptionis Sacramentum includes this toward the end of the document (my emphases):

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.


[185.] “Against the seeds of discord which daily experience shows to be so deeply ingrained in human nature as a result of sin, there stands the creative power of the unity of Christ’s body. For it is precisely by building up the Church that the Eucharist establishes fellowship among men.” It is therefore the hope of this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that also, by the diligent application of those things that are recalled in this Instruction, human weakness may come to pose less of an obstacle to the action of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, and that with all distortion set aside and every reprobated practice removed, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Woman of the Eucharist”, the saving presence of Christ in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood may shine brightly upon all people.

[186.] Let all Christ’s faithful participate in the Most Holy Eucharist as fully, consciously and actively as they can, honouring it lovingly by their devotion and the manner of their life. Let Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the exercise of the sacred ministry, examine their consciences as regards the authenticity and fidelity of the actions they have performed in the name of Christ and the Church in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself, even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful, who confidently entrust themselves and their children to him, relying on him to fulfill for the faithful those sacred functions that the Church intends to carry out in celebrating the sacred Liturgy at Christ’s command. For each one should always remember that he is a servant of the Sacred Liturgy.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ohio Annie says:

    At one parish I attend they wash women’s feet and kiss them too (the feet, not the women). In light of everything else that goes on I didn’t complain about it but it bothered me.

  2. YoungCatholicSTL says:

    Fr. Z –

    Semi-related question: Has the SSPX adopted the changed Good Friday prayers? It seems that if they have not, they are acting in contradiction to their claim of loyalty to Pope Benedict. If they haev adopted it, then it seems as if they are ready to make the necessary strides for full communion with Rome.

  3. lmgilbert says:

    One thing I found helpful was to write to my pastor several weeks before the Sacred Triduum and ask him if it was his intention to follow the rites of the Church, since I wished to bring my young children and have them participate in the sacred liturgy . He wrote back saying essentially, “No,” so we made the trip to a wonderful, orthodox parish 20 miles away.

    In this way I registered my wishes, had a peaceful, glorious Holy Thursday, taught my children well, and avoided all of the usual post debacle recrimination and correspondence.

  4. kal says:

    A few years back we were all invited forward to wash the feet of whomever wanted their feet washed. Took forever, because every 9 year old was sent up to the altar by their parents to have their feet washed. Once you got your feet washed, you washed the feet of the next in line. Last year and the year before, we were made to fall into a communion-like line and we had to wash have our hands washed by the person in front of you and then wash the hands of the person behind you. Someone must stay up nights thinking up this stuff…..

  5. paul says:

    The archdiocese of Boston got an okay to wash the feet of both sexes I believe. I don’t agree with it- why they can’t just explain what the norm is for the universal church and be done with it?

  6. Joe says:

    this is on
    Washing Feet on Holy Thursday

    Can the priest wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday?

    According to the sacramentary, “The men [vir] who have been chosen are led by the ministers to chairs prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers, he pours water over each one’s feet and dries them.”

    In 1988 the Congregation for Divine Worship reaffirmed that only men’s feet are supposed to be washed: “The washing of the feet of chosen men [vir] which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ (Matt. 20:28). This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.”–Paschales Solemnitatis, 51.

    In both cases the latin word vir is used which means that men is not referring to mankind but only to males. Therefore, only men may have their feet washed on Holy Thursday. The practice of having the congregation wash each other’s feet is also not allowed as the instruction refers only to the priest as the washer of feet.

  7. Joe says:

    and on
    “Turns out I was wrong, and I thank the reader who pointed me in the right direction.

    Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston sought clarification from Rome over whether women could be included in the washing of feet on Holy Thursday. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments “affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual” but provided for “the archbishop to make a pastoral decision concerning his practice of the rite if such a decision would be helpful to the faithful of the archdiocese” (source).

    So, in short, the Vatican has begun to allow for pastoral decisions to be made in local areas as to whether the feet of women should be washed on Holy Thursday. If your diocese allows for it, then your parish can allow women to participate in the ritual.

    Michelle Arnold
    Catholic Answers”

  8. Liam says:

    Yes, in 2005 Cardinal Sean was told by the CDW that, while the liturgical requirement was for viri selecti, he was permitted to make a pastoral decision to include women in the ritual. (Note the sensible Roman shoes used here: the norm is the norm, and a pastoral decision otherwise by the ordinary is not precluded thereby.)

    Thus, one might fire a lot of faxes to the Congregation, but if an ordinary is involved, I doubt it they will get much farther than the circular file, and faxes about pastors will be assumed to be more properly addressed first to the ordinary. I don’t think anyone is going to gain anything agitating over this – Rome has at least as much distaste for agitation as it does for people pronouncing new norms on their own.

    The Mandantum in the reformed liturgy is a mish-mash. If it’s only about Orders, it should be moved to the Chrism Mass. The Mandatum, however, has a long history about discipleship – it was longest practiced in religious orders, male and female – and that dimension of the older ritual is what’s lurking in these fracas. It’s not right for people to arrogate to themselves the right to pronounce new norms, but it does help clue us in that there are reasonable reasons why the current situation does not satisfy. It’s not all about radical feminism.

  9. YoungCatholicSTL says:

    “But provided for ‘the archbishop to make a pastoral decision concerning his practice of the rite if such a decision would be helpful to the faithful of the archdiocese'”

    When is such a decision ever helpful to the faithful?

  10. Quantum Potes says:

    From my diocese website:
    Foot Washing – The group whose feet are washed should represent a cross section of the local community. The traditional number is twelve, though there is no exact requirement. 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 the U.S. bishops. Verification of this information can be found on the USCCB website, in the January 1998 BCL Newsletter and in February 1987 edition of the BCL Newsletter.

    How should this be addressed?

    [What does it really say? Something was “proposed”. A body which in itself has no authority in this matter gave it “support”. It was not approved by the Holy See. As a matter of fact the Holy See issued subsequent clarifications against what was proposed. It issued a new edition of the Missal which clearly repeats what must be done.]

  11. Matt says:

    Another question should be: “How many diocese will offer a parish for the triduum to be celebrated according to the 1962 books?” [No… actually not. Not under this entry, because that it not the topic. So… I did some editing here… o{]:¬) ]

  12. Mitchell says:

    Not Even Rome madates Say the Black Do the Red when it allows for pastoral decisions contrary to “The Red”..That is why lay people are so used to getting their way in everything. When their personal agendas come first before the good of the Church and Tradition we get the abuses in the NO. It has just gotten out of control. I never saw the Washing of the feet on women but reading this saddens me. Maybe men should wear the mantilla now in order to be equals and no woman should look at it strange or question their masculinity, not even in their minds..Is that possible? I think all the pastoral decisions, being left to the local ordinaries is simply a Pandora’s box.

  13. memoriadei says:

    Monasteries — Does this hold true of cloistered women monasteries? Or for that matter, any women religious? They can’t do the feet washing by the mother superior or abbess? [Remember that the Mandatum is an option, not obligatory. What Mother Abbess decides to do with her community, apart from Mass, isn’t a liturgical matter. But I don’t believe the sisters have separate rubrics.]

  14. I am not Spartacus says:

    Bishop O’Malley not only caved in to washing women’s feet, he also apologised for saying feminism was a negative fact of reality.

    Now, who remembers Martha Burk and her attempt to try and force the all male member Augusta National Golf Course to accept women as members? The Media was all over Hootie Johnson calling him a neanderthal, a woman-hater etc etc and the media was totally in support of the feminist, Martha Burk. Even Tiger Woods averred he opposed the male only membership.

    Hootie said the policy would change over his dead body.

    End of story. Period.

    Boston needs a Bishop Hootie. He’d stand-up to the feminists and if they didn’t like it, they could find plenty of Piskie Churches where they could clomp around the Sanctuary. [I can hear the Bull being read out in some cathedral during the installation: … hisce ergo praesentibus episcopum Nigroanatrensem dilectum Filium nostrum HOOTIUM solemniter nomino et confirmo… ]

    I am SO sick of the timidity, temporising, and tail-tucking of our Prelates. IF y’all want men to come back to the Catholic Church FIRST, ACT LIKE MEN

  15. Ken says:

    Father Z wrote: “Remember that the Mandatum is an option”

    Most Catholic theology departments took that directive to also apply to the fidelity mandatum as well. Whatever happened to that one?

  16. Jordanes says:

    Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston sought clarification from Rome over whether women could be included in the washing of feet on Holy Thursday. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments “affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual” but provided for “the archbishop to make a pastoral decision concerning his practice of the rite if such a decision would be helpful to the faithful of the archdiocese”

    Has anybody actually seen this alleged response from the CDW allegedly giving Archbishop Sean O’Malley the alleged authority to alter the Church’s univeral law?

  17. James says:

    Can one use the term Redemptionis Sacramentum and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the same sentence ?

  18. Jayna says:

    I brought this up in my parish last year (I think there might have been one or two men in the group of those whose feet were washed, it was more kids than anything else), and was told, as has been mentioned in other comments, that the archbishop said they could do it. (The archbishop also said we’re supposed to have a crucifix in the sanctuary, but I don’t see them jumping on that one.)

    How can a pastoral decision ever be to the benefit of the faithful if it contradicts the law?

  19. Kevin says:

    Thank you for posting this, Father. Our diocese had recently sent out the monthly LiturgyNotes which asserted washing the feet of women was permitted. I summarized your post and included its URL in an email to our Directory of Liturgy for the diocese. It’s a first step.

  20. Liam says:


    To answer your question: Yes. Roman legal culture, unlike that of the Anglosphere, does not assume complete correlation between the ideals of the law and what is ideal pastorally – Roman practice in fact assumes some divergence. Americans, due to our culture and history, tend to be much more distrustful than Romans of situations where the law says X but people don’t necessarily do X. Americans tend to want to either insist that one only does X or, if not, that the not-X becomes a new norm. Romans would resist the new norm bit, and simply be more comfortable with ideal and reality being less than completely congruent from time to time.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    Our pastor does not wash feet on Holy Thursday…I believe (because he is a man of large physical stature) his back cannot handle the bending. As orthodox as he is and if he were able, I am certain only men would be involved in the foot washing.

