Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Washing of the Feet: an unnecessary controversy

The Missa in cena Domini states: “It is for pastors to choose a small group of persons who are representative of the entire people of God – lay, ordained ministers, married, single, religious, healthy, sick, children, young people and the elderly – and not just one category or condition”. Also “the washing of the feet ritual is not mandatory”. It further states: “In fact, the exemplum that He (Jesus) has given to us goes beyond the physical washing of the feet of others to embrace everything that such a gesture expresses in service of tangible love of our neighbour”.

This decree, initiated by His Holiness Pope Francis, frees the Church from the continual disobedience to the Magisterium over many years and wonderfully permits the obedient to now attend this spiritually moving ceremony. It also brings to our attention the more important spiritual meanings of Our Lord's actions.

Back in 1890, Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ saw the implications quite clearly, and unfortunately until this year the narrow liturgical lens has blinded us to the reality of what took place and the implications for the salvation of our souls. Your patience is requested, as it will bring out some very important truths if you read the following extracts from Fr Henry's treatise in Passiontide Part II;

The treachery of Judas may be considered as having drawn from our Lord the action of the Lavanda, as a fresh attempt to touch the false disciple's heart, and also, as He could foresee the failure of the attempt, as giving to Himself the opportunity for which He wished of speaking about the treachery itself, and so preparing for the dismissal of this traitor, apparently, in peace.

The action of which we are to speak has a two-fold character - that of self-humiliation, and that of purification. The self-humiliation was connected with the motives of which St John goes on to speak, the purification with the symbolical purport of the act itself, at whatever time it was to be done. For it represented in an almost sacramental manner the cleansing of the souls of those who were to partake of the Banquet which was to be presently instituted. This character of the rite is mentioned soon afterwards by our Lord when He speaks of those that are cleansed needing only to wash their feet, and the rest. To any of the Apostles (who were ordinary men, yet to receive the Holy Spirit or Ordinations) the sight of our Lord at his feet, with water to wash them, would suggest in the first instance the immense humiliation of the Son of God, and in the second place the cleansing power which He could exercise. In this sense the act was a tender invitation to Judas to enter into himself by contrition, and allow our Lord, now at the eleventh hour, to cleanse him from his guilt. And surely never could such an appeal have been made in a more tender manner...

'If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with Me'. It is clear that these words cannot apply to the external action which our Lord was then about to perform, except so far as the obedience of the Apostle required him to submit to this, or to whatever else our Lord might enjoin. But He does not say, If thou dost not obey Me, but if I wash thee not, and we are therefore led to believe that the washing was declared by our Lord to be necessary to St. Peter if he was to have any part with our Lord in the sense in which this washing is understood spiritually, for unless our Lord wash our souls by the grace purchased by His Blood, no one can have any part with Him. But there seems also to be a distinct reference to the sacred rite which was so soon to follow, and the meaning appears to be that the cleansing of the soul from even lesser stains was necessary in order for the perfect reception of the Blessed Sacrament which our Lord was about to institute. This sense is signified by the words which our Lord added about the cleansing...

He that is washed, needest not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly. That is, persons in whom the state of grace is habitual and who have no grievous sin which separates them from God, have only need to cleanse their souls from the from lesser stains which they contract in their daily walk through life, as a person who habitually keeps his whole body clean by continual washing or bathing, has need day after day to wash his feet, which contact every day some small ordinary dust or dirt, such as inevitably collected in the streets and roads along which they pass. When this daily accruing defilement is washed away, they remain altogether clean without more washing. This is the practical lesson which is acted upon day after day by thousands in the Church, who cleanse their souls (of venial sins) by self-examination and contrition before they receive any sacrament, enter into converse with God in prayer or perform important spiritual exercise whatever...

The last words of our Lord which are here mentioned by St John, 'Ye are clean, but not all', are followed by a comment of the Evangelist, stating that He knew who he was that would betray Him, therefore, He said, 'You are not all clean'. It was, then, a point of importance, in the mind of the Apostle, that our Lord took care to show that His that His betrayer was known to Him beforehand...

For the action of the Lavanda was at all events one that might well have aroused loving and contrite thoughts in the heart of Judas, and this must have led to a large effusion of grace which would have issued in his complete conversion...

In the words on which we are now commenting, it appears that our Lord distinguishes between two degrees of cleanness of body, which may have their corresponding verification in the state of the soul of which He spoke. Those that are generally in the state of grace and union with our Lord are clean, and yet they need at particular times and on particular occasions the further purification such as is represented by the cleansing of the feet from daily stains on the part of those who are clean in other respects. But those who are not in the state of grace, but are separated from God by grievous and habitual sin, need the restoration of the state of grace, and not only the purification from the lighter and occasional defects, errors, forgetfulness and half involuntary mistakes and shortcomings in God's service. Our Lord makes clearly a distinction of this kind when He says that the Apostles were clean but not all, and St John gives this as a sign that He betray Him. Judas therefore needed a more perfect and total washing than could be given him by the cancelling of lighter faults and negligences. We seem here to have the distinction clearly made by our Lord Himself between the faults which are not inconsistent with the state of grace and those which are inconsistent with the same state, and He connects the difference with this rite of the washing of the feet, which symbolized the purification of the soul from the slightest faults through His Precious Blood. Those who are clean may still need and profit by a further purification, which answers to the washing of the feet. But He does not say that those who are altogether unclean can obtain freedom from stains without a more powerful purification than that which is signified here. The obscurity which hangs over language is just that which might be expected when our Lord was speaking figuratively and acting parabolically, and before He had instituted or conferred the special powers contained in the Sacrament of Confession...

He now tells them that the same action had another side in its regard to us, and that it was an example of mutual charity and humility. If then I, being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another's foot. His action was spontaneous, not required by any necessity or suggested by any desire on their part, but as if He had simply considered what He could best do to show His homage to the Father and His love for them. And in this it was different from an act of mercy, which is usually elicited by some want or affliction or distress on the part of others. He seems to mean us to understand that we are to consider what we can do in the way of love and humility and service to others, rather for the sake of showing in them our love and gratitude to Him, than for that of supplying any need. (This aligns completely with Missa in cena Domini)

In essence what we can conclude from this treatise, is that we are all in need of cleansing from venial sins and the washing of the feet in its spiritual sense means just that. Those in a state of intended or actual mortal sin have to be cleansed by whole body washing, that is emersion within the Sacrament of Confession before they together with those cleansed of venial sins are in a fit state to attend and partake of the Eucharist.

Taking a narrow-lens liturgical perspective of 'men' or 'men and women' only defeats the objective intention of the actions of Our Lord clearly delineating that only the purified are invited to partake
of the Eucharist. Indeed taking this wide-angle-lens liturgical view means that all the People of God within a Parish should have their feet washed, but this would not be practical and therefore it is most fitting that a representative group is selected on behalf of the People of God within the Parish: see below for the Catholic Heritage description of the meaning of the People of God within the Catholic Church according to Vatican II.

Vatican II teaches that the whole ‘people of God’ – laity and clergy – has received the same faith that comes to us from the Apostles and the Spirit speaks through the whole Church but in a special way through the apostolic ministry received from the Holy Spirit by the bishops. This has been the faith of the Church since ancient times.

All the images of the Church, and there are more than those listed here, need to balance one another and contribute to a complete picture. No one image says everything about the Church. Nor should we expect that the Church, which exists as a mystery similar to that of the Incarnate Word, should be so easily reduced to one single definition or image.

Vatican II affirms what Scripture teaches: that we have all been baptised into Christ and together we are parts of one another (Rom 5:12). God calls us as a ‘new people of God’ and sends us on our mission together. We need to resist the temptation to reduce the Church to a society which exists by the will of the people and accept that its existence is willed by God.

So instead of harping about this so called innovation, we should be grateful because Pope Francis has allowed us, who wish to see, the vitally important spiritual meanings within Christ's actions so that each member of the Parish is encouraged to do likewise in acts of mercy to their neighbour and more importantly be purified before partaking of the Eucharist.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.