Bishop Morlino (Madison): Ban on washing women’s feet remains

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Three years ago, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino issued guidelines that gave priests the option of either using only men or not celebrating the ritual at all. Given the heightened attention to foot-washing last year, some parishioners thought Morlino might re-evaluate his position.

That has not happened. Brent King, the diocesan spokesman, said priests have the same two options this year — men-only or no ritual. Holy Thursday Mass falls on April 17. Easter is April 20.

As has become his tradition, Morlino will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Downtown Madison, King said, where he will wash the feet of 12 seminarians.

Read the whole story here, “Diocesan ban on washing women’s feet stays in place.”

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89 comments

  1. I thought the acting out of Gospel pericopes (such as, the woman at the well, the man born bling, the raising of Lazarus) was not allowed. So why is the bishop of Madison encouraging the acting out of John 13:1-15?

    If one is going to insist on males only, at the very least don’t choose twelve for the footwashing.

  2. My parish in the Madison diocese elected to forego the foot-washing altogether after Bishop Morlino banned women from it. The new pastor has decided to bring it back and to wash only male feet this year. I’ve heard significant grumbling about this and will be interested to see how it plays out.

    1. @Ellen Joyce – comment #3:
      As a convert to Catholicism, I struggle with the extent to which obsolete rules are so revered. Especially, those that were created at a time when women were treated as second class citizens. For me, Holy Thursday has always been the most spiritually uplifting day of the liturgical year. Watching one by one, as fellow parishioners share their struggles and their need to be served. Our parish represented many walks of life including the military, grieving spouses, cancer survivors, the disabled, children, the poor and of course our parish priest. Never once did it occur to me over the years that any of those men and women were not representative of the disciples. We are all called to be disciples. I hardly think Jesus would exclude women from this ritual. Jesus lived in a time when it was frowned upon to even speak to a women, and he did it anyway. Jesus did a lot of things considered illegal at the time. He was even crucified for it.

  3. This acting out of John 13:1-15 is rather limited at that. Jesus washed the feet of disciples, not apostles. Women are counted among the disciples throughout the New Testament. Bishop Morlino may well be obeying the 1956 legislation of human beings, but he doesn’t spear to have a grasp on what Jesus did, nor on his mandatum.

    +1, Jan

    My solution for bishops and clergy insisting on men and limiting it to 12 is to wash feet at morning prayer the day all the clergy trundle off to the Chrism Mass. We don’t need a priest to celebrate, symbolize, and inspire people to deeper service.

  4. Jan Larson : This year our parish will follow Bishop Morlino’s lead in literally reenacting the Last Supper. Only 12 men will be given Communion.

    You better ordain them too.

    Seriously people: don’t shoot the messenger: the missal says “men”, meaning males, as clarified so many times. He’s not banning anything. He’s saying follow the rite.

    He’s no more banning women from having feet washed as he is banning the use of beer and piazza as a matter for consecration. He’s simply following the rite, and telling his priests to do the same.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #6:

      Oh please. The Pope doesn’t even follow these rubrics. Not everything has equal status. The vast majority have included women in the washing of feet for decades now. That’s called inculturation. Things change. Including women certainly fits the SPIRIT of the law.

      1. @Sean Whelan – comment #8:
        Yes. Your points are very appropriate. Maybe it’s time for exercising “holy disobedience” in the service of the spirit of the law, which transcends a rigid literalism regarding the rubrics. I trust in following the lead of Pope Francis in this (and other disciplinary matters). The vitality of our liturgy has been suffocated for too long by an absolutist application of “do the red – and say the black.” But for those who prefer the security or edification of such fundamentalism, by all means find a parish that agrees. Fortunately over many years, I’ve experienced many more parishes that have done the foot washing ritual a la Pope Francis.

      2. @Richard Novak – comment #31:

        It is now 28 years since “l’affaire Bevilacqua.” The then-Bishop of Pittsburgh had caused a media storm of sorts when he announced that he would not be washing the feet of women at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in 1986 and that he had instructed the priests of the diocese to follow his lead by obeying the rubrics of the Sacramentary.

        Two years later, at the 1988 Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Bishop of Pittsburgh washed the feet of six women. But the bishop this time around was not Anthony Bevilacqua; it was Donald Wuerl. Sic transit gloria ecclesiae.

        “Uncle Tony” had a doctorate in canon law, but his canonical opinions were sometimes questionable. One of those opinions was that all liturgical laws were part of what is termed the “constitutive law” of the Church. And since the dispensing power of diocesan bishops did not extend to the Church’s constitutive law, a bishop could not dispense from liturgical law, even the rubrics in the Missal. I believe that is the mind-set from which Bevilacqua issued his dictum.

        In a number of dioceses in the United States today women are included in the Holy Thursday foot washing, and it is a lawful practice. (Yes, it is lawful, licit, legal, choose the word you prefer.) That is because the Church’s canon law is not as rigid as some folks would like to make it. Canon law includes not only written laws but also unwritten customs. And such customs, at times, may even be contrary to written laws.

