Pope Francis: All things to all people

There has been a lot of talk about Pope Francis’ “style”. I must candidly admit that it has rather “wrong-footed” me, and I am sure I am not alone. From his master of ceremonies to his security guards, from media commentators to people on the other end of the telephone, no one seems sure of what Pope Francis will do or say next. What does it all mean?

One thing it emphatically does not mean is this: New pope’s style is an implicit criticism of Benedict’s papacy. Not unless we are to say that St Paul’s “style” was an “implicit criticism” of St Peter’s “style”. (Of course, there are some who would say that).

A better take on things is this: Both Benedict and Francis are holy men – but with naturally different personal styles

Let’s be quite clear: there were many, including many younger Catholics (and, of course, the host of this ‘ere blog) who were attracted by Pope Benedict’s “style” – especially in regard to liturgical or ceremonial matters. We felt that he brought a great dignity to the papal office and with that to the whole Church. He was obviously different from his predecessor – whom some dismissively called “a show man” – but that didn’t matter, we knew and loved them both.

Pope Francis has again and again shown us that his style will be much simpler. But what would you expect from a man who took the name of St Francis as his own? It was a radical decision, and it seems to me to reflect in our new Pope that same deep and radical fervour for the Gospel that St Francis showed. Was St Francis’ radical poverty a “criticism”? Well, yes, let’s be honest, it was. And a deeply challenging one at that for the Church of his day. I expect that those of us who are comfortable within the fold of the Church will also feel ourselves challenged by our new Holy Father. But I don’t think this is about us.

I read this morning this article in The Telegraph: “Why even atheists love Pope Francis”. This article got me thinking. I am very much inclined to think that Pope Francis’ simplicity is not simply “simplicity for simplicity’s sake”. He knows what he is doing.

There was a time when ceremonial grandeur attracted people to the Church. There some societies in which it still does. Unfortunately, our western society is no longer such. While the grandeur of the Church remains very attractive to some of us, there are a lot of others for whom (rightly or wrongly – and I would definitely say wrongly) this grandeur interpreted as a display of wealth in the face of the overwhelming poverty of many in the world. In a word, it spells “hypocrisy”. To many has become an impenetrable barrier to hearing the message of the Gospel.

Now I know that many of us have suffered the horrors of banality in the last 50 years or so in the Church – where the beautiful has been ditched for the common, and the lowest-common-denominator at that. So I am not talking about that. But we are mistaken if we think that the only kind of beauty that can be put up against such banal ugliness is grandeur. There is beauty in simplicity too. Or, to put it otherwise, simplicity can be as beautiful as grandeur. And attractive.

So, I think Pope Francis has judged that – in order that the Church’s message be heard – a new kind of beauty needs to shine forth from the Church at the highest level: the beauty of simplicity. This is not a criticism of his predecessor, or of those of us who happen to find grandeur attractive. It is an “evangelical strategem”, if I may call it that. It is the Pauline principle, so well explained by that apostle in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

We are living in an emergency situation: and the emergency is the New Evangelisation. We can live without mozzettas and red shoes for a bit. We can’t live without the Gospel. And neither can the world.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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48 Responses to Pope Francis: All things to all people

  1. Tony says:

    Sometimes David, your glasses are so rose coloured!

    One thing it emphatically does not mean is this: New pope’s style is an implicit criticism of Benedict’s papacy.

    What? How do you actually know that emphatically?

    It seems to me that Francesco’s ‘style’ is so deliberate and so different from his predecessors that he is sending us a clear message. It’s like he’s had since 2005 to think about it and he’s come out with that period of reflection in mind.

    (BTW, I’m not suggesting he thought his election was inevitable, but he must have at least thought it a possibility given his apparent showing last time.)

    I certainly would not say emphatically that his ‘style’ is a criticism of his predecessors, but I don’t see how you can say the opposite.

    Realistically one Pope will not openly criticise a predecessor but what they do and what they say can reasonably be interpreted that way.

    Similarly, I think it’s too early to conclude that ‘We can live without mozzettas and red shoes for a bit‘. He may be saying we can do without those things period.

    • Joshua says:

      Yet Francis has spoken so well of Benedict in his speeches, and by all accounts their theological outlook is quite similar (I read that Bergoglio, like Scola and Ouellet, etc., are all quite “Ratzingerian”).

