As many feared, Pope Francis' Maundy Thursday Mass at Roman juvenile detention facility included the foot washing of two girls, and a number of non-Catholics, including two Muslims.
Over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia David Schütz attempts to provide a rationalisation for this.
In my he fails.
It is obvious that Pope Francis is trying to emphasize the mission of the Church, and the duty of priests, and indeed all Christians to dedicate themselves to the service of others.
But to try and convey this message by breaking Church law in order to do it (yes he is the supreme legislator and could change the law. But he hasn't - yet), and more importantly, jettisoning centuries of liturgical and theological tradition, he is surely sending the wrong signal.
Popes are protected in their teaching.
But they can fail to make the best pastoral and other judgments.
This seems to me to be such a case.
Liturgy not theatre
One of the primary facture lines between traditionalists and modernists is the liturgy: to what extent can it be changed, manufactured to suit the message of the day; to what extent is it part of the Divine Tradition handed down by the centuries and safeguarded by the Church?
Pope Benedict XVI taught that although aspects of the liturgy can be modified, parts of it cannot. Are the rules about whose feet can and cannot be washed part of that inviolable Divine-Apostolic tradition? Perhaps not - but it is surely part of the Apostolic-Ecclesial tradition, those traditions whose origins go back to the earliest days of the Church, and is therefore not lightly to be discarded.
The liturgy places the sacraments and sacramentals such as the foot washing into a particular theological context. And the theological context in this case is the institution of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.
The liturgy and traditions of Holy Week are ancient indeed, and to attempt to recast them in this way really is an assault on the idea that traditions are to be guarded not reinvented to suit ourselves.
In fact it seems to me that in many ways the most disturbing part of this gesture of the pope is not the washing of women's feet, but the participation of Muslims in the ceremony.
Washing the feet of women misses the point of the connection with the institution of the priesthood and helps undermine the male priesthood. That is, to say the least, unhelpful.
Simply ignoring the Churches longstanding restriction of the footwashing to 'viri' (men) also sends the message that Church laws are made to be broken. That could prove counter-productive indeed. How, after all, can one demand obedience to any of the laws of the Church, liturgical or otherwise, if the Pope sets a bad example?
But it seems to me that the inclusion of Muslims and other unbelievers in a liturgical service meant for believers, and a ritual that is meant to be about the mutual service of Christians of each other, misses the point of the ceremony altogether.
Yes the Church needs to reach out, to preach its mission to convert all to Christ and cease being so internally focused.
That doesn't mean, however, rejecting the idea that mutual service within the Christian community should have priority.
The early Church formed at Pentecost was surely the most outwardly focused of all times. Yet the early Church described in Acts ordained deacons not to give out aid to the Jews and pagans, but rather to look after those within the Christian community.
Charity, in other words, begins at home, which is why Christ washed the feet of his disciples, not random passersby in the streets, or those at the margins that he had at variously times sought out. There is nothing narcissistic or self-reverential about this; rather it is something Christ himself modelled for us.
So while I can see what I think Pope Francis is trying to get at in terms of problems in the contemporary Church, and agree with the underlying message, I really do think the hand wringing going on over at Rorate Caeli and elsewhere is justified in this case.
What do you think?