Levity in preparation for a Holy Thursday liturgical abuse many of you will endure

From the official WDTPRS parodohymnologist, Tim Ferguson, comes insightful gloss prepared a couple years ago about  the liturgical abuse so many people see on Holy Thursday.

A Holy Thursday Reflection on “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” by Lew Brown, Sam Stept and Charles Tobias.
(Imagine Ray Eberle and the Modernaires singing this…)

Don’t go washing those women’s feet; the Latin is plain to me:
“selecti” should be “viri.” The rubrics are clear you see. No, no, no,
Don’t go washing those women’s feet at Thursday night’s liturgy,
Thus says the Pope of Rome.

Don’t go altering rubrics now, no matter who you may be,
Or where you got your degree in Scripture and Liturgy. No, no, no,
Don’t go altering rubrics now, this calls for humility:
You’re not the Pope of Rome. 

I just got word that Ranjith has heard,
‘n put the Vicar in a jam,
Seems some priest here, washing feet last year,
Scrubbed a nylon-covered gam.
So, don’t go washing those women’s feet at Thursday night’s liturgy,
Or feel the wrath of Rome.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. revs96 says:

    I think we need a recording with the melody

  2. Gwen says:

    This will be my first Holy Thursday Mass. I’ll be baptized and confirmed on Easter Vigil. Our pastor told us in our final RCIA class that he’ll pick half women and half men to wash feet, and all from the group of catechumens/candidates. He knows me well and I’m positive he’ll pick me. Watching this abuse would be bad enough, but I’m not going to participate. So I’m going to Holy Thursday Mass elsewhere and avoid the scene and embarrassment.

    A friend tells me that I should have humility and obey the pastor. I think the right thing to do is obey Rome.

    Any guidance or thoughts for a rookie Catholic-to-be appreciated!

  3. EnoughRope says:

    All jokes aside, can someone seriously explain this to me. I’ve seen womenfolk’s feet washed before (as I have seen children’s feet), but I never took it to be Liturgical Abuse (though it may have been). Can I have a serious source that says why this can (should) not be done.

  4. Carolina Geo says:

    “Or feel the wrath of Rome.”

    This was the funniest line in the parody! Because in all seriousness, Rome has no wrath anymore, and hasn’t for 40+ years.

  5. Allan S. says:

    From my inbox:

    “Dear all,

    I did not expect to be writing you all again so soon. We’ve just been
    asked to do the “washing of hands” for Holy Thursday! As you well know,
    the washing of hands is how our parish choose to symbolize service to
    one another (a brilliant modern and western alternative to the “washing
    of the feet”). Each year a different group in the parish involved in
    service is asked to carry out this symbolic gesture. This year it is
    our turn!

    [Personal info deleted]

    Comments most welcomed.

    It’s really great that the parish has decided to recognize the service
    that our group has rendered.

    Hope to hear from you soon. Peace,”

    If I figure out how to charitably articulate why the actual rubrics should be followed and decades of contrary experience tossed out, I’ll do it.

    I’m just not feeling particularly articulate right now, and the author of the letter is a wonderful, kind, decent person. Not sure if this is a hill worth dying on or not….

  6. irishgirl says:

    Well, when I was in my ‘NO’ days, before going back to the EF Mass for good, I had participated in at least a couple of Holy Thursday foot washings.

    But I didn’t act in any sort of brash and ‘feminazi’ way. I was very humbled by it.

    Though it was kind of funny trying to find a ‘graceful’ way to remove a knee-high stocking!

    I know better now…[bows head]…

    Funny parody there, Fr. Z…I’m with rev96 on this one. This really needs a recording! I vaguely remember the original tune; it was popular a few years before I was born!

  7. revs96 says:

    the washing of the feet is a calls to mind the washing of the feet of the 12 Apostles at the Last Supper. Now, since Christ is a man, only men can act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ”), so therefore all 12 Apostles were men and thus the 12 men getting their feet washed on Holy Thursday, must in fact actually be male.

  8. revs96 says:

    The washing of the feet calls to mind the washing of the feet of the 12 Apostles at the Last Supper. Now, since Christ is a man, only men can act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ”), so therefore all 12 Apostles were men and thus the 12 men getting their feet washed on Holy Thursday, must in fact actually be male.