    (We’ve had everybody and his granny get their feet washed in the years pre our current pastor, however.)

  22. Anna Jean says:

    I participated in this footwashing performance only once because the priest insisted and because he was very dear to me. It was the most humiliating, and other than the time I did the Communion-in-the-paw thing at the insistance of another priest, the most shameful thing I have ever done inside a consecrated area. Why would I, a married woman (not virginal, as opposed to consecrated virgin nuns who act as sacristans, in other words) want to be standing and sitting within the holiest area of the church? Why would I, a lady, want any man let alone her priest to touch her bare feet?! Why was I being asked to exit the depths of my usual Catholic awareness and meditation of Holy Thursday to surface swim in some banal and typically Protestant activity?

    In that moment I literally understood the word “disgraceful”. Never again.

  23. Sam Schmitt says:

    At a parish near me the washing of the feet is replaced by the “washing of the hands” on Holy Thursday. I guess it didn’t occur to them that this practice has less than holy associations around Good Friday.

  24. paul says:

    I don’t think the ordinary of Boston should be treated too harshly- he is doing what he thinks is correct and he did get the okay from Rome. I put the comment down that I didn’t agree with it- I still feel that way. When the Bishops decide how they are going to handle the feet washing ceremony this year I hope that they would be very simple if the media request why they don’t wash women’s feet. “The reason for washing men’s feet is that is the liturgical law of the Church, it was what our Lord Jesus Christ did and I as ordinary will follow the custom of the Roman rite. Now, you want me to disobey Rome and the expample of Jesus??”

  25. Maynardus says:

    I tried taking-on this issue in a letter to the editor of our diocesan weekly last year:

    They saw fit to publish two letters in subsequent weeks commenting on mine:

    This is what we’re up against: “don’t criticize me, you’re hurting my feelings” and “it can’t be wrong because it makes me feel good”!

    I think it’s fair to say that we aren’t even speaking the same language as these folks!

  26. Maynardus: Excellent examples. I am tempted to tease them out and post them in a separate entry.

  27. Franzjosf says:

    Is that the official translation?

    “…let everyone do all that is in their power…”

    Error in number:

    everyone = singular
    their = plural

    it should be

    let everyone do all that is in his power


    let people do all that is in their power

    These days it wouldn’t surprise me if that error is on purpose because of ‘inclusive’ issues or ‘gender’ fairness or some other nonsense.

  28. Cathguy says:

    There is, in addition to all the theological points, and the fact that Rome has spoken, another practical dimension to this.

    Are we really going to have women in high heels and knee length (or God forbid shorter) skirts sitting elevated up the sanctuary while Fr. bends down in front of them to wash their feet? It is just unseemly. And, unfortunately, given the way many if not most these days dress, most distracting. Even a lib. can see that the above scenario is inappropriate.

  29. Lynne says:

    Jordanes –

    “Has anybody actually seen this alleged response from the CDW allegedly giving Archbishop Sean O’Malley the alleged authority to alter the Church’s univeral law?”

    In a word, no.

    The first year he was here, he only washed men’s feet…

  30. Liam says:

    And, after the complaints in that year (2004), he undertook to communicate further with the CDW on the matter, and procured the response in time for 2005.

    It would be unwise to think Cardinal Sean is either lying or misrepresenting what the CDW told him, and this has been exceedingly well-trod ground for a few years now so I don’t think a demand to him to produce the evidence is going to make the demander look very good in the end, but will instead make him or her look like a conspiracy crank.

  31. jwsrjwsr says:

    There will be BOTH NO/OF AND TLM/EF Masses at Cd. O’Malley’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, this year. Don’t know if the Cd will exercise the “pastoral provision” for the N.O. (for which he is Celebrant), but the EF/TLM will be strictly “vir”. Just to remove any confusion.

    and PS – Both EF and OF on Good Friday as well (only one Vigil Mass – Upper Church, and it usually gets 1500 people – two Masses seemed impractical)

  32. Irenaeus says:

    ‘According to the Missale Romanum (teria editio typica 2002), Feria V in Cena Domini, Ad Missam vespertinam, no. 11, the washing of feet is reserved to “chosen men” (viri selecti), that is male persons.’

    What is the theological rationale here? I suggested to my wife that it’s about the priesthood, and that involving women subverts the idea of the male priesthood. My wife asked, OK, why can it be non-ordained men, then, but not women, if it’s about the priesthood?

  33. Anthony says:

    The Pope can’t help. There are no real consequences, and these liberal bishops know it and can do whatever they want. Don’t like it? too bad.

    raise better children who want to be priests and bishops, that is where real change will come from.

  34. sarah says:

    I see the pharasees are alive and well! I wonder how Christ would be react to all this!

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