Saturday, March 31, 2007

Holy Week liturgical strangeness


The topic: Handwashing on Holy Thursday.

The verdict: -10 on The Orthometer.


The first time I heard about this little bit of weird was from a classmate at the sem. This was the practice at the parish he worked at during his pastoral year. (For those who don't know, a pastoral year is an internship year where a seminarian interrupts his studies to work in a parish. In general, I am not in favor of them. All to often they amount to a year of forced liberalization and the seminarian ends up being stuck with the work that no one else wants to do.) Anyway, it seems that the pastor didn't think his washing the feet of twelve men was inclusive or relevant enough. We had a good laugh over the whole thing and I never thought that I would have to experience this.
That is until I spent a year as a transitional deacon. We were at the liturgy committee meeting discussing Holy Week. Someone asked, "Do we have enough towels for the congregation to wash each other's hands?" "Wait a minute," I said. "We wash hands on Holy Thursday?" As I got the Is-He-From-Mars looks, they explained that it had been done for several years and everyone loved it. "Ummm, but Jesus washed his disciples feet," I replied. As I moved farther out in the Solar System, they patiently explained that that wasn't inclusive or relevant enough. "Ummm, but didn't Pontius Pilate wash his hands around the Triduum. Do we really want to be imitating him?" Everyone laughed and sure enough the whole congregation washed hands at the Mass of the Lord's Supper while I said a few prayers to Our Lady of Vengeance.
Google this topic and you will find that this is not that unusual a practice. Neither is the no less common abuse of having the feet of women washed. Catholics United for the Faith has a good discussion of the footwashing issue. As for my parish, we follow the rubrics. (However, it was several years into my first pastorate before I was aware that the Latin rubrics specified males.)
Bottom Line: Which of the two men in the picture do you really think we should imitate?
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