Quo Vadis, Viri Selecti?

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgical Year

(NOTE: That should be Quo vaditis, viri selecti? but then nobody would get the allusion.)

A staple part of the annual Lent fight has been the question of whether only men should be used in the footwashing ceremony on Holy Thursday. Since the rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the Twelve Apostles’ feet (all of whom were men) and since the text for the rite in Latin refers to it being performed on viri selecti ("selected men"), the answer seems to be yes: Only men should be used.

But things just got muddier.

Last year the Archbishop of Boston caused waves by daring to obey what the Church’s rubrics actually say. He promised, however, to consult the Congregation for Divine Worship to get their take on the matter.

He did:

O’Malley promised to consult with Rome, and yesterday his
spokeswoman said the Congregation for Divine Worship, which oversees
liturgical practices, had suggested the archbishop make whatever
decision he thought was best for Boston.

”The Congregation [for Divine Worship] affirmed the liturgical
requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday
ritual." However, the Congregation did ”provide for the archbishop to
make a pastoral decision."

O’Malley then decided to include women in this year’s ceremony.

One can’t blame O’Malley for that. He did what he was supposed to do: He
tried to follow what the Church said to do last year and, when
challenged on that, he asked Rome for a clarification as to whether
there is leeway. Rome (apparently) said that there was, and at that
point it’s hard to fault him for exercizing that leeway in order to
prevent the kind of blowup that happened last year–only this time without him being able to say, "Sorry, guys, but this is what the law says, and as far as I know, there’s no leeway." Now he knows.

Assuming that the above report is accurate, we now, officially, have a mess on our hands.

Rome is reported to be saying that on the one hand the law is still in place but on the other hand the Archbishop can ignore it. If he can, who else can? In the absence of the document they sent him (if they sent him a document), it’s hard to know. Hypothetically, the document might be worded in such a way that the Archbishop himself is the only person to whom this applies, or it might apply to any bishop, or it might apply to any pastor. Without the document, we have no way of knowing.

We don’t even know if the document has any force. If it’s written by some junior liturgical guy and was not run past Arinze then it might not have any authority at all.

So what we have here is a mess.

We may also have a doubt of law situation, and as well all know, "Laws, even invalidating and incapacitating ones, do not oblige when there is a
doubt of law" (CIC 14).

I would anticipate future developments on this.There will be increased pressure for Rome to weigh in on this in a more public manner.


(Cowboy hat tip to the reader who sent it.)

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

What is the Secret Information Club?I value your email privacy


BillyHW March 21, 2005 at 9:16 am

Who are these people that so desperately want to prevent men from asserting the spiritual fatherhood of their families and communities that is so dearly needed in our culture?

J. P. Fujawa March 21, 2005 at 10:18 am

Just another sign of Vatican whimpiness. I’d have told the good Archbishop: “Go back and read the rubrics – what does it say.”
I see this as being similar to the altar girl situation of a decade ago. US Bishops totally ignore the rules prohibiting altar girls and certain Catholics begin to expect them and get upset when they get a more ortthodox bishop or pastor who may prohibit them. The Vatican is acting like an exasperated parent dealing with a child that is constantly wanting to push the limits placed upon them by the parent, and the parent (in this case the Vatican)is exhibiting the poor parenting that often results from such exasperation in just relenting to the child’s demands and saying “Just do what you want to do.”

Ken March 21, 2005 at 12:20 pm

It’s getting more difficult to argue on the side of applying the law, Church doctrine and discipline, to individuals, when our bishops are twisting and bending the law at the slightest whim.

