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Pope Francis washes feet

liturgy and law 1

Pope Francis washes feetPope Francis has been much in the news for being different; with much debate around his breaking of tradition. And church rule.

The Roman Catholic rule for whose feet are washed on Maundy Thursday is that they shall be adult Roman Catholic males. As you know Pope Francis washed a young Muslim woman’s feet this Maundy Thursday.

If you want to debate the rights and wrongs of the Pope’s action in any depth – there are plenty of places doing just that.

In my Thoughts on Liturgy* (which I really hope you have taken the time to listen to) I have tried to develop a model from grammar rules in language. For fluent speakers, our grammar rules represent a description of what we do – not prescription of what we should do. And the fluent speaker can modify, adapt, customize, even abandon those rules to communicate better what is intended. May liturgical rules be similar: descriptive of best practice – not merely prescriptive.

But – a warning to non-fluent speakers: do not be hasty to depart from, modify, or even abandon, rules. And take care not to regard yourself too readily as a fluent liturgy “speaker”.

For some of us (many of us?) Pope Francis appears to “speak” liturgy fluently.

To be continued…


*I am delighted to receive feedback about Some Thoughts on Liturgy. Recently from liturgical study centers, worship committees, Roman Catholic bishops… Thanks for the encouragement.

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3 thoughts on “liturgy and law 1”

  1. The point of grammar, and of spontaneous flexing of the rules of grammar, is clarity of communication.

    The point of liturgy and its rules is to draw us to Christ. I like the actions of Francis because what he is doing, whether washing a woman’s feet or generally living a simple life, is a drawing towards Christ. In the process some rules are being ignored which means they are past their ‘use by date’ as things which draw us closer to Christ.

    I think he deserves to wear a WWJD wristband: he has a very good sense of What Would Jesus Do!

    1. Amen, Peter. There is a constant confusion of means and end. The rules of liturgy are not an end in themselves. Many appear to treat the rules as if they are. [And treat me as if that is all anyone interested in liturgy would think – but that leads into part 2 of this particular series #spoileralert]. Easter Season Blessings.

  2. I am halfway through Rowan Williams “Silence & Honey Cakes” the history of the sayings of the Egyptian desert monastics of 4th and fifth centuries. It contains inter alia… ‘ one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people, thinking that we know more of God than others,finding it comforting to try and control the access of others to God’. I find this a most affective and illustrative of the dangers visible today where liturgical rules followed to the letter remove some of the reverence previously enjoyed, however correct they may be to a liturgist. I am no longer sure of my position on this. If there is meant to be a debate, what exactly are its terms?

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