      Is it a criticism to not wear this and that? Frankly such are but details.

      If he were to sack and demote precisely those whom Benedict appointed (e.g. Müller at the CDF, etc.), then that would be obvious criticism.

      If he were to contradict Benedict’s teachings, that would be criticism indeed.

      It seems doubtful he will do so; and the other differences are far more attributable to their differing characters and cultural backgrounds: Benedict the shy scholar from Bavaria, land of the Baroque (I recall being at a Monday afternoon Mass in Augsburg, most elaborate, with much singing and playing of the organ; when I asked mein Host why so, he said “It is always like this in Bavaria” in a most peremptory tone); Francis the austere from Argentina, where matters liturgical are rather less formally carried out.

      At the end of the day both celebrate Mass with due recollection and devotion, but Benedict quite licitly wore vestments reflecting a sensibility that is more Baroque, Francis those that are simpler and plainer.

      It is the story of Suger, Abbot of St Denis, lover of stained glass, versus St Bernard, whose Cistercian church was austere and plain. Both are Catholic, just as both Benedict and Francis are.

      I think we make too much of all this.

      • Joshua says:

        For that matter, we should not be as some conspiracy theorists, who state with horror that Pope Francis not only does not sing at Mass (he reads rather than chants the prayers), but he does not genuflect (instead he bows very deeply and slowly).

        Is this proof of his secret heresies?

        More likely, especially given he only has one lung, and he is not too steady on his legs (he nearly fell down the steps of his throne when receiving the Cardinals, and at his inauguration Mass he was flanked very closely indeed by assisting M.C.’s whenever ascending or descending steps), he has no talent for singing, and has difficulty genuflecting, perhaps because of knee trouble (he is 76 after all, and at 39 with a bad knee I an assure fellow readers that I may have likewise to abstain from genuflecting if I live to that grand age).

        • Schütz says:

          He did genuflect at the inaugural mass – after the consecration of the chalice. I wasn’t paying attention to see if he did so after the consecration of the host as well.

          • Joshua says:

            I was watching and I think he did after consecrating the chalice but not after consecrating the host. As I say, it seems obvious that he has difficulty genuflecting, and given his age who would be surprised? Frankly, it is sad to see so many blogs of a rad-Trad flavour nit-picking about what anyone with a heart would realise is a simple matter of physical incapacity, to be sympathized with rather than mocked.

      • Tony says:

        If he were to sack and demote precisely those whom Benedict appointed (e.g. Müller at the CDF, etc.), then that would be obvious criticism.

        I’m not sure why. Surely a new Pope is entitled to appoint ‘his own men’ without it necessarily being seen as a criticism of the previous appointees or the previous ‘appointer’?

        It seems to me that there is no mechanism (formal or informal) for a Pope to publicly criticise a predecessor — it just doesn’t happen overtly. On that basis I guess David is right, but it’s not really saying anything much.

        On the other hand, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think they are mere details. It may be unreasonable to see them as criticisms but I think it’s even more unreasonable to emphatically rule that possibility out.

        Also, you can be very supportive of a predecessor on some areas and critical in others. Francesco may be be a “Ratzingerian” in terms of theology and teaching, but something quite different in other areas and (possibly) quite critical.

        • Joshua says:

          To be frank, dear Pope Benedict (whom I love and revere) didn’t seem blessed with the ability to choose good men to serve him in the Curia: hence the general clamour that “something must be done”…

          And I will happily take your point and contradict myself on this: after all, each Pope can appoint whomsoever he choose.

          I suppose I should have given an example: St Pius X’s right-hand man was Cardinal Merry del Val, who (in)famously disputed the election of Benedict XV (an enemy of his) on the grounds that, as he won by one vote, he may have voted for himself (which was then forbidden) – the scrutineers then had to open the folded-over portion of the then still semi-secret ballots (which bore the name of each voter, something no longer done), to ensure that Cardinal della Chiesa hadn’t voted for himself: he hadn’t, so the election was valid, but as can be imagined Cardinal del Val was cast out of all Vatican offices forthwith, and after such a disgracefully rude act of the Cardinal’s who can blame the new Pope for getting rid of him?

