In justice to Card. O’Malley of Boston on the foot-washing issue

I received this from a reader:

I thought I’d bring to your attention yesterday’s post on [Boston’s Archbishop] Cardinal O’Malley’s blog.
It seems every Holy Week the issue of the washing of women’s feet comes up and the Cardinal is ALWAYS brought up in this connection.  He used to wash only the feet of men, in Boston people complained, he asked Rome, and Rome gave him permission for pastoral reasons to wash the feet of women, too.
He frequently is criticized by my fellow wdtprs-readers.  Well, in fairness to the Cardinal, these people could be made aware that this year Cardinal Sean washed the feet of 12 priests "following the example of the Holy Father." [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
I thought since this is a yearly topic of conversation, you might like to mention this on the blog.  (Also further down the post His Eminence provides links to a special novena from the Knights of Columbus to start on Divine Mercy Sunday for the Holy Father in these difficult times.)

Good for Card. O’Malley!  Kudos!

Popes have been setting a good example in this regard for a long while now, as do the rubrics.

I hope that the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston will now adhere to their Archbishop’s example.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Alas, I fear this is not going to go over well with those vociferous viragos demanding ordination. This is a severe setback. Not only will their hands not be consecrated, their feet will no longer be washed. Such pedilavial prejudice! What are they, second-class feet?

    Hopefully now O’Malley will re-install the altar rails and kick out the sweaty herds of lay ministers milling about the sanctuary and profaning the sacred vessels.

    Since Cardinal Seán admirably follows Pope Joseph’s example, perhaps His Holiness might start the practice of frequent and public “extraordinary form” Masses. O’Malley just needs a good coach..

  2. Elly says:

    I’ve been waiting for a chance to ask this question and I thought this post might be an appropriate time.

    I used to think that Jesus’ instructions on Holy Thursday were general instructions to all Christians- to serve one another. But now I’m wondering if they were directed only towards priests- to wash people of their sins, especially through baptism and confession. Otherwise, I can’t think of a reason why it would be more appropriate to wash the feet of priests than other men.

    Any insights? [We have actually dealt with that in several other entries. I really wanted to get this out there out of fairness to Card. O’Malley.]


  3. FrCharles says:

    That’s my confrere and ordaining bishop! Love it.

  4. cmm says:

    Very appropriate for this year (and for the Boston archdiocese) since so many of our priests are so dirty and severely in need of being cleansed by having their feet washed. Good for Cardinal O’Malley!

  5. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Very appropriate for this year (and for the Boston archdiocese) since so many of our priests are so dirty and severely in need of being cleansed by having their feet washed.

    Borrowing from John 13: 9, “”not just [their] feet but [their] hands and [their] head as well!” .

    Significantly, those words were spoken by Peter hours before his betrayal.

  6. aandreassi says:

    To not wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday would be most inappropriate and a very bad sign. I am glad that practically every parish I have been associated with has had the good sense to do this inclusive sign.

  7. j says:

    To Roland;
    The Priest to the right of the above photo is Fr Joseph Baggetta, who Celebrated the regular 11:00 am Easter Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Cathedral 3 days later. While this O.F. Mass was going on, an E.F. Mass Celebrated by Fr Jason Worthley was being Celebrated (with Mandatum, only “viri”) downstairs.
    …the Chapel where Altar Rails were reinstalled by the Rector, Fr Kevin O’Leary, with Cd. Sean’s blessing, last year.

  8. prsuth33 says:

    This is good news. May I report that His Excellency, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, from the Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese also washed the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper–the feet of twelve seminarians from the diocese. This is a break from Bishop D’Arcy, who allowed women to have their feet washed in past years.

  9. Roland de Chanson says:


    Cardinal O’Malley (let’s drop this palsy-walsy Cardinal Seán stuff) is good man. He just sees things upside down a bit. The Missa Vera (i.e. “EF”) should be upstairs where the altar rails are not yet, and the novus ordo botch in the cellar.

    Come to think of it, he could even raid Heilige Dreifaltigkeit for some altar rail pieces, now that that venerable old German church has been “suppressed.” Mmm… I wonder if der Heilige Vater knows that Boston’s German church was closed down.

    Wo ist der Schnee der vorigen Jahren? (Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?)

  10. Susan the Short says:

    Dear aandreassi……
    Let’s slay the ‘inclusivity’ dragon once and for all, shall we?

    Women are not excluded when traditional rites and traditional language is used.

    We are different from men, neither better nor worse than men, just different.

    I, too, have been in parishes where women’s feet were washed (mine as well!) and usually those parishes suffered from other forms of rebellion and dissent.

    Let it go and be at peace. Ruffling your feathers helps nothing at all.

  11. benyanke says:

    Awesome! Bishop Morlino I’m sure would love to do this, if he could find 12 free priests that night. He always folows the pope to the smallest degree.

    By the way, aandreassi, what are you talking about? By doing what the church asks us to do is “a very bad sign”?!?

    (Can someone help me with documents here? I know it’s in there, I just don’t know where.)