        Uncle Tony should have remembered what he undoubtedly learned about “custom” during his canonical studies. In canon law dispensation is not the only way for written laws to lose their binding force; custom is another way, even when that way entails a community’s “holy disobedience” of a written law. Add to that the bishop’s tacit approval, observe the contrary practice for thirty years uninterrupted, and viola: consuetudo contra legem!

    2. @Ben Yanke – comment #6:

      “He’s no more banning women from having feet washed as he is banning the use of beer and piazza as a matter for consecration.”

      Yes, because beer and pizza is the exact same thing as human beings made in God’s image. Sorry, but your analogy is offensive.

      1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #19:
        Maybe not, but one would think so given how I have seen the Lord’s Supper celebrated in some parishes. In them the liturgy for that evening becomes a pseudo-commemoration of the first ordinations, with all priests and deacons seated facing the people. In so doing, this Eucharist has been effectively privatized, leaving the rest of us as spectators. I think this distortion of the Triduum rite has been around for a while, and seems to have spread ever since the recent Vatican-sponsored “year of the priest.” Is our brother Robert encouraging it in his diocese?

  5. Meanwhile, we have the very graphic example of Pope Francis who washed the feet of women and men, Christian and Muslim, last year. Why oh why do bishops suffer from a lack of imagination?

    1. @Shannon O’Donnell – comment #7:
      Perhaps they can imagine that if they ignore the instructions their clergy will start to ignore instructions they dislike from their bishop.
      They may also imagine that if they ignore the rubrics there will be complaints about them.
      It is also possible that the bishops think that the rubric has merit.
      It seems to me that the charge of “lack of imagination” needs more evidence to support it.

    2. @Shannon O’Donnell – comment #7:
      “Meanwhile, we have the very graphic example of Pope Francis who washed the feet of women and men, Christian and Muslim, last year. Why oh why do bishops suffer from a lack of imagination?”

      Because too many of them were appointed by JPII and BVXI who feared imagination and only gave us rigid “yes men.” It is going to be a while before bishops with Francis’ warmth, grace, and pastoral sense start showing up.

      If the apostles are hungry on the sabbath you feed them. Why is this so hard for some to understand?

  6. Ben – sad; you miss the very meaning of the Holy Thursday liturgy in your literalism and legalism.

    Here you go: http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/pope-francis-washing-feet

    Highlights:
    – “…..the pope succeeded in conveying an aspect of the Mandatum rite that had not been highlighted before, at least not by a pope. His action helped these young prisoners, thousands of miles away, feel closer to God, his action gave them some hope, his action let them know that while the world has rejected them, God has not. If anyone fails to see this because of their distress that the pope washed the feet of women, well, I reiterate my concern without the snark: There is something wrong, and it is not with the pope.”
    – “…..That is what frightens. There is an immaturity at work here, not least an intellectual immaturity, that is inappropriate for the clergy.

    – “This immaturity has found its way into the episcopacy as well. It must be said: Ever since Cardinal Raymond Burke joined the Congregation for Bishops, the quality of episcopal appointments (note – Morlino) in the United States has suffered and it is difficult not to perceive his influence on those appointments. Culture Warriors are in, pastors not so much. The more intransigent one is, the better one’s chances of advancement.

  7. Ben (& Bishop Morlino, who, btw, is not the messenger here). Oh, per Ms. Ferrone, Ben, you are misreading the GIRM:

    From Rita Ferrone at dotCommonweal –

    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/washing-feet-0

    Highlights:
    – “The 1988 Circular Letter from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, Paschale Solemnitatis, “On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts,” although keeping to the letter of the 1955 rubric men weighs in firmly on the side of service. It says that The washing of feet represents the service and charity of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. This tradition should be maintained and its proper significance explained. (no. 51).The rite generally has been interpreted as one of charity and humble service, rather than sacerdotal institution, by parish communities in the United States. As the Church has traveled from the 1950s to the present, the favored way to celebrate this rite has been with both men and women participating. The note on this subject on the USCCB website confirms that the inclusion of women had become customary in the U.S. by the mid-eighties, when the question arose about restricting the gesture to males only.The rubrics today in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal say that men (males) selected for this rite (viri selecti the number 12 has been dropped) are led forward. That’s all.”

    – How much importance is placed on that single word in the rubrics (viri)varies. But Perer Jeffrey’s work on its history concludes that the practice on Holy Thursday today ought to be taken as one of charity, and that it belongs to the greater living tradition of foot washing in the Church — a tradition which includes women.

  8. Quite frankly, I don’t see why parishes should not just revert to the custom of the pre-Pian holy Week reform and have the washing of the feet in a separate service from the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

    That would remove it from the mimetic clutches of the current order, and allow for practices (e.g. the washing of feet of 12/3 men and an equal number of women, or of larger groups even) that would parallel similar customs that have a long history even in the post-Trent era (by female aristocracy, in convents, etc.).

    Parishes which have also introduced practices such as people washing each others feet could then keep such practices, instead of having an overblown rite dominating the celebration of the Eucharist.

  9. “……instead of having an overblown rite dominating the celebration of the Eucharist.” Really???
    From T. Richstatter:

    “Each year when we begin these liturgical rites that bring us into contact with the origins of the Eucharist and the origins of our Church, we gather for the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and we wash feet. Washing feet! Isn’t this a rather strange way to begin these holiest of days? Perhaps the Church proposes this ritual foot-washing to remind us of a dimension of the Eucharist that we might neglect: The Eucharist is a sacrament of humble service. It is wonderful to be inspired by beautiful vestments and monstrances of gold and silver, and it is helpful to understand anamnesis, epiclesis and transubstantiation. But we can never forget that the Eucharist transforms us into the Body of Christ so that we might think and act like Christ. This transformation is at the heart of the mystery.”

    Footwashing and Christian Service “Tonight at the Holy Thursday Liturgy, many of the poor were present, having their feet gently washed… When I saw it all in front of me — the poor, the washing basins, the awkwardness of the washers, the faces of the silent reverent congregation — I realized once again what the sanctity of service is… I remember thinking… that if I had to choose some relic of the Passion, I wouldn’t pick up a scourge or a spear, but that round bowl of dirty water. And I would want to go around the world with that receptacle under my arm, looking only at the people’s feet; and for each one I’d tie a towel around me, bend down, and never raise my eyes higher than their ankles, so as not to distinguish friends from enemies. I’d wash the feet of atheists, drug addicts, arms dealers, murderers, pimps, abusers of all kinds — and all in silence, until they understood.” (Gary Smith, Radical Compassion. As quoted in Nathan D. Mitchell, Meeting Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments, New York: Maryknoll, 2006, p 245)

    And mimetic – usually means *make believe* – is that what the symbol of Holy Thursday foot washing means for you? Sad

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #16:

      Bill, I used “mimetic” – which I understood as meaning a stricter form of imitation – as a way of describing how the *current* rite functions within the Holy Thursday liturgy i.e. that the 12 men represent the apostles, the celebrant represents Jesus, and thus the whole scene is conceived in terms of reenacting – or dramatically illustrating – the scene just heard, as opposed to its more general theme. It is thus then linked to Holy Orders [although strictly speaking the current missal doesn’t specify the number]. “Mimetic” was not used to describe the rite of foot-washing in general.

      And “overblown” was similarly used to describe the specific kind of scenario that I mentioned e.g. a parish where people would like to wash each other’s feet, or the parish Council washes the feet of the parishioners, etc. Logistically, unless one is in a very small community, this often ends up being confusing and a nightmare, and in terms of its proportionality with respect to time tends to dominate – for me at least -the whole action of the Eucharist. This is not, of course, true, for a smaller representative washing.

      1. @Joshua Vas – comment #50:

        Logistically, unless one is in a very small community, this often ends up being confusing and a nightmare, and in terms of its proportionality with respect to time tends to dominate – for me at least -the whole action of the Eucharist. This is not, of course, true, for a smaller representative washing.

        The thing about the washing of feet is that it is a homily in action. That being so, having it last the same length as the average homily is really not a problem.

        In response to “confusing and a nightmare”, if we want to do something enough we will find a way to avoid logistical nightmares. It’s just a matter of desire and willingness to work to find the best solution. I often find people doing things in a perfunctory or even counterproductive fashion and then turning round and saying “Told you so! It didn’t work!” Of course it didn’t, if you didn’t even try to make it work.

      2. @Joshua Vas – comment #50:
        Twenty minutes is about twice the period of time for the distribution of Communion. It hardly “dominates” in comparison to either the Passion + Veneration on Good Friday in comparison to the Communion service that follows, nor the nine readings at the Easter Vigil. I’ve utilized as many as fifteen stations. But in my current parish, eight seems to be enough, and it is far from confusing. It might be messy a bit.

      3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #57:
        To which I would respond that Good Friday is a communion service, and the Vigil is meant to be preparatory.

        But fair enough….I do realize that not everyone might have the same reaction to it as I did. I still feel that it’s best as a service on its own, within a quasi-Celebration of the Word.

      4. @Joshua Vas – comment #62:

        To which I would respond that Good Friday is a communion service, and the Vigil is meant to be preparatory.

        I wish I knew what this sentence meant. Good Friday is not a communion service at all. For hundreds of years no one received Communion on this day except the presiding priest. Rather, it is an extended meditation. And the Vigil is precisely that — a vigil, a keeping watch. Not preparatory for anything, but a service in its own right.

        Wanting the washing of feet to be done as expeditiously as possible, in case it unbalances the rest of the celebration, ignores the fact that the theme of mutual service is one of the major components of this celebration. Jesus could easily have instituted the washing of feet as a remembrance of him, rather than eating his body and blood under the form of bread and wine. The washing is not something that hold us up from getting on with the “real thing” — the Liturgy of the Eucharist that follows — but something that we need to take time over, dwell on, use as a form of lectio if you like.

  10. When last year Frances visited the young men and women in the juvenile detention centre in Rome he gave a message that has since reverberated round the world, not only for his action of kneeling to wash a stranger’s feet, but for the inclusivity of what he did. Here is a Bishop who leads by example, who says much with few words, who looks for simplicity for himself and by implication asks us to do the same.