          • PM says:

            And Pius XI once became so fed up with curial obstruction (of his wish to condemn the teaching of Charles Maurras) that he is reported to have assembled the whole curia and told them that if they didn’t find the allegedly missing file in 48 hours he’d sack the lot of them and send them out to be curates in the slums!

      • PM says:

        And note that Pope Francis picked up in his first homily on the keynote of his predecessor’s papacy (Christianity is not a lofty ideal but an enounter witht he person of Christ) when he warned of the danger of the church forgetting its vocation as the bride of Christ and becoming just another benevolent NGO.

        And I think he ould agree with Benedict that the trouble with liberation theology was not that it was concerned for the poor – every Christian should be – but that it was bad (because reductionist) theology.

    • Schütz says:

      I don’t think that Papa Cisco could be as un-generous as you suggest, Tony. remember that Papa Benny is still around and watching it all on TV. And they are having lunch together on Friday. Other popes in the past did not have that to think about. No, I refuse to think that there is anything personal in the style change. It’s a different call, is all.

      Tell me, are you one of those who thinks that St. Paul and St. Peter represent different kinds of Christianity?

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Mary. Some interesting stuff there. I especially liked the comparison between St Benedict “storing up” and St Francis “scattering”, and the neat note about the “spirit” of the liturgy and the “flesh” of the liturgy.

      The latter brings to mind the fact that our Eucharists must never forget the poor – St James epistle comes to mind – as well as the prophets about bringing sacrifices with hands stained with the blood of widows and orphans.

      but then it also raises the issue that was so big when I was a Lutheran liturgist – is the Eucharist meant to be “for” any purpose other than itself? Is it alone not the highest good on earth, so to make anything else the focus of the liturgy – even justice for the poor – is a distraction?

      Seems to me there is a conundrum here. And it is this conundrum we currently face.

      • Joshua says:

        A very good point. It reminds me of the contemporary question as to what extent we should allow our focus at Mass on the liturgical celebration proper to the day to include mention of various worthy but secular observances, such as Mother’s Day, Earth Day, etc.

  2. marcel says:

    David, you really are trying hard not to sound upset. It’s a credit to you. However, I’d be interested to know whether you think it is legitimate for others to be upset by those matters you have termed stylistic differences. Some of us worry that there may be a substantial principle at play in these gestures.

    • Schütz says:

      Well, I am still grieving the loss of Papa Benny, yes, that’s true. But Papa Cisco has given me a couple of really good laughs, and my heart is warming to him. No, we should not fear. As a Lutheran I learned to tell the difference between essentials and adiaphora. I happen to like adiaphora – the really nice things of life are rarely completely necessary.. But the gospel is necessary.

      • marcel says:

        The New York Times, amongst others, report that he supported same sex civil unions in Argentina. If true, would that constitute an essential or an adiaphora?

        • Tony says:

          From the NY Daily News:

          Pope Francis once backed civil unions in attempt to defeat a proposal that would legalize same-sex marriage in Argentina. The attempt failed. Gay marriage is now legal in the South American nation.

          On the one hand, he has a history of being uncompromising on gay marriage. On the other, the very idea that he would ‘back’ civil unions as a compromise will, no doubt, send some into a frenzy.

          What were those Cardinal electors thinking?!

          • Schütz says:

            I don’t know what “back” means in this context. Not object, could be more like it. As I understand it, the context was the strategy to avoid the greater evil of redefining marriage (ultimately unsuccessful, as it turned out). The Cardinal did not object to measures which gave a certain amount of natural human justice to certain partnerships. That is not the same thing as endorsing certain sexual relationships. And, as I say again and as Tony has said, it was in the context of opposing the redefinition of marriage.

