Question: Are women permitted to have their feet washed on Holy Thursday? Someone told me that Cardinal Sean O’Malley claims to have a letter from Rome permitting the practice.
— Rev. John Petrocelli
Answer: “Permitting” might be a strong word. The Archdiocese of Boston issued a statement (in the April 1, 2005, archdiocesan paper, The Pilot) that read in part: “At the time of the ad limina visit to Rome, the archbishop sought clarification on the liturgical requirements of the rite of foot washing from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has the responsibility for administering the liturgical law of the Church. The Congregation affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual, which recalls Christ’s service to the apostles who would become the first priests of the Church. The Congregation did, however, provide for the archbishop to make a pastoral decision concerning his practice of the rite if such a decision would be helpful to the Faithful of the archdiocese.”
And while Cardinal O’Malley did not comment publicly on the response from Rome, his practice since has been to include women in the Holy Thursday foot washing. The statement from Rome stops short of “permitting,” and issued no official indults. In the end it left the matter to the pastoral judgment of the cardinal.
Sadly, the Holy Thursday foot washing has become a kind of countersign, emphasizing power and rivalry, instead of service and unity. The practice of including women today in the ritual is widespread. While priests today are generally more obedient to liturgical law, many have inherited the practice and chosen not to further inflame an already tense matter, which occurs only once a year and is optional.
Question: Somewhere in Scripture it is written that a naked man was seen running from the scene of Jesus’ arrest. Where is this and what does it mean?
— Joan Beaulieu, Titusville, Fla.
Answer: It is in Mark: “Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” (Mk 14:51-52).
Who this young man is, and the exact meaning of this passage, are rather debated and uncertain. Most modern scholars think the young man is Mark himself who is describing a humorous story of when his faith was not strong.
Note he is described as a young man, possibly less than 12, which may explain why he was lightly clothed. Like today, youngsters might be permitted to wear fewer clothes.
Two explanations of the text seem most likely. First, there is the link to Genesis 39:12 described by several Fathers of the Church. In that passage Joseph, seeking to escape the seduction of the wife of Potiphar, flees naked. Thus the Christian must be prepared to leave everything behind to avoid the snares of the sinful.
A second explanation focuses on the youthful strength of the young man and ties the event to a prophecy of Amos: “And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day, says the Lord” (Am 2:16). Thus the text indicates the weakness of even strong men and the need for God to save us.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.