  9. revs96 says:

    Sorry about the double post above. I just remembered that the Pope washes the feet of 12 priests, which is the most fitting celebration that anyone could have, since clergy continue the work of the Apostles (and therefore must also be men).

  10. Sieber says:

    An Andrews Sisters CD should be a required part of learning American culture. “You vex me mon, you vex me.” (Rum and Coca Cola)

  11. pberginjr says:

    RE: EnoughRope

    The rubric for Holy Thursday’s washing of the feet specifies that those being washed should be men:

    The Latin in the rubrics:

    “viri selecti” [as in verse 1] translates to “the chosen men” Vir can not in any of its forms refer to anyone of the female sex. Furthermore, vir has a bit of a connotation of “manly man” at least in classical Latin (i.e. generals, heads of state, senators, but not boys, adolescents, slaves, etc.).

    This was mistranslated by ICEL as “Those who have been chosen” leaving out the particular gender of the noun in question, as many ICEL texts have done. A closer translation from the Vatican document is this:

    Paschale Solemnitatis paragraph 51:
    51. The washing of the feet of chosen men 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.” [58] This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained.

    A helpful article is available from Adoremus:

  12. Bryan says:

    Oh, we will have the usually diverse, cultural, and inclusive selection of men, women, girls, boys, and religious brother and sister up on the altar to get their feet washed.

    Can’t leave anyone out, you know. Rules? We don’t need no steenking rules. There will be 12, though.

    Remember, it’s all about US in the USCCB’s realm. Not the true symbolism. Just faux sentimentality and making sure everyone feels included.

  13. TNCath says:

    Thank God we omit the entire ceremony; otherwise we too would commit the abuse.

  14. T. Ferguson does it again! ROFL!
    You gots to laugh; if you don’t, you get really angry or depressed. That emotion has to go somewhere!

  15. CarpeNoctem says:

    Does anyone know how the rubric is rendered in the new translation of the missal?

  16. Ferde Rombola says:

    Oh, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. In a parish I USED TO belong to, two chairs were set up in front of the sanctuary. The pastor would wash the feet of two people, then sit down. The two washees would put their sock and shoe on, rise, then THEY would wash the feet of the next two. That went on for as long as people showed up to get a foot washed. It was frightening.

    As I noted, we don’t go there any more.

  17. EXCHIEF says:

    Ours is a small, rural, mission Church. At the end of our one Sunday Mass yesterday our Pastor discussed the Holy Week schedule. His words: “to have the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday we must have 12 men, no women and no children, or we will not have the washing of the feet at all”. Quite a departure from the “aren’t we just one big happy family” hippie past Pastor. The gasp was audible but one of the long time parishioners said “we’ll have a dozen men Father”. One brick at a time.

  18. gloriainexcelsis says:

    At St. Stephen’s Sacramento the twelve young men are all altar servers. Thank the Lord for all our blessings.

  19. revs96 says:

    Me again, I just remembered I’m getting my foot washed at my parent’s parish. They always have 10-11 adult men and 1-2 teenage boys. I guess under the idea that St. John was young. It’s a modernist parish, but this is one of the things they get right.

  20. EXCHIEF: Great news! God bless your pastor!

  21. Henry Edwards says:

    No problem at fine old Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Knoxville (TN):

    12 men (only) will have their feet washed on Holy Thursday.
    14 women (only) will read at Stations of the Cross on Holy Friday.

    Perfect solution?

  22. Brian Day says:

    I think we need a recording with the melody
    Comment by revs96

    Perhaps “Zuhlio” will grace us with a recorded version soon. :-)

  23. revs96 says:

    “12 men (only) will have their feet washed on Holy Thursday.
    14 women (only) will read at Stations of the Cross on Holy Friday.

    Perfect solution?”
    Comment by Henry Edwards

    If it is not perfect, it is not too far off. A good way to make peace.

  24. Nathan says:

    A former pastor (and outstanding confessor) made the change back to “viri” by washing the feet of the Altar Boys at Holy Thursday. He made a compelling case that, as Christ washed the feet of those whom he was about to ordain to the priesthood, so should he wash the feet of those that the parish was grooming for Holy Orders.

