The Tablet inserts another extremist into the “foot washing” debate!

The Tablet (aka The Bitter Pill) has printed a piece about the washing of women’s feet during the Holy Thursday Mass.

Let’s see what this extremist has to say, with my emphases and comments.

Priests should not wash women’s feet, says liturgist

PARISH PRIESTS in England and Wales should not follow the example of Pope Francis by washing women’s feet, according to the liturgy secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.  [WOAH!  Wait!  What a fanatic!]

During the first Holy Week of his papacy, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women on Maundy Thursday at the Casa del Marmo prison for young offenders in Rome.

Fr Paul Gunter, secretary of the Department for Christian Life and Worship, told The Tablet that Pope Francis had legitimately dispensed himself from liturgical norms but that his was a unique pastoral context. In parish churches, Fr Paul said that the washing of the feet is meant to be an imitation of the Last Supper and is “intrinsically attached” to the institution of the priesthood.  [Poor poor Father… doesn’t he understand that it’s really all about making people feel good about themselves… and keeping feminists happy?  He’s just trying to turn the clock back!]

Other liturgical experts have also pointed out that liturgical rubrics specify that only men should have their feet washed on the grounds that the washing of the feet is supposed to imitate Jesus’ washing the feet of the male Apostles.  [Not only sexist, but also species-ist!  People should be able to bring their female pets to church to have the hooves and paws washed, or in the case of the leg-challenged, their long pale underbellies.]

Fr Paul, a Benedictine monk who is a professor at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’ Anselmo, Rome, said: “The purpose of the indications for the Washing of the Feet, as given in the Missal, is not to be meanspirited or petty [You know those conservatives.  When they day it isn’t about being meanspirited and petty, it’s about being meanspirited and petty.] but to present the rite as the mimesis [imitation] it is,” he said. “Jesus performed the Washing of the Feet when he gave his mandatum to the 12 Apostles. [But the church has move beyond Jesus and those male apostles. We are now free of those hidebound, time-bound, cultural paradigms of patriarchal oppression.] Since the occasion was intrinsically attached to the institution of the priesthood, the gesture was not incomplete because of its not being extended to women.”  [Vatican II changed all that.  Listen to the Voz del Pueblo!]

Fr Paul also stressed that papal liturgy should not be seen as the exemplar for other liturgies. “It is precisely because the papal liturgy is a distinct reality in itself, that local churches can neither call on its precedent to dispense themselves from norms that apply to the whole Church, nor change, of their own accord, the approved rites and prayers that define and steer the liturgical celebration itself,” Fr Paul said.  [See all that white male oppressive legalism?  It must be a manifestation of inner insecurities and fears.]

“While it is known that there exist, in some parts of the Church, those who extend the rite of the mandatum to women, contrary to the liturgical norms contained in the liturgical books, and that there are those who also celebrate other rites according to their personal preferences; such indications, nonetheless, pertain to different conversations about ecclesiological perspectives regarding the magisterial authority attached to authorised liturgical books.”  [They sure do!  Since 13 March we are now free of those old oppressive ways.  We are an Easter Pueblo!]

Sounds like “Say The Black – Do The Red” to me.

And on that note… you can buy some stuff!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The parish where I go to mass most often now (I find myself all over the place these days) washed the feet of twelve altar servers. They do very well with their altar serving program, which is all-male, ranked, and very large (I see ten to fifteen every Sunday, and that’s just one Mass). And the priest directly linked the act to the priesthood by saying that the washing of the feet was meant to help them consider their possible vocations to the priesthood. I thought it was a good solution, because its harder for liberals to complain about children, though they can complain about the lack of female altar servers.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Required meatless Fridays, a few restored holy days of obligation, and now this? God bless the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales! USCCB: Take note! Please!!!

  3. kiwitrad says:

    Here in NZ there have always plenty of women having their feet washed. In fact about 3 years ago it was ALL women and the Bishop was doing the washing! I didn’t know it was wrong until all this about the Pope blew up. One lives and learns.