  3. Joshua says:

    I have been (all but totally succeeding in) convincing myself that all is well, and all manner of things shall be well: to be frank, I, as a self-confessed Traddie and Latin-Mass-lover, have been utterly shocked and scandalised, not by dear Pope Francis, who seems just great, but by the disgracefully insulting and vile comments of the extreme end of the Trad. spectrum (I mean those at the blog Rorate cæli, evidently too close by half to the SSPX (who I have never supported, nor could unless they are regularized)) against our new Holy Father. I mean, I know Traddies famously have no charity, but my breath has been taken away by the viciousness of their attacks on His Holiness. That is what has been agitating me: so in contrast to such bile, I have been concentrating on the very positive reception Pope Francis has been receiving from all and sundry, and certainly from relatives, friends and work colleagues. He reminds me somehow of Good Pope John.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I think we are just getting a feel for what the transition from Pius XII to John XXIII might have been…

      • Joshua says:

        Watching the television coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Benedict, I was shocked and worried by the evident physical deterioration that our former Pope has suffered – seemingly during just the past three weeks. I do wonder if Benedict resigned given some very bad prognosis about his likely speedy decline…

  4. adam says:

    Point made David. But in the last week since Wednesday evening around 8pm Rome time the world has seen a new style of pope. So many little things have happened, from paying the hotel bill to darting around Rome in a small black VW.
    But one incident that not many may have seen occured at the end of the long greetings session Tuesday in St Peter’s Basilica after the Mass. Francesco had to endure (yes) the long line of Heads of Govt and other senior delegations as they came to shake his hand and offer best wishes. People like rogue leader Mugabe and his wife, Chancellor Merke, the King of the Belgiums, Prince Albert of Monaco, the crown prince of Spain and others. At the end, they had moved on and the pope stopped, turned and his Papal Regent from the Household threw out his arm (as they d0) to point him in the direction to leave the Basilica. The new Bishop of Rome (since that is what he calls himself, and not once has he called himself Pope yet), stopped then turned and headed in the opposite direction towards a group of about 30 seminarians/priests and nuns who had been watching from behind a barrier. So off he went and started shaking hands as security moved around (as they always do incessantly) throwing his arms into the crowd. It was wonderful to see, this new papa at ease and wanting once again to touch his flock. I was so pleased to see that the Regent’s advice had not been followed.

    Expect more of this like we saw last Sunday. And there are some photos now on a website of the new pope greeting the Patriarch of Constantinople at St Martha’s in the Vatican, dressed in a simple white cassock, no cape, and no white skull cap !!!
    Ah yes, its all new, more simple and more in keeping with the Successor of Peter.
    The authority of the pope resides not in the clothes he wears, be they red or black or white shoes. It resides in his election as the ‘servants of the servants of God’, and in his role as a simple fisherman of souls.
    ps. Sts Peter and Paul never wore mozzettas, be they red or white. And I doubt they ever wore red calfskin shoes. Probably torn leather sandals. Ah, there’s the way ahead!!

  5. adam says:

    And just announced by the Vatican:
    Papa Francesco will celebrate the Mass of the lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday at the young offenders prison in Rome. I presume that he will wash the feet of 12 young offenders, much like he did in Buenos Aires washing the feet of HIV victims.
    And this would seem to cancel the usual pratice of MAss in the Lateran Church which is the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. But we will need to await further annoucements.
    In this new pontificate, it is obvious that every day, almost every hour, something new happens. Will be hard to catch up.
    Oh and the Pariarch of Constantinople, Bartholonew has invited Francesco to Israel later in the year.
    Its all happening in Europe, so the bishops around the world will need to get their acts together, very fast. Fast indeed.

    • Schütz says:

      Couple of things – the Lateran mass is off because the pope has not yet taken possession of his cathedral church – he will do the Maundy Thursday mass at St. Peter’s – he has sent out three thousand tickets to the local caritas office to be distributed to Rome’s poor. So all going ahead – I imagine the prison mass is in addition. But here is the thing – he will almost certainly wash the feet of twelve poor people, but don’t be surprised if those people are not all viri.

      • adam says:

        David. The Mass of Chrism will be at ST Peter’s in the morning as is usual in Rome on Holy Thursday.
        But the Mass of the Last Supper is to be at the prison in the evening. Tickets for the evening mass will not be valid as the pope will not be there, but in prison!
        It was only to be held there as he has not taken possession of his cathedral chruch.
        Those who had tickets now will have to go to Chrism Mass in the morning.

      • Tony says:

        The washing of the feet is, for my money, one of the richest and most evocative visual symbols of Holy Week.

        I always thought the powerful symbolism was lost — to put it mildly — when I saw images of the refined white feet of ‘princes’ of the church being washed on raised platforms using gold jugs and basins.