    In Christ,

  25. MikeM says:

    I’ve never personally thought that the symbolism of their being men was of much use, since Jesus was washing the Apostles feet telling them that they should similarly serve others (and I don’t think their service as supposed to be confined to any particular groups). But, as I’m not the Pope, or even a liturgy expert, my opinion doesn’t really matter, and I’m no latin PhD, but shortly into my first latin class in 7th grade I knew that viri unambiguously referred to men, so I wish our priests would follow the instructions instead of tinkering with the symbolism themselves.

  26. capchoirgirl says:

    This is my first Holy Week at my new parish.
    The new parish has ONLY altar boys and male lectors.
    I am hoping the Washing of the Feet is the same way–if it even occurs. We’ve got a (still functioning!) communion rail, so I don’t know where they’d put the chairs…)

  27. my kidz mom says:

    There are always women’s feet being washed at my former parish, Saint ItsAllAboutUs. From the bulletin: “…on Holy Thursday, we remember that Jesus’ life was a life of service to others. We call forth members of the community who have been servants to others, either through volunteering in the church, or doing outreach ministries like caring for the poor, or being a community servant, like a fire fighter or police officer. We call them by name, as Jesus did earlier to his disciples, and Father bends down to wash their feet. He then recalls to them the words of Jesus, “as I have done, so you must do” and sends them to wash the feet of someone else.”

  28. joan ellen says:

    I am most grateful to the priests who are able to choose 12 men for foot washings. As for 14 women for the Stations…I only remember (in the 50s and 60s)Fr. leading the Stations and that they were a most Holy Stations of The Cross. Is it a novelty having others besides Fr. doing the stations or was this done in the past? Do we know of any women saints who led the Stations?

  29. pyrosapien says:

    My parish uses only males. They are selected from amongst the older Altar Boys (yes boys… you have to be a male to be an Altar Boy at my parish).
    Brick by Brick…

  30. pyrosapien says:

    BTW… Older Altar Boys at my parish includes mostly 12th and 11th graders and some college age young men. All told we have apporximately 80-100 Altar Boys. Makes for great paint ball excursions…

  31. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    A good friend of mine is being received into the Catholic Church in a few days, and he told me he’s having his feet washed Holy Thursday, as is the rest of the RCIA class, and that everyone else is having their hands washed.

    Isn’t that so nice? Everyone gets to participate. What a treat for my friend.

    I’m sorry to be sarcastic. It’s just that I’m tired, so tired, of very significant rituals getting trivialized so that “everyone can have a part.” After about 5 minutes of the ritual, the ritual loses its meaning. It also unneccesarily drags things out.

  32. Dr. Eric says:

    Our priest is continuing his actions of including the grade school children and has asked for the First Communicants to sit in place of The Twelve. I assume they will also mumble through the readings as well on Thursday.

  33. Jayna says:

    My home parish washes the feet of 12 people, but it can be men, women, boys, or girls. After all, we’re all about gender equality and women would feel slighted if our priests didn’t wash their feet. *rolls eyes*

    I will be going to a different church for the Mass this year and I really don’t know what they’ll do. I’ve been going there for Sunday Masses for nearly a year now and they are definitely more orthodox than my home parish, but I’m not sure they are far enough along to use only men.

  34. catholicmidwest says:

    Ah, yes. The annual toe-jam follies. I usually skip this mass because seeing a half dozen female crotches lined up in a row is not my cup of tea. Stick your foot out madam, eeek, that’s what happens. If women absolutely have to do this, the least they can do is wear pants, but no.

    Easter is a bit of a minefield. This is the run up for the dripping wet t-shirt immersion baptism on Saturday night, complete with barefoot padding around as everyone hopes they don’t fall on their a….xcuse me because the floor is slippery around the kiddie pool.

    I am very careful what I walk into, let’s put it that way.

  35. Dave N. says:

    Enough rope:

    For loophole the US Bishops created that’s big enough for your Pastor and/or “liturgy director” to drive a Mac truck through see paragraph 4:


  36. catholicmidwest says:

    “…As you well know,the washing of hands is how our parish choose to symbolize service to one another…”

    Oh I do hope they use that obnoxious ethanol jelly stuff, or better yet FOAM–yeah FOAM–so they have a reason to use towels, right?

  37. catholicmidwest says:

    I wish I knew where there was a mass that they just didn’t bother with this little skit. Honestly, I am intelligent enough to imagine the apostles getting their feet washed without a yearly reenactment. It has come to mean rather little to me because of the trauma.

