To me, it seems Pope Francis is asking the Church to “go out of herself.” He has used that idea several times, especially today at the Chrism Mass, and it was in his pre-conclave talk to the cardinals as well. In essence, he is saying, “Enough navel-gazing as a Church. Let’s not hang around on shore polishing the decks and fretting over whether the boat is as well-adorned and pretty as we would like. We need to grab those nets and put out into the deep.”
Or (to totally switch metaphors), we need to go after those lost sheep. Today the Pope celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s supper at a youth prison in Rome, speaking to teenagers (some immigrants, some are not Catholic or even have no religious upbringing), washing and kissing their feet. Oh, and two were girls.
In his short, impromptu homily, he said in part:
Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.
Now we will perform the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet and we must each one of us think, Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this, to serve us, to help us. (read the whole thing here; there is also complete audio – click on “video on demand under the picture”).
Listening to it I nearly cried, because the Holy Father’s voice was so loving and gentle. How tenderly he fed those bedraggled lambs!
Our new Pope has a truly blessed gift for evangelization. People are literally dying spiritually all over the world for lack of what we have to give, and Francis is showing us how. Everyone ought to be thanking God for today’s beautiful example to all priests and all Christians.
And yet, once again, we see people carping about whether the Pope should kiss Muslim feet or whether he failed to follow liturgical rubrics (male feet only!). Or they complain that the Pope is taking a rite that is supposed to be about the priesthood, since Christ washed only the apostles’ feet, and changing the meaning, etc.
Look, concern for liturgy has its place. Questions about canon law have their place.
But evangelization has the first place, everywhere and always. Evangelization isn’t just words. It is deeds, deeds like these, that tell us who Jesus Christ is, and what a priest is, and what love is.
Specifically about the liturgical question, I find it hard to understand what the fuss is about. As I read Dr. Peter’s blog (http://www.canonlaw.info/a_footfight.htm), I see that he noted that permissions can and have been given (I presume he means by the Congregation for Divine Worship) to individual bishops to allow women’s feet to be washed at the Holy Thursday Mass. If permission needed to be granted, I’m sure the Pope can grant it to himself; I believe he actually outranks a mere Vatican Congregation. He is not breaking the law, but dispensing himself from it. Dispensing himself from the letter, in order to better fulfill the spirit of a rite, which, as the Congregation itself says: “represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ (Matt XX: 28).” (CDW, Paschales Solemnitatis (16 ian 1988), n. 51). As Dr. Peters points out, nothing in the rubrics or the CDW refers to the priesthood as such.
And what if this catches on and all dioceses want to do it? I for one, would find it a great improvement if a merely navel-gazing washing of each others’ feet at Mass could cease and be replaced by the priests of every diocese going to the local prisons, hospitals and homeless shelters and celebrating Mass there and washing the feet of the poorest of our brothers and sisters as Pope Francis did. And what if those who take enormous amounts of time carping in comboxes about how uncomfortable and distressed they are (it’s always I, I, I, isn’t it?), by co-ed foot-washing, instead used that time to do some more of this kind of service for others?
Just two weeks ago, I was wondering who could possibly be elected as Pope who could take the Church where she needs go. And by the way, exactly where does she need to go?
Now I think I know. God bless Pope Francis!
Update: March 29. A note by Vatican press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi on the controversy.