Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at email@example.com.
Washing women’s feet
Q. Every year in our cathedral parish there is a controversy on Holy Thursday about whether women’s feet may be washed during the liturgy. Our former bishop washed the feet of six men and six women; but the new bishop washes the feet of men only. A lot of anger has been created by this. Can you shed any light on this matter?
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
The sacramentary for the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday is open to interpretation. There are two schools of thoughts here. The first is that the Holy Thursday ritual is meant to replicate exactly — in the manner of a drama — the action of Jesus in washing the feet of the Twelve Apostles. This rendering would suggest that the Holy Thursday rite today should involve men exclusively.
The second school of thought would hold that the Holy Thursday feet washing is not meant as a ritual re-enactment of the past, but a contemporary ritual wherein the bishop or priest makes his own the original action of Jesus and makes a statement about his own commitment to ministry today. In this view, it does not matter whose feet are washed, and that since women and men hold equal status in the Church through the ennobling gift of baptism, to exclude women from the foot washing would be improper.
The Holy See has not offered any definitive interpretation of the matter at hand. Some years ago, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston asked the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments about this matter; the response was that women’s feet could be washed on Holy Thursday.
Father Michael Heintz, a distinguished patristic scholar, wrote briefly on this matter some years ago, and he concluded, following a brief historical review, as follows: “What is worth noting is that historically the [foot washing] is to be understood not primarily in terms of the ordained priesthood but rather of the baptismal priesthood. Thus, it is not inappropriate that both men and women are invited to participate.”
Q. About 30 years ago our small rural church was replaced by a new modern one a few miles away. When the altar, statues and pews were removed from the older building the altar stone was removed from the altar. One of the parishioners ended up with it, and it was handed down to a Catholic friend of mine who had no idea what it was until I identified it for him. I was told that altars were no longer required to have altar stones following the Second Vatican Council, and our current parish church does not have one. My friend offered it to our pastor for insertion in our altar, but it was refused, and he was told he could keep it, but one should treat it with reverence, which he does.
The fact that the miraculous change of bread and wine into the Body of Christ took place so many times over this altar stone leaves me in awe, and incredulous that the pastor wouldn’t want it for our church. Basically, I would like your comments about altar stones and their non-requirement in the newer churches being built.
Guy, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
As you can read below, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not require an altar stone for an altar, but allows for the placement of authentic relics underneath the altar, and not in the altar stone. The old altar stones are still sacred items because they have been consecrated and because of what you mention: Mass was celebrated upon them. Accordingly, they should be treated with reverence. It could be fitting to display them in a reliquary of the Church.
Here are the current norms for altars:
“In keeping with the Church’s traditional practice and the altar’s symbolism, the table of a fixed altar is to be of stone and indeed of natural stone” (GIRM, No. 301).
“The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics” (No. 302).
The practice of placing relics of saints, especially martyrs, in the altar stone or underneath the altar connects us to the early Christians who would gather in catacombs and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the stone sarcophagi of the martyrs. But it also connects us to the sacrifices in the Old Testament when altars were made of stone.
Is It Idolatry?
Q. The Second Commandment forbids us to bow down before any graven image, any likeness of anything on earth. The Catholic Church has many icons and statues, often with kneelers in front of them. This seems to be inconsistent with the Second Commandment. We pray before these icons and statues, and to them. We venerate them and ask for intercession (Mary, the saints, etc.). To me this seems like “worship.”
Bill Sharp, via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
In Catholic Bibles, what you refer to as “the Second Commandment” is part of the First Commandment, not separate from it. Properly to understand the Church’s veneration of the saints, one must keep in mind the distinctions the Church makes in this regard. The cultus latria, worship, is directed to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To the Blessed Virgin we offer hyperdulia. “Hyper” means “greatly exceeding the norm” and “dulia” means service. To the angels and the saints we offer cultus dulia. We commonly speak of “praying to the saints,” but this can be misleading. We pray only “to” God, because only God can answer prayer. Strictly speaking, we do not pray “to” the saints. We ask the saints to help us pray, to intercede for us, to add their prayers to ours.
Origins of the Crucifix
Q. What is the origination of the crucifix?
— Dick LaReau
A. Here's a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Christian Church was slow to embrace the crucifix, which has now become an object of universal Catholic devotion. To understand this we must remember that those crucified were robbed of every dignity, including clothes. The early Church would, understandably, be reluctant to depict its Savior in such ignominy. Earliest (conservative) representations of the cross showed what we would recognize as anchors or tridents, but after Constantine became Roman emperor, in 312, the cross as we know it became more common, often accompanied with a symbol of Christ.
By the fifth century, crosses appeared on public monuments, but another century would pass before Christ would be depicted, and the earliest three-dimensional representations often show the Savior clad in a long tunic. The mid-sixth-century wooden doors of the Dominican church at Santa Sabina in Rome show Jesus stripped of his garments, in front of — but not nailed to — the cross.
Modern Catholics will find 11th-century representations of the crucifixion much more realistic. Jesus is clad in a loincloth; he is nailed to the cross; his body is contorted; blood flows from his wounds; and his face betrays the pain he feels as he pays the debt of our sin.
Q. Recently, in an answer to the question of the day, it says that the Holy Spirit makes us holy during the Mass. What if I am clinging to a venial sin and, though I am sorry for it, not sorry enough to give it up, or rather I do not see how I can give it up? Can the Holy Spirit still make me holy? If I go to confession and confess other sins and do not mention that I am not giving up this sin, can I still be forgiven?
— From Wisconsin
St. John reminds us, “This is love; not that we have loved God, but that he loved us” (1 Jn 4:10). This means the idea of loving God occurs to us only because God inspires it. We may say the same for contrition: we experience sorrow for our sins only because God stirs the desire for reconciliation in our hearts.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies sacramental reconciliation (confession) as the appropriate remedy for mortal sins: “All mortal sins of which penitents …are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret” (No. 1456).
The Catechism remarks, “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church” (No. 1458). Another remedy is participation in the Eucharist, for “the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins” (No. 1393).
What if we do not “feel” disposed to abandon a venial sin? Venial sins, by their nature, do not separate us from God, and our sorrow is a sign of God’s love at work; we should pray for grace to cooperate more and more fully, until we can abandon even our venial sins.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs