Saturday, March 20, 2010

Viri Selecti: The Footwashing Fight and Canon Law

This is sort of Catholic inside baseball, but Dr. Ed Peters, an excellent and faithful Canon Lawyer at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit has an interesting article on the rubric for the footwashing (or the Mandatum) of Holy Thursday from a Canonical perspective. I just read it again because there is always disagreement when Holy Thursday rolls around. The rubric says that only viri selecti, selected men, are to be part of this particular ritual. But it is almost universally the practice that both men and women are selected.

From his article, it sounds like it’s a matter of which aspect of the symbolism you want to emphasize. I personally would emphasize “the symbolism of apostolic presence at the Last Supper” but others may rightly emphasize “the symbolism of Christ’s love for all his disciples.”

I think we have to be clear about motivations and what we are actually symbolizing as well. What is expressed when we choose people from the parish council, catechumens, random people or twelve men? I’m just thinking out loud now… For example, if I was the pastor at a parish and the DRE wanted to use women OR men to assert some sort of power grab, I’d shut that down right away, no matter what the symbolism allows for…

My last thought: Dr. Peters refers to Canon 208 on the equality of the faithful but he doesn't mention that Canon Law also says that “Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation” (83 CIC 18). When the rubric says, “selected men” it seems to me to place a restriction and so should be interpreted strictly or rather, prima facie, at face value or literally.

But, let my second paragraph above be the sentiment you are left with, not my thinking out loud :)

6 comments:

Padre Paulus said...

I would point out canon 2: "codex plerumque non definit ritus, qui in actionibus liturgicis celebrandis sunt servandi" - "for the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions." It is always a somewhat dangerous and problematic thing to apply canonical concepts to rubrics. I also think that someone would be hard-pressed to make an argument to expand footwashing to those who are not "viri" based upon the presumption that to exclude them constitutes the curtailment of their exercise of a "right" (c. 18). Is a "right" truly involved here? Just some thoughts...

Matt1618 said...

I referred to it more to invoke a principle of interpretation rather than to make my point by its exact wording. For example: a public perpetual vow of chastity in a religious institute of pontifical right is an impediment whose dispensation is reserved to the Apostolic See (c. 1078) not the local Ordinary. But, one could use c. 18 to say that if it was a vow in an institute of DIOCESAN right then the local Ordinary COULD dispense from it - because 1078 is restrictive and so should be interpreted strictly - even though c. 18 doesn't mention "impediments" specifically... But, your point about principles of interpreting canon law not applying to liturgical law I gotta think more about...

Padre Paulus said...

You are correct in saying that one who makes a vow in an institute of pontifical right is subject to the Apostolic See and that the competency to dispense for such a person is outside the competency of the local ordinary (c. 1078, 2). However, the status of being diocesan right means precisely that the person is subject to the local bishop (if a cleric, he is even incardinated in the local diocese), and therefore the person is a subject of the bishop, who acts within his competency to dispense according to the law (c. 1078, 1). I fail to see how c. 18 would be a part of that discussion since the diocesan bishop is capable to act in such an instance by the law itself (no "strict interpretation" is required, per c. 18).

We must be careful to use precision when speaking of the canons, or else the law can be twisted to mean any number of things (c. 144 on "common error", for instance, which has been invoked to cover any number of things wrongfully). And my point about using canonical principals of interpretation with caution was in reference to interpreting rubrics, and not liturgical law in general. There is a decent amount of liturgical law in the Code (Book IV) which is subject to correct canonical interpretation.

Matt1618 said...

Cool, good points. Was perhaps canon 1078 a bad example? There may be other canons which we would say should be interpreted strictly yet don't involve penalties, rights, or exceptions, per se, as listed in canon 18? Can you use canon 18 as a general principal of interpretation or does it apply only to what it specifically mentions? On the other point, I equated "rubrics" for "liturgical law" which isn't always the case, good call.

Padre Paulus said...

I'm hard-pressed to think of a specific example of c. 18 being operative in any matter other than that pertaining to a right, penalty, or exception. I suppose, in theory, it is possible. The commentators point-out that c. 18 is really an expression of a fundamental canonical principal: "favorabilia amplianda, odiosa restringenda" ("favors are to be multiplied, burdens restricted").

Kelly said...

The church we attended for many years always used only 12 men, and I found that part of Mass a very moving visual reminder of Christ washing the feet of his apostles.

We then moved, and the church we attend now just washes anyone and every one. I'm sure there would be hurt feelings if one tried to go back to 12 men, but it does seem to miss most of the intended symbolism of the Holy Thursday Mass.

After all, we've all been washed by baptism, but the 12 apostles were anointed in a different manner in addition to baptism.