Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Mandatum etc

I was the proponent at the last Deanery meeting. At the proponent's meeting, the main speaker, a priest who lectures in Liturgy at a major seminary, asked what we should do about the Mandatum (he meant regarding women). Another liturgist in the group answered, "This is a case for selective amnesia". This was taken up, and various opinions were aired as to the meaning of the Mandatum. Of course, it was admitted that the Instructions say, "viri selecti", and I note that a Latin expert not a million miles away from this blog has confirmed that "viri" means "males" and cannot be taken to include humanity or both men and women.
I understand that an American Cardinal asked what the rules were regarding the Mandatum on an Ad Limini visit some time before 2004. He was granted permission to include women, but another Liturgist and Canonist has said that this was a "specific" permission granted with a certain situation in view and was not a general permission.
In many, if not most Catholic parishes, both male and female feet are washed on Holy Thursday evening. So, whatever the Instructions may say, we seem to be doing whatever we (parish priests and bishops) think best. But are we right to do this?
There is a principle here which needs to be highlighted; Liturgy is not created, it is given. Of course there is room for some creativity, and the Missa Normativa and the Sacramental Rites provide us with alternative forms of this and that and sometimes use the phrase, "These or similar words", but when the Instructions are specific, as they are in the case of the Mandatum, and no evidence exists of any special allowance being made for a "custom" in England and Wales, where is the justification for changing the rite?
I am not just speaking about the Mandatum here, but hopefully drawing attention to a problem which we need to recognise and deal with - namely, that if we can make up our own minds on this matter, when the Instructions are so clear, what is to prevent us (any bishop, priest or deacon) behaving in a similar way with other parts of the Liturgy? If we can put up an apparently perfectly reasonable argument in favour of not following the Instructions at this point, why should we stop there? Are there not "perfectly reasonable" arguments for doing - or not doing - other things in the Liturgy?
Anyway, regarding the Mandatum itself, until recently I had no problem understanding what it means and have often preached on it. I know there are political considerations regarding the so-called exclusion of women, but it seems to me that this false accusation needs to be countered by proper catechesis, not by conceding the point. As far as I knew (and articles I have googled confirm this) the Mandatum relates to the actual washing of the Apostles' feet and says something about Christ's position as THE Servant. The Apostles bring to mind bishops and priests (and also deacons as part of the ordained ministry) and the call to follow Christ as servants of the people. This call to service passes from Christ, through the Apostles into the whole Church so that we are ALL called to serve each other in imitation of the Master. So I have often preached, and so I still believe.
However, because the meaning of the Mandatum is now said to be "unclear" by some, and is enacted by many in a way that goes against the Instructions I have decided to exercise the option of not having it this year. There is another important reason which I do not want to discuss here, but that alone is sufficiently strong for me to avoid it - at least for this year.
It does seem to me that where many (and I am certainly not judging anyone - I have my own acts of "selective amnesia" to consider) deliberately go against lawful instructions in one or other aspect of the Liturgy we have a serious situation with regard to the general perception of what we are doing. Time and again I have heard the phrase, "this is how Father likes to do it". I have always resisted this, telling people that I am trying to follow the Instructions - to the best of my ability and that Liturgy - or any aspect of it - is not about "my" personal preferences. I hope I am making my point.


  1. Father: a very interesting post, and thank you for it.

    From the pew, one is sometimes quite careful in where one goes for the Maundy Thursday Mass, in order to avoid what one might term "insertions" into the meaning of the rite, insertions that do not really belong. It happens that what is, so far as I can see from the Liturgical texts themselves, meant to be a celebration of the ordained ministry instead becomes an indiscriminate celebration of "ministry" in a completely generic sense. Not helpful.

  2. Absolutely right, Father. Quite apart from Holy Thursday, there are people who think it is fine to invent "creative" liturgy. This is quite wrong - as you quite rightly say, this is not about your (or any other priest's) personal preferences.

  3. PS - I will be visiting relatives in the West Riding this weekend, and I was therefore very disappointed to see that there will be no Latin Mass on Palm Sunday; I had intended to go.