Liam March 21, 2005 at 12:35 pm

The muddle is about the purpose of the ritual. We should recall that the ritual survived longest in the Roman ritual (in abbeys, monasteries, priories and convents) as a ritual of discipleship generally, *not* Orders. Its revival in the post-conciliar Triduum liturgies has been ambiguous in meaning and perhaps non-organic in development; the rubrics seemed to indicate a purpose focused on Orders, but then it seemed out of place in the Triduum and would seem more appropriate at the Chrism Mass. It has not all been about feminists and liberals agitating, though there has been a great deal of that, too.
Then, of course, there is the classic Roman way of dealing with law that people from the Anglosphere’s legal culture find so infuriating. This was a classic instance of Romanita that Americans cannot stand: reaffirm a law in principle while countenancing an exception therefrom or contrary practice thereto. We Americans want a high degree of coherence between law and practice, and value a division of power among the legislative, executive and judicial functions, whereas the Roman way fuses those functions and grants considerable discretion to the sovereign and his delegates to mitigate the application of legal precept as his or their equitable instincts dictate.

Tim Peoples March 21, 2005 at 5:20 pm

I read a good comment about this on Bill Cork’s blog (billcork.blogspot.com). Bill muses that maybe the Vatican’s message to Archbishop O’Malley was more along the lines of: Yes, this is law, but you have bigger fish to fry. Seems reasonable, since liturgical abuses (unfortunately) are not the most prominent crises in the Church today. On that note, I can’t really fault O’Malley for trying to keep the peace while he puts that troubled archdiocese back together.

Jared L. Olar March 21, 2005 at 9:12 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but since this is a matter of universal liturgical law, only an apostolic constitution can change it to allow a bishop to include women in the pedalavium. So where is the apostolic constitution, hmm?
I remember the way Cardinal McCarrick misrepresented Cardinal Ratzinger’s note last year, so forgive me for being suspicious here, but I’ll believe Rome said what O’Malley’s woman claims when I see the letter they sent him.

momof5 March 22, 2005 at 5:34 am

What really bugs me about this was alluded to above. For years the American Church (rebelliously) had altar girls until the Holy See “fell in line” and “allowed” it. If it wasn’t allowed before, why were we doing it? Isn’t it obvious that we weren’t supposed to? Do you mean that when I tell my children not to wear muddy shoes in the house, they should do it anyway until I “fall in line”? Where is the authority?

Zhou De-Ming March 22, 2005 at 8:30 am

I love visiting Italy. So many Churches, so much art, so many folks walking around in habit. Cars driving everywhere, businesses and post offices open when they are open, in spite of posted hours. The sun comes up on schedule, but business hours are not necessarily as posted. The good life. Relax.
Now a Catholic of Reversion + 6 years, I’m beginning to understand and accept that Catholic liturgy and ritual is primarily (1) determined locally in practice, and (2) guided generally in theory from the Vatican. That’s just how it is. I think, historically, that is pretty much how it always has been. Every parish is a little different. Every diocese is a little different. Every decade is a little different. Look at how different the 1940’s were from the 1950’s from the 1960’s from the 1970’s–every decade saw adjustments and modifications to the liturgy. In America, there is still the liturgy of the mid 1970’s in use, while a number of other countries are using the liturgy of 2002. Some places happily use the liturgy of 1962. Local, pastoral considerations and traditions always trump what some might want to make a global norm.
So I don’t sweat over this stuff anymore.

ken March 22, 2005 at 9:16 am

Zhou, In theory I agree with your thought. Living in the Chicagoland area it is easy to find parishes which offer reverent Masses and closely follow the rubrics. However a concern of mine is that diocese and parishes which are home to liturgical innovation are also the breeding grounds of theological dissent, and this I cannot turn my back on and avoid.

Peter March 22, 2005 at 10:50 am

I don’t think that foot washing has anything to do with “vir”-ness. I don’t think it has anything to do with ordination of priests (is there any foot washing in an ordination rite?). It has lots to do humbling yourself and doing that (as far as I know) your lowest servant would do for your guests.
Considering that the text appears to have originated in 1955 or thereabouts, I think there is lots of room for change.

John Lilburne March 22, 2005 at 5:54 pm

Code of Canon Law, canon 846: “The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments …”.
Oath of Fidelity “… I shall foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall insist on the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. …”

StevenV March 22, 2005 at 7:32 pm

How ironic that a lesson in humility, the Holy Thursday foot washing rite, will be performed contrary to the rubrics in many parishes because the presider knows better.

Previous post:

Next post: