The foot-washing in the prison disconcerted me. My big concern is the message it sent to those who already blatantly disregard liturgical norms and canon law.
I wish to revert to what I am convinced are some important questions about the implications of the Holy Father’s controversial choice last year concerning whose feet to wash and kiss on Maundy Thursday.
Fundamentally, it seems to me that his action ran the risk of multivolent signification: of being a gesture which could bear a variety of different possible meanings, whether one at a time or in combination. I refer, of course, to the Holy Father’s disregard of the law restricting the pedilavium to viri, males.
His action is able to mean at least three quite radically dissimilar things; either that
(1) we must love and respect and serve all men and women, even the lowest in society; or that
(2) law may be disregarded whenever we think we know better, or that
(3) the Sovereign Pontiff is above the Law; that his position is so exalted that, unlike every other Christian, he is under no legal or moral or even prudential obligation to obey the Law or to appear to do so. (Morris West, writing during the maximalising papacy of Pius XII, gives imaginative, if chilling, expression to such an inflated attitude to the Papacy in The Devil’s Advocate: ” … the Chair of Peter … was a high leap, halfway out of the world and into a vestibule of Divinity. The man who wore the Fisherman’s ring and the triple tiara … stood on a windy pinnacle, alone, with the spread carpet of the nations below him, and above, the naked face of the Almighty. Only a fool would envy him the power and the glory and the terror of such a principality …” Oh dear. No, I don’t think I want to go down that sort of path.)
I will disregard (2). Furthermore, we must notice that, logically, if meaning (1) is intended, then (3) would have to be intended together with it. This because the Sovereign Pontiff could have gestured to express (1) without breaking the Law. He could – he is the undoubted Supreme Legislator – have changed the Law before his action; he could have devised a different and lawful gesture to express this love and respect; he could have performed the pedilavium lawfully in exactly the way he did, even on Maundy Thursday itself, by doing it apart from the Maundy Thursday Liturgy (as English Sovereigns did until the Dutch Invasion, and still vestigially do). Meaning (3), on the other hand, could be intended on its own without presupposing (1).
Frankly, I am not keen on (3). This particular, populist, papal gesture undoubtedly seemed attractive and liberating to those who find gesture more important than substance. But even papal chickens eventually come home to roost, and this un-legal action must, once its implications are fully understood, have a very detrimental effect upon ecumenical relationships.
Interesting. Read the rest of the article. Some other good points concerning the message the treatment of the FFI is sending to those considering joining the Catholic Church.
What made me comfortable with Pope Benedict XVI was his humility before the treasure of the Catholic faith, the Tradition that he labored faithfully to hand on, that he himself submitted to with no sense that he could use his power as Supreme Pontiff to ignore what the Church has always taught. He did not seek the spotlight, in fact he was uncomfortable with it, so the focus was always on the Church’s divine revelation and not a personality cult.
I pray everyday for Pope Francis that he too has this same humility, that he passes the true Catholic, Apostolic faith on to the next generation.
Because one of the biggest obstacles I found to joining the Catholic Church was this kind of thing. (Thankfully, in Ottawa we don’t see this kind of ridiculousness). If She is the One True Church, that kind of spectacle during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gets in the way of that truth being self-evident.