    We dared to think that the vision of the Church that came from the Council was at last being considered, a Church that is open to the world rather than inwardly turned to its own structures. But then twelve seminarians, neat clean and tidy are seen by some as an acceptable face of the Church and our problems continue, a pilgrim Church whose ritual serves itself. When will we ever learn?

  11. This all makes me so incredibly sad. Not that Bishop Morlino is following the rules… Strict adherence to the letter of the law, without at least some nod to the spirit of the law is a challenge for me, at least without some pastoral point of view expressed about it that sounds something other than like “that’s why.”

    Without that pastoral expression of why, or without examining how things can change, women feel summarily dismissed. No ordination – which I have not even advocated for, no foot washing.

    Would Bishop Morlino or others even talk to the woman at the well? Or would they be with the apostles, who are always distracted by the procurement of food? So much for trust – on any front.

  12. Actually, side-stepping the issue of women, it makes perfect sense that the bishop would wash the feet of seminarians, those who will pledge their obedience to him.

    In the current issue of Worship, there is a great article that points out that in the origination of this symbol, it was a superior or bishop washing the feet of those who had pledged their obedience to him – therefore, it really was the one with power over them washing their feet and humbling himself to them. As the writer points out, in whose conception of reality does a parish priest hold that type of power or authority over the faithful?

    To be fair, the author actually makes the case for the foot washing to be extended to all people, with all people serving each other. But since this is not currently permissible according to the missal, I think that it actually makes more sense for a bishop to wash the feet of seminarians than lay people, for the reasons pointed out at the beginning of the piece.

  13. “It all depends how you look at it.”
    In the Judgement scene in Matthew 25, scholars question, “Who are the ‘least of my brothers’ who suffer hunger, thirst, etc? All they all those who suffer want, or a particular group of sufferers. Arguments can be made for both sides. Some hold that, in this passage, Jesus is referring to those he is ‘sending’ –the apostles– and, like all messengers, the welcome they receive (or not) is the same as Jesus.
    Similar arguments can be made for the washing of the feet. Such service, of course, is owed to all. But is this what Jesus is emphasizing in this action? Or is he, once again, emphasizing the attitude the apostles must have toward each other and all others, and no more arguing about who is the greatest or who will sit at my right or left?

  14. Bill (#16) quotes Tom Richstatter: “Washing feet! Isn’t this a rather strange way to begin these holiest of days?” So why not begin with that? Before the Holy Thursday liturgy begins? As people arrive? Before the procession with the oils? As a way of underlining the service imagery of the liturgy? Just asking, at least for those parishes where “viri” is being enforced.

  15. The Pope is the pope, he is not bound by the rubrics. We are.

    It’s fascinating that the discussion revolves around disobeying the rubrics rather than legitimately changing church law. If you think you should be able to wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday, fine, petition to rome for a US adaptation or a wholesale change of the missal. There are some things that I would love to see changed in the GIRM/RM (more encouragement for the propers and latin, ad orientem, restoration of more traditional options in a spirit of the hermeneutic of continuity, etc), but that doesn’t mean I disobey the existing rubrics to bring these changes about.

    Over and over, the church’s documents say, as Vatican II (SC) 22.3 said that: “no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

    If you want to make a change to the rubrics, go ahead: go through the proper channels, not impose our own whims on it.

  16. Some may have not noticed the explanations for the pope’s washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday. Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, said the pope’s decision was “absolutely licit” for a rite that is not a church sacrament, and that “it would have been strange if girls had been excluded.” He added, “That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”

    This is a perfect example of a pastoral adaptation of a liturgical rite. It was done because “it would have been strange” if women were excluded. I’m pretty certain it seems strange to sensitive pastors and liturgical planners to exclude women from the biblical gesture of foot washing because of “legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”

  17. David Jaronowski : Actually, side-stepping the issue of women, it makes perfect sense that the bishop would wash the feet of seminarians, those who will pledge their obedience to him. In the current issue of Worship, there is a great article that points out that in the origination of this symbol, it was a superior or bishop washing the feet of those who had pledged their obedience to him – therefore, it really was the one with power over them washing their feet and humbling himself to them. As the writer points out, in whose conception of reality does a parish priest hold that type of power or authority over the faithful? To be fair, the author actually makes the case for the foot washing to be extended to all people, with all people serving each other. But since this is not currently permissible according to the missal, I think that it actually makes more sense for a bishop to wash the feet of seminarians than lay people, for the reasons pointed out at the beginning of the piece.

    I agree, David. I actually think this rite would make the most sense in the context of the Chrism Mass, which is also (in theory) on Holy Thursday, where the bishop could wash the feet of some of his priests. By extension, I think the Bishop washing the feet of his seminarians is a fitting way to express this spirit.

    But as I mentioned above, I’m not advocating that Bishop Morlino, or any bishop, do this now. I advocate for an obedience to the current rubrics, and change in the right way. If the US or world received a legitimate adaptation from Rome allowing them to do this, I’d be the first to encourage it. But right now, neither washing women’s feet, nor washing priests’ feet at the Chrism Mass is a legitimate option.

  18. @Jan Larson – comment #27:
    The word “pastoral” is overused. For those who have concerns about women not having their feet washed, would not the most pastoral thing be to omit the rite, as is a legitimate option?

