Fr Hunwicke examines the Pope’s footwashing

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.

Fr. Hunwicke examines it in a recent post:

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.

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8 Responses to Fr Hunwicke examines the Pope’s footwashing

  1. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    From your quotation: 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).

    Or there is another possibility: that the pope acted under the Roman/Latin view of law, which is different from the normal English view of law that also prevails in North America.

    Under the Roman understanding of law, a “law” simply establishes the normative course of action in the situations and circumstances that the lawgiver foresaw in promulgating it, but does not apply to other situations.

    The classic illustration of this distinction is what one does when one comes to a red traffic signal at an intersection of two secondary highways at the center of a rural village in the wee hours of the morning, when there is no other traffic. In the English legal tradition, one stops and waits until the signal changes to green and then proceeds. In the Roman legal tradition, however, a signal installed to promote orderly flow of traffic does not govern a situation in which there is no traffic. Thus, the Italian, or the Spaniard, would slow sufficiently, or stop if necessary, to verify that there were no other vehicles approaching the intersection, but then would proceed through the signal without waiting for it to change.

    For better or worse, the ecclesial law of the Roman Catholic Church has the Roman legal tradition as its foundation, and thus needs to be construed and applied in that manner — which is totally foreign to many of us who have lived all of our lives under secular legal systems founded on the English legal tradition. The celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a “detention center” for delinquent children clearly is not the situation envisioned in the rubrics, so the principal celebrant has latitude to adapt the celebration to that situation within the framework of ecclesial law — which is precisely what the pope did. No rational bishop would have taken a presbyter of his diocese to task for a similar adaptation.

    I also doubt that one would find this debate taking place on media of any French, Italian, or Spanish society, as those societies are founded on the Roman legal tradition. Rather, it’s most likely only in the English-speaking world that one finds the angst due to the underlying difference in legal tradition.

    Norm.

    • Stephen K says:

      A sensible observation, Norm, and putting things in perspective.

    • One can debate this question from the point of view of legislation, which is helpful (as far as it goes). Leaving aside the legal perspective, the Pope made a decision to perform the mandatum in a manner contrary to Tradition, but also in a way which would attract a maximum of public attention. It might have been in a detention centre, but it was hardly “behind closed doors”. I hope no one would believe that the Pope was unaware of that.

      Pope Francis – bless him – has demonstrated now on several occasions (and continues to do so) that he does not regard liturgical law as particularly important. In so doing, he illustrates either that he does not care about the theological principles which underly liturgical law, or that he is oblivious to those principles. In either case, it is rather unsettling.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        The Saint Bede Studio,

        You said: Leaving aside the legal perspective, the Pope made a decision to perform the mandatum in a manner contrary to Tradition…

        No, that is not accurate. Rather, the pope made a decision to perform the mandatum in a manner that differs from past custom.

        In ecclesial usage, the terms “tradition” and “custom” are NOT synonyms.

        >> The term “custom” means established practice, and is recognized in several ways in canon law.

        >> The term “tradition” means a source of theological revelation complementary to the scripture (see the dogmatic constitution Dei verbum on divine revelation, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council).

        It is said that tradition is handed on through various customs, but they are not the same thing. Tradition does not forbid changes in existing customs.

        Canons 23-28 of the Codex Juris Canonici (Code of Canon Law) specifically address the canonical role of custom.

        Can. 23 Only that custom introduced by a community of the faithful and approved by the legislator according to the norm of the following canons has the force of law.

        Can. 24 §1. No custom which is contrary to divine law can obtain the force of law.

        §2. A custom contrary to or beyond canon law (praeter ius canonicum) cannot obtain the force of law unless it is reasonable; a custom which is expressly reprobated in the law, however, is not reasonable.

        Can. 25 No custom obtains the force of law unless it has been observed with the intention of introducing a law by a community capable at least of receiving law.

        Can. 26 Unless the competent legislator has specifically approved it, a custom contrary to the canon law now in force or one beyond a canonical law (praeter legem canonicam) obtains the force of law only if it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. Only a centenary or immemorial custom, however, can prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.

        Can. 27 Custom is the best interpreter of laws.

        Can. 28 Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 5, a contrary custom or law revokes a custom which is contrary to or beyond the law (praeter legem). Unless it makes express mention of them, however, a law does not revoke centenary or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs.

        So if you wish to view the pope’s action as a new custom, we have a custom that “the competent legislator has specifically approved” which therefore “obtains the force of law” even if contrary to the letter of the existing law under Canon 26.

        You wrote: Pope Francis – bless him – has demonstrated now on several occasions (and continues to do so) that he does not regard liturgical law as particularly important. In so doing, he illustrates either that he does not care about the theological principles which underly liturgical law, or that he is oblivious to those principles.

        Or perhaps the pope — whose doctorate is in liturgy — understands “the theological principles which underly liturgical law” far better than you think and, far from “not regard[ing] the liturgical law as particularly important” as you suggest, is applying those principles, and thus interpreting and applying the law itself, in ways that you don’t understand.

        You continued: In either case, it is rather unsettling.

        Yes, of course it’s unsettling! The discovery that our theological understanding is somehow deficient is always rather unsettling, but that discovery is precisely what compels us to seek deeper understanding of the matter in question, and it is through that deeper understanding that we grow in faith.

        Norm.

  2. Pingback: Fr Hunwicke examines the Pope’s footwashing | Catholic Canada

  3. Catherine says:

    More Catholic than the Pope, eh?

  4. I detest the practice of answering comment for comment in a Blog, but Norm’s claims compel me to make a response. I suppose this will evoke a counter-response, but this is where I, at least, will leave such debate.

    The Pope doesn’t have a doctorate in Liturgy (or any doctorate, just to be precise).

    It appears that your views are that, whatever the Pope does Liturgically may be regarded as acceptable and as evidence of his profound knowledge both of the externals of the Sacred Liturgy and the theology and/ or doctrine which underpins them. I’m afraid this stretches credibility. I also greatly doubt that the Pope would make such a claim of himself.

    Your understanding of the term “Tradition” is very narrow: we hope not deliberately so.

    Father Ray Blake’s article on the new Ultramontanism deserves a close read.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      The Saint Bede Studio,

      You wrote: I detest the practice of answering comment for comment in a Blog, but Norm’s claims compel me to make a response.

      In other words, you detest conversation.

      By making such a statement, you are basically telling me, and all of the other readers of this blog, that you are set in your fantasy and you don’t care about reality. If that is the case, we shall read your future posts in that light.

      You wrote: Your understanding of the term “Tradition” is very narrow: we hope not deliberately so.

      Rather, my explanation of the term “tradition” is the Church’s actual use of the term. In my earlier post, I provided links to the definitive documents in this regard.

      Norm.

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