  4. Tonia says:

    At my London parish the priest washed the feet of 3 men, 3 women, 3 boys and 3 girls. Here in Sydney the priests wash the feet of people who play a role in the parish (both men and women). I must admit I didn’t know it was meant to be men.

  5. “Not only sexist, but also species-ist! People should be able to bring their female pets to church to have the hooves and paws washed, or in the case of the leg-challenged, their long pale underbellies.”

    All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your feet, and tow’l doth bring,
    Wash your feet here! All are welcome!
    Male, Female, Dog, or Kangaroo, You may have your feet washéd too,
    Wash your feet here! All are welcome!
    Even Donkeys! Have your hooooves washed!
    Wash your feet here!

    Seriously, it may be a tad exaggerated, but if you break the laws (violate the rubrics) humiliation comes you way!

  6. jhayes says:

    Moving ahead:

    (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appointed a Group of Eight cardinals to advise him in the governance of the Universal Church. In a communique issued Saturday the Secretariat of State announced that the Holy Father decided to set up the Council following on from discussions that emerged during the General Congregations in the lead up to the Conclave which elected him the 265th Successor to St Peter.

    The group of Cardinals will be coordinated by Card. Oscar Andrés Maradiaga Rodríguez and is drawn from across the Universal Church. It will also help Pope Francis revise the Apostolic
    Consitution on the Roman Curia Pastor Bonus.

    The group is composed of:

    Card. Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governatorate of Vatican City State;
    Card. Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, Archbishop emeritus of Santiago del Cile (Chile);
    Card. Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (India);
    Card. Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising (Germany);
    Card. Laurent Monswengo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo);
    Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley. O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Boston (U.S.A.);
    Card. George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney (Australia);
    Card. Oscar Andrés Maradiaga Rodríguez S.D.B., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras);
    Mons. Marcello Semeraro, Bishop of Albano, Council secretary.

  7. Phil_NL says:

    I don’t want to sound too blunt, but I think that for such a commission, it would mightily help if the members have some hands-on experience on how to fix dioceses / episcopal conferences that have gone astray. Yet 2/3rds of the committee seems to consist of people from countries where many of the pathologies that plague the Church have not been recognized yet (or don’t exist, but I fear that’s idle hope).

    Let’s hope card. Pell, and to some extent O’Malley / Marx, can offer some crucial insights.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Happily, the sems I have spoken with do not think the Pope’s actions will affect any ideas contrary to the liturgical norms. Not the case with at least two priests who are concerned not about bishops, but some priests who would take advantage of the episode.

    Glad you published this Fr. Z.

  9. Lucas Whittaker says:

    It’s all rather medieval, isn’t it. I think this man needs a hug.

    From what I am reading of Guardini, if he had a profound influence on the Holy Father, it is easy to see that a person could be carried into seeing the footwashing event in a different [confused] context. Guardini’s The Lord chapter on the footwashing pretty much defines the actons of Pope Francis on Holy Thursday and the explaination given by Father Lombardi. It seems safe to say that a major problem in the Church is that we have lost the keen sense that Tradition imparts of a deep theology (reaching back to the Apostles) underlying the sacraments. If there is one way in which we could do a better job of helping people truly meet Christ it would be through a correct interpretation of Tradition in the manner in which the sacraments are…delivered?…handed on?…performed? (Help me out here, but you get the idea). If people could meet Jesus in this way at every parish then we would be evangelizing in a wonderful way through our Catholic identity alone. But then I’m only one member of the parish liturgical board, we still need to discuss a clown Mass and the Summer puppet Mass: They might win out over my idea.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    With all due respect to the Tablet, I would suggest that Mandtumgate is old news.

    jhayes has helpfully pointed out that there are more important things going on at this time.

    Also, I’ve been wondering how long we need to wait until Francis selects cardinals? Now that will be real news.

  11. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Father Jim: “Mandatumgate”. Ha! I love it! Funny stuff, to be sure.

    In my opinion “Mandatumgate” will forever be a point of contention that is worth discussing because it affects how we view Tradition, which, as Pope Benedict loves to say, is not a box of dead things but a mystery springing from the very mystery of Christ How can man come to correspond totally to God according to the archtype of Christ and in imitation of him without leaning in obedience on the Tradition that is handed down to us? Without obedience to Tradition we tend tend necessarily toward the subjective and toward mere opinion after all.

  12. Therese says:

    “…or in the case of the leg-challenged, their long pale underbellies.”


  13. mamajen says:

    AMEN Father Paul! While it would certainly be better if we didn’t have this kind of “do as I say not as I do” thing going on, the Pope’s decision to wash the feet of women is most certainly not a license for regular priests to do whatever they want with the liturgy. I’m glad someone came right out and said it. Bishops should be following his lead to keep their priests in line.

  14. fizzwizz says:

    However what the Pope does is important and no matter what is said to try and explain it the fact that the Pope did this will give many priests licence to make changes in the liturgy as they see fit. I believe this Pope is all over the place. One moment appearing liberal and the next all traditional. I also hope that he will have the sense to break out of this I am the Bishop of Rome only mentality and start making some attempt to say something in languages other than Italian. He is the Pope for the whole world not just for Italy and the poor. Being a Catholic in the materialistic secularised West isn’t a easy task these days. The charge if Christians being triumphalist I find amazing on the contrary individuals who practice no religion are quite openly willing to assert and be triumphant in their lifestyles. Anyone who dares yo disagree is in danger of being accused of all sorts if phobias

  15. JabbaPapa says:

    Tonia : I must admit I didn’t know it was meant to be men.

    Ironically enough, Tonia, the “men only” rule was a 20th century innovation.

  16. mamajen says:


    the fact that the Pope did this will give many priests licence to make changes in the liturgy as they see fit.

    No. It will not and did not. What’s so hard to understand? Individual priests may use it as an excuse, but they have been given no license to do as they please.

  17. Lin says:

    Trust me, the progressives are still dancing in the streets! I do not know if the bishops will reign them in, but they truly believe they have a mandate to modify the mass as they see fit. Our pastor taught in one of his classes on Vatican II that rubrics are only guidelines!

  18. Kypapist says:

    When I hear “We are an Easter People, we should stand,” I want to say, “We are an Ascension People so we should levitate.”

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Tonia : I must admit I didn’t know it was meant to be men.

    Ironically enough, Tonia, the “men only” rule was a 20th century innovation.”

    No. The foot washing activity within the Mass was a 20th-century innovation. The, “men only,” rule has existed, at least, in potentia since Adam.

    The Chicken

  20. Cathy says:

    Father Z, am I, a woman to be free of washing feet or having my feet washed? Our protestant brethren believe that bowing or kneeling before a priest or a statue of a saint is worship, but how do they reconcile this with the fact, that, in order to wash the disciples feet, Jesus would have had to kneel or bow before the Apostles and in the exercise of the Mandatum they would have to kneel or bow before each other to wash each others feet. If I bring an error to you which I have stepped in and tracked around, and you correct me in Christ, have you, in a sense, washed my feet and asked me to go out and do the same?
    Forgive me if I am confused or confusing, but the first time I ever heard of Mandatum was when Blessed John Paul II asked for the Mandatum, the washing away of dust, to be accepted by Catholic Universities. They have become so entrenched in the dust of this world, the dust of Satan. So many are still so very beautiful and ancient on the outside, but, on the inside, so much dust and in specifically rejecting those who signed the Mandatum, have they chosen to remain dust?

  21. Johnno says:

    mamajen –

    “No. It will not and did not. What’s so hard to understand? Individual priests may use it as an excuse, but they have been given no license to do as they please.”