  12. AS to Cardinal Sean setting an example, I rather doubt that any of our pastors are going to have 12 priests, or even 12 clergymen of any rank, whose feet could be washed. Of course, if the minor orders hadn’t been abolished, then we might well have a fair array of clerics in most parishes to take the place of the apostles.

    This inclusion of the mandatum within the Mass of Holy Thursday really has to be one of the biggest clunkers of the liturgical reform by Msgr. Bugnini. The mandatum was practiced from the beginning in church, but not within Mass (see the reference in the Catholic Encyclopedia). It has, for the last two decades, been a source of contention on a day when we should celebrate unity and charity. Rather clever of the enemy to make a gesture of humility into a cause of contention.

    Roland, do keep in mind that Cardinal Sean is a a religious. The custom in English-speaking countries has long been to address seculars as “Fr. Smith” and religious as “Fr. Bob”. If you wanted to get really traditional (say 18th century), we should use “Father” only for religious and go back to calling secular clergy “Mister”. We could even go back to pre-Henrician times and refer to the seculars as “Sir Robert”;)

    As for the Cathedral in Boston, the upstairs would need considerable renovation to use the high altar. While not immediately obvious from the nave, there are no steps to ascend, so we’d need someone like St. John of Capistrano to get a celebrant at the high altar. The lower church’s chapel is quite nice since the renovations carried out under the rector Fr. O’Leary.

  13. benyanke says:

    By the way, in my old parish, they washed EVERYONE’s feet, and it was a mess. So was the rest of the parish. 2 words. Mar-ty Hau-gen. ‘Nuf said. (By the way, he’s not even catholic). I think a parish’s foot washing can tell a lot about a parish.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    Steve Cavanaugh: AS to Cardinal Sean setting an example, I rather doubt that any of our pastors are going to have 12 priests, or even 12 clergymen of any rank, whose feet could be washed.

    Wouldn’t the analogy in an ordinary parish be for the pastor to wash the feet of 12 altarboys (since they substitute for minor clerics in the sanctuary and are potentially clerics)? Seems like the obvious solution, if you insist on a clerical connection.

  15. Roland de Chanson says:


    You’re quite right about the forms of apostrophe. But “Cardinal Seán” still sticks in my craw. I went to school with a multitude of Seáns and they were almost always called “Jack” like their Anglosaxon nuncupated confrères, “John”. There was one other “frog” in the class whose name was “Jacques” and he was also “Jack” not “Jim”. Go figure.

    Re the renovations to Holy Cross Cathedral: so renovate already! It took so little time to desecrate, let the reconsecration begin. Wasn’t it some Franciscan to whom the Risen Lord appeared and commanded, “va, ripara la mia casa che, come vedi, è tutta in rovina”.

    What more ruin than the novus ordo is there?

  16. Elly says:

    Ok Father Z, I am sorry. I hope I haven’t annoyed you too much. Maybe I’ll ask next year if I don’t see the answer in previous entries. It’s something I’ve been wondering about since Holy Thursday.


  17. Charivari Rob says:

    Steve, thank you for pointing out the matter of the high altar and steps. I had never noticed that in previous visits, and accessed a few quick photos from the internet, which unfortunately don’t show the area clearly. I’ll try to remember to look carefully the next time I visit.

    Speaking frankly, that cathedral was a dump just 9 or 10 years ago. They’ve made enormous progress since then, even before the considerable accomplishments of the current rector.

  18. Serviam1 says:

    Re: The suppression of Holy Trinity Parish, Boston
    A decree of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, dated 13 November 20009, DID suppress Holy Trinity PARISH. However, the decree noted that the definitive closure of the church – its relegation to profane use – was not decreed and could still be appealed.

    Holy Trinity’s former parishioners will appeal its relegation to profane use (I suppose that this is “deconsecration” in popular parlance). Holy Trinity’s vestments and Ecclesia Dei red missals are in use at the Cathedral, but no permanent fixtures (eg, stained glass windows) have been removed. (The altar stone of the high altar has been removed and put into storage.)

    The South Cove Manor nursing home next door (to the north) wants to purchase Holy Trinity, tear it down, and build a 140 bed addition to their facility. (This is a matter of public record.) They may already have made an offer on the property. Please pray that Holy Trinity can reopen and always be a place of Catholic worship.

  19. Serviam1 says:

    PS Obviously the “star date” of 20009 is a typo; the decree was promulgated last year (2009).

  20. kellym says:

    Poor Card. O’Malley – talk about being stuck between the upper and nether millstones. The Boston Archdiocese is always in such a ruckus over something. He never seems to be able to get a break.

    @ Susan the Short – I agree with you whole heartedly. Funny, how this whole ‘offended on behalf of the offended’ has cropped up. I for one have never felt slighted because my feet weren’t washed.

    If folks here don’t mind – 15 April is the 11th anniversary of the death of a wonderful priest in the Boston Archdiocese – Fr. Gerry Bucke. He was the glue that held so much of the West End together and St. Joe’s was my spiritual home for many years – please keep him in your prayers. I miss him terribly.

  21. mfg says:

    I have changed my parish for no other reason than that the pastor washed the feet of humans other than men.

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