    It’s right up there with hand-grabbing, hand-waving and hand-shaking in my book. I long to be one of those people who have the nerve to glare and say, “I don’t do that $..T. I may make it into that club yet.

  38. RichardR says:

    If “catholicmidwest” is worrried about “seeing a half dozen female crotches lined up in a row”, should he/she (forgive the gender inclusive language but I don’t know “catholicmidwest”‘s gender or sexual orientation) be just as worried about a Catholic priest looking at the crotches of males? Unless, of course, his parish is not American, Canadian, Irish or German.

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    Thanks Richard, for your irrelevant comment. If the guys aren’t wearing skirts, I couldn’t possibly care less. Maybe you’d have a point if this was Scotland, eh??? Well, it ain’t.

  40. Dave N. says:

    And it seems we have Cdl’s Law and O’Malley for obtaining this special exemption. Hmmm…Boston….


  41. chironomo says:

    Washing Hands???

    Isn’t that from a later part of the Passion, and isn’t it Pontius Pilate who does that? Perhaps we could just have one specific heretic go up and wash his hands and then leave….and then maybe the pastor could ask…”Anyone else?”

  42. My opinion: just dispense with this “washing of whatever”…get on with the Holy Mass.
    But of course, what do I know?
    I’m just an idiotic monastic priest who isn’t “in touch” with the “zeitgeist”…of which I am very, very grateful.
    To all of you who have to either witness or abstain from said Holy Thursday Masses: I will pray for you, not much consolation, I guess, but maybe, just maybe by the time we’re all dead (I just hit 50 yrs) this whole mess will be resolved. The Church is an old Lady…she isn’t going anywhere soon…until Jesus comes…but, then again…that may not be too far off with all we’re seEing going on. With that happy thought, I’ll sign off:<)!

  43. mfg says:

    I am now a member of a parish which honors tradition. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. But unfortunately I have memories. At my last parish (I was there 12 years), 12 years ago the pastor added 1 woman into the mix, therefore 11 men, 1 woman; the next year he added 2 women, the next 3, and so on until the last year I was there he ended up with all 12 being women–which is where he wanted to go all along I guess. Besides being a liturgical offputter, it was hard on the eyes as a couple women wore skirts and knee-high hose off, then on, then off. But that was a hallmark of my former parish, the Blessed Sacrament in a separate room, etc. My present parish uses only men. I think as one or more commentators noted, if you don’t use men only, it’s better to skip it entirely.

  44. Charivari Rob says:

    Dave N. – “And it seems we have Cdl’s Law and O’Malley for obtaining this special exemption. Hmmm…Boston….”

    Law and O’Malley obtained a “special exemption”? How do you figure that?

    This was after Cardinal Law’s time. As for Archbishop (now Cardinal) O’Malley… His previous practice had been, “No.” Nobody other than men. As a courtesy to those questioning that practice, he consulted the CDW. The CDW, not the USCCB statement. Instead of a “No.” or a “Yes.”, he got a “No. However…”

  45. JSBSJ says:

    I walked into a parish this year that intended to have multiple foot-washing stations (5) and an option to have your hands washed if you didn’t want your feet. I consider it a victory to get it down to me washing twelve pair of feet – sed non viri sunt.

  46. cdruiz says:

    Here is the tune… you have to listen for a while before you get to the part that “matches” up.


  47. Magpie says:

    We have men and women for the foot-washing every year.

  48. I’ve pubished this piece twice on a Holy Thursday. The second time was a revision. I expect this year’s edition to include a bit more, perhaps with some insights from the 1955 Holy Week reforms.


  49. catholicmidwest says:

    “Washing Hands??? Isn’t that from a later part of the Passion, and isn’t it Pontius Pilate who does that? Perhaps we could just have one specific heretic go up and wash his hands and then leave…”

    The liturgist perhaps (or whoever’s responsible for the muzak) ????

  50. Dave N. says:

    @ Charivari Rob,

    Well, according to the article, Cdl. Law had established the practice of washing the feet of women and then O’Malley came along and actually tried to follow the rubric. (How dare he.) Hue and cry ensues from Voice of the Faithful et al. So (this is from 2005):

    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.”

    O’Malley went back to washing women’s feet. Many others interpret this as, “you can do whatever you want.”

  51. catholicmidwest says:

    It *is* “you can do whatever you want.” That’s been the problem for years.

Comments are closed.