    They understand completely well. You’re assuming that those individual priests or parishioners who encourage this behavior care about the rules in the first place. Poor excuses are well and good enough for them, and the Pope by his actions has given them one. Pope Francis could’ve at least been explicit about why he was breaking from the norms and stated so, and the Vatican PR corps could’ve informed reporters about it. But as we’ve seen Pope Francis for better or worse isn’t as much concerned about the liturgy, and the Church’s PR as usual doesn’t know what it’s doing. Maybe this will change in time.

  22. Lucas Whittaker says:

    There will be priests who use “Mandatumgate” to continue disregard norms and thus draw attention to their own personalities rather than to Christ.

    While travelling and catching Mass “out of town” I witnessed horrible abuses of the liturgy that caused me to write to the appropriate bishop. Happily, I received a response to my concerns. But the response indicated that when a priest is ordained he promises obedience to the Church and to the Bishop. If the newly ordained priest reneges on his promise there is only so much that can be done to “rein them in”.

  23. Pingback: Why Religion Matters - Big Pulpit

  24. mamajen says:


    I’m not assuming anything. To me “license” implies that they are somehow justified in their ignoring Church law. They are not. The Pope can do whatever he wants, right or wrong. Unless the law is changed, priests are still obligated to follow it regardless of what they see other people do. I’m not saying it’s ideal to have a pope sending mixed messages, but he doesn’t take away their individual responsibility. “But Pope Francis did it first!” isn’t going to get them very far on judgment day. The idea that this foot washing can be extrapolated to excuse all kinds of other abuses is even more ludicrous to me. Sure, liberal priests can make up their excuses, but that doesn’t make them legitimate.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    In any other discipline (other than trying to figure out the pope) when you see data scattered all over the place, and none of it seems to fit the pattern you were looking for…..there’s a very simple explanation. You’re trying to fit the data into a pattern that it doesn’t have. Keep looking.

  26. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Mamajen: If I may say so, since a part of your comment is directed toward my own views, it is not ludicrous to stretch the abuse of these particular rubrics on Holy Thursday into a misunderstanding among some toward every rubric. The precision of ritual gestures and liturgical norms offers the faithful a greater interior freedom to bring themselves into the presence of the Lord. But the message that many people received through the media regarding what some here have joking referred to as “Mandatumgate”, is that the rubrics impose restraints that stand in the way of “true love”. Since we have a huge problem of Catechesis inside and out of the Church and, as Benedict said, “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebreated well”, there is a great weight of responsiblity on the Pope to do just that: celebrate the sacred liturgy well. No. This does not give out a license, per se, but it doesn’t give so many generous priests the support of the Holy Father, and that, as I witnessed it in Pope Benedict, meant a great deal: it was(is) even something to celebrate. But I cannot refute your point that liberal [dissenting, better?] priests will go on justifying their preference to flaunt their personality over the person of Christ, whom they represent in a unique way: they simply will.

  27. Matt R says:

    Fr Jim, I agree with Dr Peters: we really need to stop having this debate only during Lent. By then, no one’s minds will change, nor will any liturgical laws (if that is the route we need to go).

    Good points mamajen.

  28. Bea says:

    An interesting read:

    VICARS of CHRIST (A History of the Popes) by Charles A. Coulombe.

    In the INTRODUCTION page 4, he states:

    “It is interesting to note that before Vatican II, each night before retiring the reigning pontiff went to confession and signed a renunciation of any liturgical mistakes he might have made during the day’s numerous ceremonies. The last was essential if any of his clerical flock were not to seize on such an error as a precedent for his own masses.”

    If this were still the practice, it might have eliminated a lot of abuses. At least, it might have deterred them. Sigh

  29. originalsolitude says:

    kiwitrad says:
    Here in NZ there have always plenty of women having their feet washed. In fact about 3 years ago it was ALL women and the Bishop was doing the washing! I didn’t know it was wrong until all this about the Pope blew up. One lives and learns.

    A few years ago, the Christchurch diocese directed that footwashing be restricted to men’s feet. That direction has not changed.

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