|Taking the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose|
on Maundy Thursday.
Austen Ivereigh claims that in opening the Mandatum to women, Pope Francis is 'restoring an older Tradition'. Claiming the change has 'infuritated traditionalists' (sorry, Austen, I'm not infuriated), he explains:
Yet Francis has been restoring what once was tradition. The custom in the seventeenth century, for example, was for bishops to wash, dry and kiss the feet of 13 poor people after having dressed them and fed them. Nor is there any obligation for the foot-washing to be part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
This is a bit thin as an explanation, so let me fill it in a bit. Because Ivereigh has a point.
It is the rubrics of 1955 and 1970 which say that the foot-washing of Maundy Thursday should happen (a) after the Gospel, (b) in the choir or sanctuary of the church, and (c) to 'viri', men as opposed to women.
N.b. the word 'viri' (plural of 'vir') is only used if you want to exclude women. There is another Latin word for 'men' in the sense of 'people': 'homines' (plural of 'homo'); again, you might expect the gender neutral 'christifideles' (the Faithful) or some such term to be used, if gender was not an issue.
Before 1955, and in accordance with an organically developing tradition going back to the earliest times, the Mandatum took place (a) after Mass was over, after the 'stripping of the Altars' ceremony, (b) not in the sanctuary, and (c) to 'pauperes': the poor. Also, interestingly, as as Ivereigh notes, the number of pauperes was 13, not 12. Indeed, the Mandatum carried out in the context of a parish celebration of the Mass of Maundy Thursday, by a parish priest, was simply a particular case of a wider phenomenon, of Maundy Thursday foot-washing by bishops, abbots, abbesses, kings and queens, lords and ladies, of poor folk. Rubricarius (who knows about these things) tells us in my com-box that the Parish Priest, in line with the wider phenomenon, would have been expected to give these pauperes food, clothing, and money afterwards.
Male foot-washers would have washed male feet, and female washers female feet, as a matter of pudicy. If Ivereigh thinks that a 17th century bishop would have washed the feet of women, he's wrong. (I love the way he implies they did, without quite implying that they did.) Such considerations of pudicy are still relevant in our multi-cultural world: yes, multi-culturalism can mean taking care not to offend people with more old-fashioned attitudes that your own, such as those of American gangsters (bad language warning). What that famous scene from Pulp Fiction demonstrates is that a man touching a woman's feet has an erotic meaning.
I really wouldn't want any priests to 'develop a speech impediment' as a result of washing ladies' feet.
What happened in 1955 was that the Mandatum was made a liturgical act, in the middle of Mass and in the sanctuary, in the form of a literal-minded re-enactment of the scene described in the Gospel of St John (13:1-17). As has often been pointed out, Our Lord washed the feet of His Apostles, His priests: but that is not how it has been understood and imitated in the Latin liturgical tradition. Rather, the command has been understood in a more general sense that the higher should serve the lower, whether the higher is religious or secular, whether the relationship is sacramental or economic. Indeed, one can see in the tradition an application of a specifically lay obligation, to conform secular relationships to the reign of Christ.
As for the 1955 rite, it goes along with a current of thought which understands the liturgy as re-enactment in a way it had never been understood before, a form of antiquarianism. The argument that the 'original meaning' or 'original form' of something should be restored, often on the basis of bad scholarship or simple fantasy, was heard even more loudly in 1970 than in 1955. Along with supposedly authentic vestments and pottery chalices, we have a 'restored' kiss of peace, 'restored' bidding prayers, and a 'restored' offertory procession, and it is common to hear people unable to understand why the priest does not break the Host while saying the words 'He broke the bread', and why the Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated before Epiphany, when the event it commemorates took place after. In every case the wisdom of the developed tradition is lost, along with the continuity of what we do with what our immediate predecessors did - usually for at least the last eight centuries, and often for a lot longer.
I said in my last post that the latest change to the Mandatum reflects the results of the contradictions of the 1970 Missal. I should make clear that in this case, the contradiction was inherited from the 1955 reform of Holy Week, for which I have no brief to defend. The contradiction consists specifically in the way the rite uses the sanctuary. The sanctuary is a space for the clergy and their assistants, and the nave is the space for the Faithful. The distinction between the sanctuary and the nave is similar to the distinction marked by the use of Latin, marking out sacred time and space. It is just inappropriate for a dozen lay men to troop into the sanctuary, wearing ordinary clothes, and start taking off their shoes and socks. Adding lay women to the mix doesn't help. The result of the conflict between seeing the sanctuary as a sacred space, and seeing it as a handy 'performance space' for all sorts of activities, results in the disappearance of the former idea. The placing of the Mandatum there wasn't the decisive move, but it was part of a problematic trend.
|Maundy Thursday with the FSSP in Reading: the Altar of Repose.|
For the problems of the 1955 Holy Week Reform, see the Position Papers on that, Part I and Part II.
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