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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Question posed but never answered

by Catherine Frakas 21 Apr 2001

Question posed but never answered QUESTION from Christopher Keahi May 21, 2001 Sometime before Holy Thursday, I wrote a note of inquiry in regards to the NCCB's newsletter of February, 1987 concerning the Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday: In response to a number of inquiries from bishops, diocesan liturgical commissions, and offices of worship concerning the rite of washing of feet on Holy Thursday, the Chairman of the Bishops' committee on the Liturgy, after a review of the matter by the Committee, has authorized the following response prepared by the Secretariat. The matter is being referred to the competent Roman Congregation which s already studying various questions relating to Holy Week.
Is it true that the Holy See in replying to the petition of the American Bishops, in 1997, asking that the word viri should include men and women, stated that there was no objection though no formal pronoucement was forthcoming.
I spoke with Sr. Cecchetti, Secretariat for Liturgy. I would like to hear from you! Thanks, Fr. Keahi
ANSWER by Bro. John-Paul Ignatius on May 25, 2001 Dear Father:
I am answering this question instead of Mr. Slavek, who just took over as Forum Host, since this relates to a question I answered last month. By the way, I have posted answers to this question 3 times in recent months I believe. If you personally posted a question and it was not answered, then it must have been lost. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Anyway, I think you have the date wrong. The petition was in 1987, not in 1997. I am not aware of a new petition.
When the Bishops petitioned Rome in 1987, Rome responded in 1988. The Congregation on Sacred Liturgy affirmed and made clear that the feet washing was reserved to men:
Here is the current state of the law as quoted from the Sacramentary and from Rome:
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.
Latin is used as the official language of the Church because it tends to be precise. Although I am hardly a Latin scholar, or even proficient in Latin, if the word vir means men, it means men. Thus the Holy See would have to revise the law to use different language if they wanted to include women.
In any event, this question of women having their feet washed on Holy Thursday as been asked by the Bishops and answered by Rome.
As I mentioned, I am not aware of a renewed effort of the Bishops to petition Rome on this. If that is true then the old phrase comes to mind: What part of NO do they not understand? the N or the O?
Unless Rome comes out with a specific decision to change their 1988 ruling, then the 1988 ruling stands.
What I am about to say has nothing to do with your question about the status of the Bishop's petition so please forgive me Father for using your question as a soap box. It it nothing personal.
Whatever the Church might do in the future, the current legislation has ALWAYS been clear -- the foot-washing ritual is to be MEN only. This is even written in the Sacramentary so there is no excuse for a Priest or other liturgist claiming they have not seen some obscure document from Rome on this. Thus when people get lose and fancy free with this or any other liturgucal issues, I get very weary, for three reasons: 1) I am weary because the law is plain on this, as it is with most liturgical issues. 2) I am also weary because common sense indicates that 12 MEN should be involved in this ritual as they represent the 12 MEN who were the apostles. Women are not men the last time I checked -- though it has been a while. Maybe women are men these days. 3) I am weary because debating issues like this is a direct result of profound immaturity that is very particular to the United States especially.
Anyway, back to your question (sorry for the sidebar) the answer to your question is that Rome says only men are to have their feet washed. Unless Rome comes out with a proclamation otherwise, that is the law.
And any absence of response to a new inquiry by the Bishops is NOT a tacit permission. The legislation has been promulgated and a specific and direct response to change that legislation will have to be forthcoming BEFORE anyone begins to include women in this ceremony.
I don't know is that answers your question. God Bless.
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