Saturday, 30 March 2013

Washing of the Feet, My Life as a Catholic

Pope Francis on Holy Thursday washed the feet of teen offenders in a prison, including girls and a Muslim.  From when it was announced that he would do this, my life has been flashing before my eyes.  I have been recalling in great detail my experiences of Holy Week, from my earliest memories to the present.  I'm no Cannon lawyer, and I'm not very good at quoting the catechism.  But in the discussions about Benedict XVI versus Francis on the liturgy, I understand the conflict in very personal terms.  That doesn't make me a liberal, nor does it make me a traditionalist.  It makes a me a 50-year-old Catholic.  The church's history is, in part, my history.

As a child, my parish had a modern church.  Our pastor was, however, very traditional.  He filled our sacred space with icons of a modern expression, but with a desire to create a traditional space.  For a Novus Ordo church, it was as traditional as possible.  I remember being annoyed at spending 3 hours at church on Good Friday.  When we came home, our television watching was restricted, so we would listen to Jesus Christ Superstar.  As this pattern continued through high school years, I came to resent Father Gass.  Why weren't women on the altar?  Why weren't there any altar girls?  Judas was used!

At my Catholic college, nobody seemed to care if you went to Mass or not.  I didn't.  But I never lost my connection with Good Friday.  If I couldn't make it home for Easter weekend, I always made sure I went to Good Friday services.  These, in college were run by the nuns on campus.  I remember being bothered by how few people were there and the things the nuns  had changed from my experiences with my traditional pastor.  Still, there were enough similarities that it didn't cause much cognitive dissonance.

On my own as a single adult, my practice of the faith could be very sporadic, but I never missed Good Friday.  While living in Minneapolis in the late 80's, I tried to find a three hour service, 12 to 3, like the one I had grown up with.  I called half-a-dozen parishes.  I was told that they didn't even know that such a thing existed.  Finally a 'catholic' parish in Richfield told me they had something like what I was looking for, but it was in the morning from 9-12.  I wound up at a poorly attended service run by nuns who burned sage and danced.  It was clearly a Wiccan ceremony.  I felt like I was at a re-enactment of the crowd that called for Barrabas.  What was strangest was that these women didn't see how they were cheering on the murder of Christ.  I sat with my jaw on the floor for a while, and then left.  One of the women followed me to the door.  She wanted to know why I was leaving.  I said this wasn't the kind of service I was looking for.  Mind you, I still longed for the ordination of women at that time, but seeing its fruits in action, I was appalled.  That was the darkest Good Friday I can recall.

Eventually, I stopped searching for Good Friday services that would recall the solemn experiences of my younger days.  I would pray alone.

After the birth of my son, I began to attend our Cathedral parish services in the afternoon; Stations and confessions.  It wasn't the tradition I was looking for, but it was all that I thought I could find.  During this time, the parish 'pastoral minister' asked me if my family would have our feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass.  We were very much in communion with the church by then.  I realized when she asked me, that I no longer believed in women priests, altar girls, or women participating in the washing of the feet.  I tried several times to offer my husband and son and ask for a replacement for myself.  I even called other parishioners to see if any of them would do it.  I thought about simply not going up to have the archbishop wash my feet, but that seemed too showy of a statement.  So I did it.  Nothing else could have completed my transformation from liberal to traditionalist with such certainty.

This year we have a new parish and a new pastor.  We chose this parish because many home-school families go there.  What I didn't realize was that our pastor, Father Cook, was so very much like my childhood pastor, Father Gass.

This Good Friday we arrived at 12:30, catching the end of stations in Spanish, and the beginning of confessions.  We experienced the Veneration of the Cross, my son and husband for the first time.  My son served the Stations in English.  We prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  It was powerful, holy, solemn, simple.  I was again at the Good Friday services of my youth.  I understood now why I wept at those services.  I wept again this year.

As the Catholic blogs commit to combat over Pope Francis washing the feet of girls, I am asking all of you to join me in prayer for conversion of heart.  We have been poorly catechized.  Some of us have fixed that with private study or by classes, or something else.  Some are on the way back.  Some may never turn around.

I have been given the fruits of peace by returning to the traditions of my youth.  Some of my readers may have never had any traditional liturgical experiences.  May I suggest you try it?


  1. Thank you for sharing. I would hope that your painful journey will get easier. I do not know where you are, but many people are in liturgical wastelands. Prayer is necessary.

    1. I'm in Omaha, Nebraska, and we have always had parish havens here. We are very blessed in our Archbishop George Lucas.

  2. PS Am I the only one who bumps into feminists weekly at Mass? Hey, washing the feet of women is seen as part of the acceptance of women priests by them. If you have not had these discussions, good for you.

    The Institution of the Priesthood began at the Last Supper, ergo, the remembrance of that solemn occasion must include reference to that. All the apostles who had their feet washed by Christ were new priests. When Christ said that they were to do the same as He, be a servant, He was referring to the servant-hood of the priesthood.

    (12) So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? (13) Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. (14) If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. (15) For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (16) Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. (17) If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. John 13:12-17

    Symbolic confusion adds fuel to the inflamed brains of those men and women who want women priests.

    1. I don't run into feminists at Mass anymore because I don't go to parishes that welcome them. I do wonder if other women have felt coerced, as I have into accepting the push for altar girls and women deacons and foot washing and all that it means. Tolerance leads to coercion which leads to acceptance. I'm sorry you run into feminists all the time, and will pray for their conversion. God bless. RCM/SC


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