Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Servant Pope

Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to let you
be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are trav'lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load . . .

– Richard Gillard
The Servant Song (1977)

Writes Philip Pullella of Reuters:

Two young women were among twelve people whose feet Pope Francis washed and kissed at a traditional ceremony in a Rome youth prison on Holy Thursday, the first time a pontiff has included females in the rite.

The pope traveled to the Casal del Marmo prison on Rome's outskirts for the traditional Mass, which commemorates Jesus' gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he died.

The ceremony has been traditionally limited to men because all of Jesus' apostles were male. The Vatican spokesman said two of the twelve whose feet were washed were Muslim inmates.

While the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio included women in the rite when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, it was the first time women had taken part in a papal Holy Thursday ceremony.

Taking the ceremony to a youth prison was also a papal first and Francis, who was elected only two weeks ago, said he wanted to be closer to those who were suffering.

All popes in living memory have held the service either in St. Peter's or the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, which is the pope's cathedral church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

In a brief, unscripted homily, the pope told the young inmates that everyone, including him, had to be in the service of others.

Meanwhile, Katie McDonough of Slate writes:

As part of a Holy Thursday ritual, Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome, including two young women. Some in the Catholic Church see the pontiff’s decision to wash women’s feet as symbolic break with male-dominated tradition, as current liturgical rules restrict the ritual to men. Previous popes had only washed the feet of priests meant to represent Jesus’ male disciples.

. . . Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, calls the act “hugely significant,” explaining that “including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on – and even banned – in some dioceses.”

And finally, there is "Prickliest Pear"'s insightful observations as to why so-called traditionalists are upset by the pope's Good Thursday washing of women's feet. (Note: The following was left as a comment to this post on William D. Lindsey's blog Bilgrimage)

So why do the traditionalists get it so wrong? Their thinking begins and ends with the priesthood, not with the foot-washing ritual. Their vision of the cultic priesthood as an exclusive channel through which they receive the grace of God has to be kept in mind. It is what they believe the Church is most centrally about. If they read scripture in connection with this ritual, it is to find support for their particular understanding of the priesthood. They believe that the stories of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels show where Jesus instituted the Catholic priesthood--this is reading a LOT into the text that isn't there, but when you're desperate enough to see something, sometimes you'll see it.

But what about John? The Gospel of John lacks that all-important institution-of-the-priesthood scene. The scene with the foot-washing is in it's place, and so, their thinking goes, it must be connected to the priesthood, too. It doesn't say that anywhere in the text, but they're not interested in the original meaning of the ritual, they're interested in how they can interpret it to support for their understanding of the priesthood.

And of course this requires them to misinterpret it, because that wasn't what it was about at all.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Washes Women's Feet in Break with Church Law – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 28, 2013).
Francis Washes, Kisses Feet of Two Women, Two Muslims – Thomas C. Fox (National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2013).
Washing Women's Feet: New Pope Captures Media Attention (and Infuriates Catholic Traditionalists) – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 29, 2013).
Pope's Foot-Wash a Final Straw for Traditionalists – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, March 29, 2013).
"Francis Set a Bad Example by Washing the Feet of Two Women" – Alessandro Speciale (Vatican Insider, March 29, 2013).
Pope Urges Catholic Priests to Help Poor, Shun Careerism – Reuters via, March 28, 2013).
Francis: Priests Should 'Have the Smell' of Their People – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter (March 28, 2013).
Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation" – Andrea Rodriguez (Associated Press via The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 26, 2013).
Pope Francis Rejects Apostolic Palace, Will Live In Guest Apartment – Christopher Hale (Millennial, March 26, 2013).
Seven Fascinating Things We've Learned About Pope Francis – Peter Weber (The Week, March 28, 2013).
Holy Thursday: Radical Call to Be Served and to Serve – Mike Jordan Laskey (Millennial, March 28, 2013).
"He Took the Form of a Servant": Holy Thursday and Jesus' Gender Transgression – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 28, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gospel Leadership
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus
Rosemary Haughton and the "True Catholic Enterprise"
The Passion of Christ (Part 3): The Last Supper
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Pope Francis has given us a strong statement by his inclusion of women. I don't think the Pius X people will be happy but I think most Catholics are heartened by him.