Pope and dads set examples whether they want to or not. If I have dessert despite not having finished my supper, my kids do not experience that family rule as something presumably oriented to their welfare, but rather, as an imposition to be borne until they, too, are old enough to make and break the rules. Now, none will dispute that Pope Francis has, by washing the feet of women at his Holy Thursday Mass, set an example. The question is, what kind of example has he set?What I find particularly insightful here is the possibility, not merely of the obvious connection between antinomianism (disregard for law) and ill-will, but between antinomianism and good will, and even compassion. As my mother used to repeat ad nauseam: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Food for thought here. Thank you Dr. Peters. Or, would I have rather preferred the unperturbed bliss of remaining undisturbed?
... I have never doubted that liturgical law expressly limits participation in that rite to adult males, and I have consistently called on Catholics, clerics and laity alike, to observe this pontifically-promulgated law in service to the unity (dare I say, the catholicity) of liturgy (c. 837). Pope Francis’ action today renders these arguments moot. Not wrong, mind. Moot.
By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive.... What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example at Supper time.
We’re not talking here about, say, eschewing papal apartments or limousines or fancy footwear. None of those matters were the objects of law, let alone of laws that bind countless others. (Personally, I find Francis’ actions in these areas inspiring although, granted, I do not have to deal with complications for others being caused by the pope’s simplicity).
Rather, re the Mandatum rite, we’re talking about a clear, unambiguous, reasonable (if not entirely compelling or suitable) liturgical provision, compliance with which has cost many faithful pastors undeserved ill-will from many quarters, and contempt for which has served mostly as a ‘sacrament of disregard’ for Roman rules on a variety of other matters. Today, whether he wanted to, or not, Francis set the Catholic world an example, about solidarity with outcasts, certainly, and about regard for liturgy.
A final thought: we live in antinomian times. One of the odd things about antinomianism (a condition that, by the way, does not always imply ill-will in its adherents though it usually implies a lack of understanding on their part) is that antinomianism makes reform of law not easier but harder: why bother undertaking the necessary but difficult reform of law when it’s easier simply to ignore it?
It’s a question with reverberations well beyond those of a foot-washing rite.
[Hat tip to R.C.]
Dr. Edward Peters has followed up his earlier post with another provocative and thoughtful retrospective on the Mandatum right controversies. As he admits, his area of expertise is ecclesiastical law. But then, this allows him also to say that he has, along with many others, "long been open to revising the Mandatum rite so as to permit the washing of women's feet," which might lead one to wish to consult someone with some theological expertise, like, say, Fr. Zuhlstorf, who offers appreciative constructive disagreement with parts of Peters' post like these (I recommend reading Fr. Z's commentary along with Peters' post). In fairness, Peter's does add that he understands that "strong symbolic elements are in play [in the Mandatum rite] and I might be under-appreciating arguments for the retention of the rite as promulgated by Rome."
Concerning Pope Francis' breach of liturgical law on Maundy Thursday, Peters writes:
If liturgical law permitted the washing of women’s feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, no one would have noticed the pope’s doing it. What was newsworthy (apparently, massively newsworthy) is that, precisely because liturgical law does not authorize it, the pope’s performance of the action was huge news.
... Few people seem able to articulate when a pope is bound by canon law ... and when he may ignore it .... Most Church laws, however, fall between these two poles and require careful thinking lest confusion for -- nay, dissension among -- the faithful arise. Exactly as happened here. Now, even in that discussion, the question is not usually whether the pope is bound to comply with the law (he probably is not so bound), but rather, how he can act contrary to the law without implying, especially for others who remain bound by the law but who might well find it equally inconvenient, that inconvenient laws may simply be ignored because, well, because the pope did it.
... A pope’s ignoring of a law is not an abrogation of the law but, especially where his action reverberated around the world, it seems to render the law moot.... What is not good is to leave a crystal clear law on the books but show no intention of expecting anyone to follow it. That damages the effectiveness of law across the board. (Emphasis added)