Category Archives: Liturgy

The Washing of Feet

“He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist” John 13:4-5

This post is not being written so that you can run up to your clergy and tell them they are screwing everything up. I promise you, that is simply the last thing they need this week. In truth, I should have posted this a month ago so that you would have time to let your liturgy planning commission or whatever you have know about this teaching in as charitable a way as possible.

So many people are confused about the Mandatum, or as it is more commonly known, the Washing of Feet. We have seen it done in so many ways that we are rightly confused. A major part of our confusion is a misunderstanding of what is going on here.

Peter was a bit confused at first as well, and we can see that in his response in John’s Gospel.

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”” John 13:6-8

Yes, there is an image of service here. It is very apparant ond obvious. To be first in the Kingdom of God, you must become a slave to all. Yup, we seem to get that just fine, and I am oh so glad, because it is the primary message here, but there is another thing happening here that people often miss, and I’m not surprised. The Jewish people were a “People of the Book”, and knew their scripture far better than we know our own. So when Peter is confused as to what is going on, he too only has the view of the servant, but Jesus sets him straight right away.

“Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”” John 13:8

Woah! What?! Oh, I’m sorry Jesus, I get what you are talking about now! Sure, I’m all in!

“Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”” John 13:9

What is it that he just figured out? Something just totally changed his attitude, what was it?
Well, here we need to talk about washing feet. When does this happen in scripture? Are there any other references to this washing? Guess what! There is!


First, let’s hearken back to Genesis 18:4, do you remember the story of the angels coming to visit Abraham? He washed their feet! Lot does the same thing a bit later at 19:2 to the angels that visit him. This is the only other reference to washing of feet in the entire Hebrew Scriptures. But wait, there is more.
Check out Exodus 40:12-13 and Leviticus 8:5-7 and guess what you find? The washing of priests as part of their ordination. Yup, this is a Rite not only of service, but of priestly institution. This is why Peter wanted his hands and head washed as well! He was recognizing the priestly ordination rite!
Now I’m obviously not saying that when we wash feet on Holy Thursday that we are ordaining men, but we are celebrating the institution of the priesthood, and therefore it is simply appropriate that only men have their feet washed. And if your parish washes more than just feet, this should also make you raise an eyebrow, after all,

“Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”” John13:10

Yes the Mandatum is primarily about charity. It is the idea of service that is front and foremost. So please, be charitable when you are bringing this up to your friends and clergy!

Butit is also about linking the Old Covenant priesthood to the priesthood of the New Covenant. It is about tying that priesthood to the angels, about making it divine. It’s not about service alone.

So yes, the Church is actually serious when it says in it’s rubrics,

“Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one’s feet and dries them.”

Just so you know, the United States Bishops spoke about this in 1987, and I wanted you to read it so that you knew that while the practice is suspect in my opinion, the adopted practice of washing both men and women’s feet is not necessarily illicit.

“….Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the “Teacher and Lord” who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality, the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.
While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men (“viri selecti”), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, “who came to serve and not to be served,” that all members of the Church must serve one another in love….” — Regarding the phrase “viri selecti”, the Chairman of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy

Rite of the Turkey Basters

You think I’m kidding around right? Rite of the Turkey Basters? What the heck is that?

Well, that’s not it’s official name, but there is a special mass that the laity rarely get to attend that happens this week, usually on Thursday morning, but it often moves around. It is the Chrism Mass.

Now it’s not that the laity aren’t invited, it’s just that it is usually inconvenient because it is held at the cathedral. I don’t know about you, but most mornings, I’m personally not excited to drive 6 hours to my cathedral for Mass, how about you? It is however, a very important Mass, and very much tied to Holy Week.

Now as I said, it’s proper place is Holy Thursday Morning. So as we think about the Mass and walk through it, we need to keep it in the context of Holy Thursday, even if it is celebrated on a different day. Why? Because The Chrism Mass is not about Chrism.

I know, this is just not making any sense, but hang on there.

The Chrism Mass is a lot like Midnight Mass at Christmas time in that it has it’s name because of an incidental thing that happens at this Mass. We don’t celebrate “midnight” at Midnight Mass, we celebrate the birth of our savior. It just happens at midnight, so we call it Midnight Mass. Same thing here. This is the Mass where the Holy Oils are blessed, so we call it the Chrism Mass. (Chrism is one of the oils.)

What is really going on here is something much bigger. This is the Mass of unity. This is the Mass where every priest in the diocese once again rededicates himself to Christ through obedience to his bishop. This is the Mass where the priest is empowered by their bishop to go out and serve you. We must remember that all the gifts a priest is given are given through their shepherd, this Mass is where those gifts are dispersed. This is why the Mass must be understood in the context of Holy Thursday, as Holy Thursday is the day we celebrate the institution of the priesthood. (As a side note, the footwashing thing is also tied to the priesthood, but I’ll get to that another day.)

This is the Mass that ties us to our apostle. How cool is that? It is just not enough to get a phone call and have a piece of paper hanging on the wall telling us we are united with the greater Church. We have to have real unity, and that unity is celebrated at this Mass.

This is also the Chrism Mass though, so we should talk about oils. All of the oils we used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Healing of the Sick, and Holy Orders must be blessed by the bishop. They are also only good for one year. (Unity theme again!) So every year, the bishop blesses the oils at the Chrism Mass, and all the priests take it back home to their parishes with them. Pretty cool huh?!

There is one rite we are missing here. When the bishop blesses the oils, they are in three huge vats, so they have to be separated before the priests can take their oils back home.

So immediately after the Mass begins the Rite of the Turkey Basters, where all the helpers gather together to distribute the oils, usually while trading jokes and funny stories from their parishes. So imagine a bunch of really oily people laughing and in a rush to get home, and you will have the right picture of the day. Tons of fun, and an incredible Mass to attend if you ever have the opportunity.

Palm Sunday – Passion Sunday

Yup, that’s right. Tomorrow is such a big day that it has two names.

Expect an emotional roller coaster.

Woah man, do I mean it too. We start with the triumph of Christ entering Jerusalem in glory, we end with death and mayhem. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is so odd to me. He enters both as a king and as a pauper. On one side, He is being hailed by all around him. People are crying out Hosanna and draping palms before Him that the very feet of his steed may not touch the ground. Christ has just performed three powerful signs proving His kingship, most notably the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and folks are just plain excited. The new King has arrived, and they can just see everything about to finally start going right.

At the same time though, He is riding a donkey. A smelly, filthy little donkey. He is not being born by a litter of buff men, nor is he riding in on a powerful warhorse. Heck, he’s not even riding in on a camel. Let’s be honest here, it we be more comely if he would just get off and walk, but no. He rides in on the very image of poverty.

This is just wild. Can you imagine this happening today? What if the president rode into town in a beat up Buick from the eighties, coated in rust with the rims stolen, the headliner draped around his head and the tailpipe blowing smoke. Seriously, this would just be scandal.

What an amazing scene, and what a glorious way to start Mass.

It certainly doesn’t last long.

Without ado, we are led straight into the lion’s den. Christ is being dragged through the court system with such speed it would make any judge blush. His head is on the chopping block, and folks aren’t wasting time with deliberation. The Cross is calling, and Christ is walking up the hill.

I want to pause. So often we think the priest has the good part. He wears fancy robes, and gets to bless everyone. He gets to read the Gospel, and splash everyone with holy water. Well, that certainly isn’t the case today. Today we read the good parts.

“Crucify Him!”

You may not think this is the good part. You might even feel ashamed as you read it. As you accuse Peter along with servant girl, you may wish you were reading about lilies in the field. I want you to understand, that is exactly what makes it the good part. We get to remember that it was us that hung Christ out to dry. It was you and I, every time we sin that caused this to be necessary. We have the part that is truly designed to change us, to bring us back to center. What a blessing.

Christ is hanging. We just stand and watch. We leave with a deep sense of quiet, a silence ever so much more deep because of our triumphant entrance.

The man we worshiped as king is dead, and the donkey is put out to pasture.

Our palms have becomes crosses, and we are truly alone.

Holy Week to Easter Sunday

This weekend it all begins. That most holy and glorious time of year, that moment when heaven seems to reach down and touch the earth.

Holy Week is upon us.

I realize that many of you do not have the opportunity to run to every service that happens this week, so I wanted to do a little catechesis, and give you the basic overview of what goes on this week for those who do not know. Next week, I plan to go in depth about each of the Holy Week liturgies as they happen.

First things first though, the overview.

Passion/Palm Sunday

Now the Church fully realizes that not everyone can go to Mass every day, even during Holy Week, so it tries very hard to cram as much of the gospel message into Sunday liturgies as possible. You will most definitely see this in action this Sunday, as it tries to tell the entire story of our Lords passion in one sitting. Phew, this one is tough.

Spy Wednesday

Not a big day, I know, but we remember the betrayal by Judas.

Holy Thursday

More like Holy Cow! How they are able to fit in the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the feet, the re-dedication of clergy to their bishop, the blessing of the holy oils, and the agony in the garden in one day is simply miraculous. Really, really big day, officially starting the Triduum.

Good Friday

The day we remember the actual passion of our Lord, also the only day of the year we are not allowed to have Mass. The great highlight here is the Adoration of the Cross.

Holy Saturday

This day is usually rather calm, as we relive the time when Christ was in the tomb. If you have a liturgy of the hours service in the morning, go to it, the readings are absolutely beautiful.

Easter Sunday

Finnaly the day has arrived! It starts with the Easter Vigil, the single most important Mass of the year. (Yes, I know it’s on Saturday Night, but liturgically, it’s on Sunday. I’ll have to explain this sometime!) This is the day we remember Christ rising from the dead. It is also when we bring in new adult converts into the Church. Easter Sunday is celebration after celebration.

I hope you take the time to engage yourself as much as possible over the next week. Let the story overtake you, and reorder your life. Holy Week is truly a foretasting of heaven, so savor every moment.

Church Bells

I live about 5 blocks from my parish church. This has always been nice, as I’m able to walk to Mass most days. That is, when it’s not raining like crazy, which here is most of the time. There is something so very organic able walking to Mass, it just feels so very natural.

The daily Mass I attend is at 12:15, a perfect time for my schedule, so we usually get out of the door at about noon. one thing I just love about this walk is hearing the noon Angelus ring, bright and clear, as if calling me to Mass.

It reminds me of a short time I stayed in Germany, in a very small town. The church there was massive for such a small town, and the bells would ring on the hour, reverberating through the town, keeping the whole community in beat. It was so very calming, pastoral, and the bells still deeply move me.

The sad thing is, we can’t usually hear the bells over the repressing din on modern day life. Between the traffic, the sirens, the tv advertisements and our iPods, we have all but drowned out the bells. I wonder what else we have drowned out. Have the rhythms that have replaced their slow methodical beat brought us more happiness and joy? I don’t really know, but I do think we have lost something.

I wanted to share this painting. It shows a couple, working their land in brief prayer. Why do you think they suddenly decided to stop what they were doing and spend a moment with God almighty? Well, if you look deep in the background, you will see a church. To make a long story short, they just heard the bells. It’s time to pray that age old prayer, the Angelus. It traditionally is prayed at noon, and at 6:00 in the evening.

The Angelus

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the power of Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to your Word.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: 

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

If you feel inclined, I would highly recommend you add this most beautiful prayer to your daily life. As you do, feel your prayer linking with your brothers and sisters through the centuries, united by the sound of the bells.