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #29:
      I don’t think being pastoral means caving in to those who might be uncomfortable with adaptations made that hold respect for persons to be more important than slavish attention to minor rules. It would be an enormous disservice to the Holy Thursday assembly to deprive them of a powerful rite like the washing of feet. I’m sure Pope Francis, Fr. Lombardi and the other liturgical planners were well aware that washing the feet of women would irritate a percentage of Catholics world wide. Indeed there is still a regrettable number of Christians, some bishops included, who are seriously uncomfortable acknowledging that women are entitled to language that is inclusive, are entitled to be part of a church that is fully inclusive in every way possible, and, yes, to even carry a candle in a procession.

  19. @Jan Larson – comment #27:
    The word “pastoral” is overused. For those who have concerns about women not having their feet washed, would not the most pastoral thing be to omit the rite, as is a legitimate option? That seems to be the simplest option to me. No confusion, no disobedience.

  20. In our parish the confirmation candidates have their feet washed with no regard to their gender or number. And they in turn go and wash the feet of their parents who are seated in the congregation. Isn’t that act of humble service exactly what the rite is about?

  21. Though without any desire to undercut the sensibilities and legitimacy of my young friend Ben’s insistance, it does occur obviously to me that this is a curious hill to lay siege to or defend, particularly in light of yesterday’s Gospel. As our new pastor homilized yesterday, who had the true blind spots, the man born blind, or the “faithful, legalistic, temple occupying” clergy, aka the professional religionists?
    Because we have a brand new pastor who asked my advice about this particular rite coming up, I basically pointed out that decision remains his to call. As is found on the USCCB’s website, the viri assignation remains “in force,” or intact. But, the conference obliquely acknowledges the exegencies of cultural conditions without direct contradiction. So, how is one to discern, if one were a new pastor. Well, in my pastor’s own words, take Origen’s simple advice, “See with the eyes of Christ.” The principal dynamic that results from the non-literal implications of the conference advice is that Christ self-states He is the fulfillment of the body of law, at once still with the concomitant second greatest commandment: love one another. That ought to be factored into discernment of what it really means to be “the servant of servants.” And, no matter how it plays out parish to parish, the Mandatum is of paramount importance to this catholic as a prelude to the Last Supper.
    I just don’t see a need to fight and possibly die on this liturgical hill. YMMV

  22. Hey, Ben, do you read all the comments – go back to #11 – yep, the USCCB has posted for years a US adaptation w/Rome approval. So, there goes your first point.

    Can’t add much to Scott’s comment except to say that SC also has principles (try SC 11) which makes it the responsibility of the pastor or presider to make the liturgy meaningful to the community. So, not say the black and do the red (are we going to go down that road again).

  23. The Roman Missal used to include antiphons for the washing of the feet like:

    Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. John 12:3

    A great deal of confusion has appeared since they were removed. Maybe they should return, to promote an appreciation of women and their importance in this ritual.

  24. Jan Larson : This year our parish will follow Bishop Morlino’s lead in literally reenacting the Last Supper. Only 12 men will be given Communion.

    Yes, that would be correct!

  25. Just my 2 cents – we are not in his diocese and we wash the feet of men women and children…..as does our Holy Father.! that is good enough for us.

  26. Might I suggest that the Bishop is offered some late Lenten reading?

    He should read Professor O’Loughlin’s article in the current issue of Worship (vol 88, March 2014, pp. 127-50) entitled ‘From a Damp Floor to a New Vision of Church: Footwashing as a Challenge to Liturgy and Discipleship’

    Thomas O’Loughlin is professor of Historical Christianity in the University of Nottingham, UK

    In my earlier posting (#20) I made a slight spelling mistake and in so doing feminised Francis. Well, maybe one day…

  27. Chris McDonnell : Might I suggest that the Bishop is offered some late Lenten reading? He should read Professor O’Loughlin’s article in the current issue of Worship (vol 88, March 2014, pp. 127-50) entitled ‘From a Damp Floor to a New Vision of Church: Footwashing as a Challenge to Liturgy and Discipleship’ Thomas O’Loughlin is professor of Historical Christianity in the University of Nottingham, UK In my earlier posting (#20) I made a slight spelling mistake and in so doing feminised Francis. Well, maybe one day…

    This was the article to which I made reference earlier.

    As I mentioned, this points out why it actually makes sense for the bishop to wash the feet of seminarians or priests, although this was not the article writer’s point.

  28. The rubricists, like the religious officials in Jericho, claim that they can very clearly see and thus in the words of The Master “remain in their sin.” And that would be the sin of thinking that people exist for the sacraments. And in believing that the clergy exist for regulating those sacraments to protect Jesus from those who would abuse them. They go to the altar with birettas unmentioned in the rubrics, with hands stiffly pointing towards heaven, speaking in an elevated form of language to keep their “personalities”out of the way lest the mass be about them and not about the Most High God. They will not tolerate the custom of holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer since the rubrics make no mention of such a posture. But dispute the rubrics calling for consecrating a host large enough to be broken into pieces some of which can be distributed to the people, they will continue to use the personal sized one that they can carefully piece together for “Behold the Lamb of God.” Did I mention their ringing of bells mentioned nowhere in the rubrics? Lord, have mercy.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #55:
        It was introduced in the 1970 IGMR, although numbers moved about with the IGMR of MR3.

        FWIW, Jack, the bells doesn’t seem (in my limited experience) to be the exclusive preserve of ROTR folks. There’s a parish in my area where the presider doesn’t even use the missal for daily Mass, but the bells are there.

  29. Mentioned in the GIRM but not in the Missal rubrics.
    Ringing the bells is the height of silliness. We all know that they were instituted as a means of arousing the attention of inattentive worshipers. I’ve heard them defended as adding an “aural” dimension. Nonsense. They are being employed in parishes and dioceses where the bishops or priests buy into the notion that the people don’t believe in the real presence anymore. They seem to think that ringing bells around and at the consecration will somehow make the presence more real. More RTR stuff.
    A footnote on Real Presence controversy. What Catholics don’t believe in is physical presence as in pieces of flesh and quantities of blood. If the choice is between real and symbolic and they hear real as physical, they choose symbolic. When I went to seminary symbolic and sacramental were considered alternative terms. I don’t know any practicing Catholics who don’t fervently believe that when they receive HC they are receiving the sacramental Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ. We call this the mystery of faith.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #56:
      Ringing the bells is the height of silliness.

      I think huge puppets and leotard-clad dancers is the height of silliness.

      I’ve heard them defended as adding an “aural” dimension. Nonsense.

      I don’t think it’s nonsense.

      They are being employed in parishes and dioceses where the bishops or priests buy into the notion that the people don’t believe in the real presence anymore.

      And your proof for that claim is…?

      They seem to think that ringing bells around and at the consecration will somehow make the presence more real.

      I doubt that. You don’t give people very much credit.

  30. @Fr Jack Feehily (#54): But dispute [sic] the rubrics calling for consecrating a host large enough to be broken into pieces some of which can be distributed to the people…

    Where in the rubrics does it actually specify that? I had a quick look and couldn’t find any mention.

    1. @Matthew Hazell – comment #58:
      He’d better hope it’s not “Mentioned in the GIRM but not in the Missal rubrics”.

      It’s in #321, which says among, other things, “It is therefore expedient that the Eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and baked in the traditional shape, be made in such a way that the priest at Mass with a congregation is able in practice to break it into parts for distribution to at least some of the faithful.”

  31. Jeffrey, don’t know your age but with the advent of active participation the bells were omitted as superfluous. They had disappeared for more than thirty years. Without any change to include them in the rubrics certain priests and bishops reintroduced them as a personal preference. What’s the liturgical rationale for doing so when all are paying attention?

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #63:
      I was born in 1981. While my home parish (in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ) did not use bells during the Euch. Prayer, my grandparents’ parish in upstate NY did.

      It cannot be said, as you have, that “the bells disappeared for more than thirty years.” That is demonstrably not the case. Perhaps in your parish, or in your diocese, they were not prevalent, but there were parishes using bells at least in the 80’s (which is at most 20 years removed from 1969), and I expect some places were using bells even in the 70’s.

      The 1975 English translation of the GIRM mentions the ringing of bells (#109). Notitiae 8 (1972) had a question about the ringing of a bell, in reference to GIRM #109, the answer of which said that “It all depends on the different circumstances…”, going on to describe situations where the bells would and would not be prudent, concluding that “a signal with the bell should be given, at least at the two elevations, in order to elicit joy and attention.” [The preceding citations are from the EWTN web site (/library/CURIA/GIRMALL.HTM)]

      What’s the liturgical rationale for doing so when all are paying attention?

      Surely we can find some purpose for the bells other than to get people’s attention.

  32. @Jeffrey Pinyan (#60): yes, it does rather undermine Fr Feehily’s idea that the GIRM is seemingly not rubrical.

    @Fr Jack Feehily (#63): Firstly, active participation existed before the Novus Ordo Missae. Cf. Pius XII, Mediator Dei for a start.

    Secondly, you’re assuming that everyone is paying attention in the Mass at that point. In my experience serving Mass in my parish, I have often found that young children, whose attention is sometimes elsewhere for large parts of the liturgy despite the best efforts of their parents (!), instantly quiet down and turn towards the altar when I ring the bells at the epiclesis. It acts as a teaching moment for them – look, pay attention, something marvellous is happening now! It fosters their active participation, and also helps their parents instill in them a reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

    You may say “[r]inging the bells is the height of silliness” (a very ‘pastoral’ attitude, btw); I say the bells aid the faithful, particularly the young, in their active participation in the Mass. (And, as pointed out, bells are as much of an option as large altar breads!)

    1. @Matthew Hazell – comment #64:

      I think it’s fair to say that bells made a lot of sense in a liturgy where the priest had his back to everyone and prayed silently. They make rather less sense today when everyone can see and hear what is going on.

      (It’s the same with the “elevation” of the elements in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer. Very little point in doing that when everyone can already see them as they are held above the altar during the words of institution. The rubrics since 1570 have talked about “showing”, not elevating.)

      There is rather more justification for using bells as an expression of joy or of sadness (tolling) than as a means of drawing attention.

