(NOTE: That should be Quo vaditis, viri selecti? but then nobody would get the allusion.)
A staple part of the annual Lent fight has been the question of whether only men should be used in the footwashing ceremony on Holy Thursday. Since the rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the Twelve Apostles’ feet (all of whom were men) and since the text for the rite in Latin refers to it being performed on viri selecti ("selected men"), the answer seems to be yes: Only men should be used.
But things just got muddier.
Last year the Archbishop of Boston caused waves by daring to obey what the Church’s rubrics actually say. He promised, however, to consult the Congregation for Divine Worship to get their take on the matter.
O’Malley promised to consult with Rome, and yesterday his
spokeswoman said the Congregation for Divine Worship, which oversees
liturgical practices, had suggested the archbishop make whatever
decision he thought was best for Boston.
”The Congregation [for Divine Worship] affirmed the liturgical
requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday
ritual." However, the Congregation did ”provide for the archbishop to
make a pastoral decision."
O’Malley then decided to include women in this year’s ceremony.
One can’t blame O’Malley for that. He did what he was supposed to do: He
tried to follow what the Church said to do last year and, when
challenged on that, he asked Rome for a clarification as to whether
there is leeway. Rome (apparently) said that there was, and at that
point it’s hard to fault him for exercizing that leeway in order to
prevent the kind of blowup that happened last year–only this time without him being able to say, "Sorry, guys, but this is what the law says, and as far as I know, there’s no leeway." Now he knows.
Assuming that the above report is accurate, we now, officially, have a mess on our hands.
Rome is reported to be saying that on the one hand the law is still in place but on the other hand the Archbishop can ignore it. If he can, who else can? In the absence of the document they sent him (if they sent him a document), it’s hard to know. Hypothetically, the document might be worded in such a way that the Archbishop himself is the only person to whom this applies, or it might apply to any bishop, or it might apply to any pastor. Without the document, we have no way of knowing.
We don’t even know if the document has any force. If it’s written by some junior liturgical guy and was not run past Arinze then it might not have any authority at all.
So what we have here is a mess.
We may also have a doubt of law situation, and as well all know, "Laws, even invalidating and incapacitating ones, do not oblige when there is a
doubt of law" (CIC 14).
I would anticipate future developments on this.There will be increased pressure for Rome to weigh in on this in a more public manner.
(Cowboy hat tip to the reader who sent it.)