March 24, 2016

Article at Authory

The "Liturgical Abuse" of Washing Feet

On the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet and "Liturgical Abuse"

The footwashing ritual on the night of Holy Thursday started as a "liturgical abuse." (Or at least it could be seen that way by liturgical purists.) Allow me to elaborate.

I realized this when I got to thinking about the ancient custom at Passover seders to change up the ritual in order to prompt questions. The custom goes back centuries, with some rabbis even urging that the seder table be removed, if that is what it took to get people questioning. How ancient the custom is, I can't say, but there is something very interesting that happens at Christ's Last Supper.

At two points during the Last Supper, Christ seems to have deliberately mixed up the ritual.

Seders have multiple handwashing rituals; Christ got up and washed the apostles' feet, which prompted questions. Later, during the prayer over the bread and wine, in the seder liturgy the wine is prayed over first and then the bread. Christ switched that, blessing the bread first and then the wine. (It was in reading an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who converted to Catholicism that I caught onto that one.)

Why did Christ do this? Well, one, questions. And questions are an integral part of the seder liturgy. But, in a time when the faith would first be spread by word-of-mouth, the switch-up probably highlighted the importance of what Christ was doing. It was a "show, don't tell" way of saying, "Pay attention! This is important, so we're going to do it differently so you'll get that it's important."

Not surprisingly, this same "Pay attention!" attitude seems to have informed, at least a bit, Pope Francis's choice to open up the ritual to all people, not just "chosen men."

This tends to be lost when the most important value is trying to do everything at Mass "just as Jesus would have done" at the Last Supper.

(Image: Feet in water, Pixabay.)