  33. Bill, there are parishes near me where the use of the bells were never omitted, as best I can tell, and with pastors who could hardly be considered ideological in any way about liturgy. You might help your cause here by arguing less like a parody of the high-and-mighty dismissive progressive.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #74:
        Yes. Sorry, Bill. It was a scrolling-inspired error. I can’t lodge comments during the workday, so it takes a while to correct errors since I leave for work very early in the AM.

  34. I know of several parishes, of all sorts of ideological stripes, in which the ringing of bells is a continuous tradition since before the Council.

    I see the bells to be akin to the deacon’s admonitions in the Byzantine liturgy: “Wisdom, let us attend!” Even if everything is in the vernacular and visible to everyone, it’s pretty clear that not everyone is paying attention all the time.

    If I were a pastor at a parish that had a tradition of ringing bells, it would never occur to me to eliminate them. On the other hand, if there were no bells, introducing them would be pretty low on my list of liturgical priorities.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #68:
      Deacon – makes sense….OTOH, current parish did bring back bells after 30 years and now the pattern seems to be set by each pastor’s personal desires?
      Paul makes the best sense.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #72:
        Bill, unfortunately the (to my mind) undeniable benefit of the flexibility of the reformed liturgy also requires pastors who do not change things to reflect their personal tastes, but are respectful of the established customs of local communities. I suppose (to return to the OP) this applies not just to bells but also to whether/how to do the washing of feet.

  35. Feeling once more like the resident complainer, I must add that this thread, like so many others here – and I am as guilty as anyone, I simply know less – has devolved into another edition of who knows more about liturgy and how can we outsmart one another. Perhaps I am just feeling more annoyed than usual today, I don’t know.

    The fact remains, that once again, in a discussion about women, all sorts of things come up, and I wonder if we truly address the case in point. Bishop Morlino, in this case, is true to the “ban,” and what I wish we could discuss is what seems terribly wrong about that, whether it is in the rubric or not. Perhaps the rubric won’t change, but that does not make it just.

    And some of us are very well educated on matters liturgical, some of us, myself included here, less so. I know more than the average person in the pew, but not what many of you do. That said, what hurts my heart the most is that the subtle message is that because Jesus was a man, and he washed the feet of men in an act of service, women are beneath being served in some way. Now I wonder if my remarks will anger and annoy – or end up with the typical, which means being ignored. I lose no sleep over the latter, but it does tend to make me sad. And it is not about me, but about any of us who feel diminished by both the topic and the direction of threads. Perhaps I am alone in my feelings, but perhaps not?

    I must sound like the most sour person, which I can assure you I am not, but my honesty here does reflect things that I feel sour about.

    1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #69:
      Thanks for pointing out the bubble in which many of these comments take place. I like to look in, now and again, to see what’s going on. But I rather look forward to reading the comments of the “ignored”. They are like a fresh breeze, not at all like complaints of a sour person.

      So what would you think of the average woman, who is usually in the pew on Holy Thursday, who opts out of this “male” ritual? With a real, concrete sense of humble service, perhaps rarely experiencing being served herself, she uses that time instead to visit and comb the hair of the nursing home resident, provide groceries for a struggling family, or simply calling a lonely friend for whom she hasn’t had time recently.

      Seems to me, few people require feet washing service anymore and the people who do, well, we’re not washing their feet in our churches. But there are a few very hard working people in our church who are devoted to serving the needs of the least among us. Once a year, it would be proper for our bishops and priests to place those people, male or female, in a ritual place of honor and themselves in a position of humility before them. Seeing that would make this woman far more aware of my call to continue the mission of Jesus in humility and service than watching the bishop wash the feet of seminarians. Might be a real lesson for the seminarians, too.

      1. @Eileen Russell – comment #75:
        I came back, feeling very embarrassed, with a thought to possibly deleting my comment. After some time at spiritual direction, this otherwise frustrating day perhaps had the better of me.

        What is truly upsetting to me, well articulated by you, is a lot more than what this thread is about. Thanks for commenting.

        I do remain embarrassed at my outburst. It is not the first, I would hope that it is the last.

      2. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #80:
        I went back and re-read your entry. I still see nothing for which you should feel embarrassed.

        Attempting to join a written conversation which includes a topic about which you feel passionate is difficult. To do so while expecting to be ignored (again) is frustrating.

        Bishop Morlino’s ban and failure to address the concerns of his parishioners IS about the place of women in our church and about a bishop ignoring his parishioners desire to express their faith in ways meaningful to them, not just to him.

        In that light, I found your comments to be on topic and quite refreshing.

  36. #69 & 75, +1

    I forgot to mention that twice in the past three years, I’ve seen bride and groom wash each other’s feet after vows and rings. Instead of unity candles or sand or whatever. In one instance, it was an older couple, and they even had the priest proclaim John 13:1-15 at the Mass. In the other, it was a 20-something couple each from Mexican families. Could’ve been a copycat thing, but I can’t think of a better ritual to imitate to match up with vows and rings than that.

    I wonder how Bishop Morlino would react if a cathedral couple asked to wash feet on their wedding day. If washing feet ever caught on like unity candles, I bet the next generation of bishops would not be washing seminarian feet on any day of the year.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #76:
      Personally, I have doubt that it would catch on like unity candles at weddings.

      An interesting thought came to my mind as I read your reply, though. What a meaningful ritual to honor those who care for disabled spouses, parents or children in their homes every day. The effort to care for their loved ones bodily needs while maintaining their dignity comes at such a cost to caretakers who often receive little gratitude or respite. It could be a community’s humble rite of gratitude for their unfailing love in the face of difficult, often tragic, circumstances.

      1. @Eileen Russell – comment #79:

        My father-in-law died 20 years ago yesterday after failing to overcome cancer. He died at home and it was Easter Sunday that year.

        On Holy Thursday his family washed his feet as he sat on his deathbed; on Good Friday they joined with him in the agony of the Cross; on Holy Saturday they kept vigil with him until he quietly slipped away “et valde mane” in the small hours of Easter Sunday morning.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #82:
        30 years ago, I cared for my mother until she died of cancer. She often expressed what a great comfort it was to her to have her daughter, rather than a healthcare worker, care for her personal needs. Between that October and Easter, I brought my father, disabled from stroke, to my home. He died that May and I still consider it as a privilege and duty to have made my parents final months as comfortable as I could. It was an an obligation rooted in love, but rarely easy.

        On Easter morning, my sister arrived at my home. As is our tradition, she was dressed and ready to join in Easter celebration. In particular, I remember how wonderful was the scent of the perfume she wore. My 10 year old, all ready in his “Sunday Best”, and my husband were greeting her with great hospitality.

        I, on the other hand, was seven months pregnant and had just replaced the bed linens of my father’s bed which…..well……had just lost their freshness. I had 20 minutes to shower, dress, and ready myself for Easter Liturgy.

        Perhaps she remembers how I looked and the scent of the “perfume” I wore, because she immediately asked, “What can I do to help?” Three shocked faces were all that was visible as I blurted out, “All three of you can get in the car and go down to Mass and leave me alone!”

        I took the twenty minutes to make sure my father was settled for awhile and took the next hour and a half to soak in a hot bath, “anoint” myself with some perfumed oils and scents and dress myself for Easter celebration.

        We all prepared and enjoyed a wonderful Easter dinner and our experience is still referred to as the Easter Eileen DIDN”T go to “church”!

        Your family’s experience and mine express an understanding of feet washing that I doubt Bishop Molino will ever be able to express by washing the feet of his seminarians – but are more like the one Jesus wanted to teach.

  37. Per Fran’s apt admonition cum observation:

    1. The rite is not a reenactment.
    2. Historically, the *ritual* was not exclusively associated with the institution of Orders. It’s capable of that association, but the exclusive association is recent, and arguable.
    3. I suggest that, the ritual for that purpose belongs at the Chrism Mass.
    4. And the ritual still has value at the parochial celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper as a sign of discipleship. It’s clearly a ritual that speaks richly and deeply to many of the faithful in that perspective, and Catholicism should be large enough to embrace it without fear.
    5. The current ban invites not only disobedience but through that less worthy innovations. (I shudder to remember communities where hands got washed instead….) When the rubric is so far afield of where many of the pewdwellers are (I care much less about the parish ministerial establishment’s views are), and where this is widespread, it begs review.
    6. That said, we should remember that must always be ready to eat our own cooking when it least suits us: cherry picking can and will find a way to bit us in the rear, to mix metaphors.

  38. About the bells. For extremely deaf people like me Mass is now just a pantomime, and we’re grateful for any distinctive motion on the altar that tells us just what is going on, including seeing the motion of the server shaking the bells. Even when I was only *very* deaf, any distinctive motion was useful for knowing which part of the Mass we were at.
    Also, in the large gymnasium-like churches these days, even with microphones what is being said often comes across only as mumbles to people in the back who hear well, and the high bell sounds are distinctive. (I’m thinking especially of the now-aging Boomers whose hearing is going.) If we’re trying to read the missals we can’t be looking up every minute or so to see where the priest is, so bells help even the people who can still hear some.

    I’m grateful for the English of the Mass, but I do miss the old movements and signals that contributed to, shall we say, the choreography of the old Mass. The postures and motions were more expressive (including the head bowing and breast beating), and the bells make a sound that is utterly distinctive. They’re a unique sound for heralding of the coming of the Savior.

  39. Apparently we have a bishop who has tunnel vision. He is ultra conservative appointed by the conservative cardinals who were in charge at the time. One of them is Cardinal Burke, originally a Bishop of the LaCrosse Diocese. He had many problems in that position and was sent to St. Louis and then to Rome. Well, we all know how that turned out for him! May I live long enough to see a renewed spirit in the Madison Diocese based on the actions of our present Pope Francis. Jan Rapp Burandt

  40. It was a miracle last night in Madison and it will count toward Morlino’s later-sainthood:
    twelve male second-graders received their First Communions
    got their feet washed (two on each boy) and
    received ordination to the sub-diaconate in one amazing ritual.
    Wait…sub-diaconate! It’s all invalid. They shoulda been archbishops.

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