        To wash the feet of people ‘regular’ society regards as outcasts will bring back some of that confrontational (in a positive, teaching sense) symbolism.

        And OK, it may not be ‘criticism’ in a direct sense, but this sort of powerfully symbolic gesture done in such a different way to his predecessors, is much more than personal ‘style’.

        • Tony says:

          PS: Imagine how much more powerful an image like this one will be to the world?

          • Schütz says:

            I am inclined to agree. However, that would be the thing, wouldn’t it? Would we be using real people for the sake of an “image”? Remember, an image can be either an “icon” or an “idol”!

            • Tony says:

              I actually don’t understand your point about ‘real people’. I think the feet washed by PB16 (Cardinals and retired priests, I think) are as ‘real’ as the woman depicted in Buenos Aries.

              Maybe I’m missing your point?

            • Schütz says:

              Yes, you are missing the point. I am making the distinction between an “image” of a person and a “real” person, not between a person off the street and cardinal (both are “real” persons, as you point out). We should not make a person – who has a real existence – into an image of a person – which may indeed just be an “idol” of our own making (for use for our own purposes) rather than a true “icon” of the “real” person. Do you get what I mean?

            • Tony says:

              I’m still not with you, David.

              Maybe you could say how the distinction applies to the different approaches to Holy Thursday discussed so far?

            • Schütz says:

              Okay. What I am trying to say is this: liturgy was not meant to be a source of “imagery”. It is something to be experienced by those who are participating. But when it becomes something that produces what the advertising or public relations world would call an”image”, it is no longer the real people engaging in a real sacramental/ritual encounter with one another through The Lord, but can become an occasion of “idolatry” – along the lines of Fr Blake’s piece. Worse still rather than serving the poor we end up using them for our own self promotion. I do not for a moment suggest that pope Francis is guilty of this – but we may be, when we draw comparisons between the liturgy in one context and the liturgy in another – when it is the images that we are comparing, not the experience of the liturgy itself.

            • Schütz says:

              “so long as the poor and suffering are not exploited for the sake of a photo-op” – Joshua

              He said it better than me.

          • Tony says:

            It is that, David.

            Every public liturgical gesture has the potential to be ‘sinful’ I guess, but it seems to me that stopping it and saying ‘I’ll do this instead’ is not the solution.

            I could imagine, for example, that being a Eucharistic Minister could be a opportunity to ‘Lord it over people’ even if it’s only in your heart.

            Surely it would be better to work on changing your attitude than to stop doing it?

            Again, the washing of the feet is confronting at so many levels, that’s why it’s so powerful.

            When done well, it confronts the ‘washers’ and the ‘washed’ and the ‘watching’ about their own attitudes to service and leadership.

            I don’t think that should be given up lightly because it takes us out of our comfort zones.

        • Schütz says:

          When I was a pastor I would wash the feet of my whole congregation. We only ever had about 30 people at the Maundy Thursday mass.

    • Schütz says:

      Oh, and President Peres has already issued the invitation for Papa Cisco to come to Israel – Papa Bart’s idea will fit in perfectly with that. Given Papa Ciscos popularity with the Jewish community I expect it to happen sooner than later any way. It will be interesting to see how he walks the Palestinian high wire…

      • Tony says:

        That will be interesting.

        Even the casual observer in Jerusalem and its immediate surrounds is confronted by powerful images of how badly the Palestinians are being treated. The new wall, for example, evokes images of East and West Germany or, ironically, a concentration camp. It’s visually intimidating.

        As part of our course last year we walked from near the top of the Mount of Olives down to the Kidron Valley. The wall was visible from there too, snaking its way up the hill in the distance. I noticed at the top of the hill that it did a sharp detour at the before straightening again and heading down the hill.

        I asked our guide why it didn’t continue in a straight path and he said that they’d found water below and there was no way the Israelis were going to leave that to the Palestinians.

  6. Pingback: Beauty in simplicity | Joyful Papist

  7. Joshua says:

    Considering choices of vesture in general – it so saddens me when I hear gleeful celebration of Pope Francis’ decision not to wear this or that, often even explicitly drawing unfavourable comparisons with Pope Benedict’s bringing back into use of various items. It would be quite ridiculous to think that Benedict had some puerile or self-loving delight in playing dress-ups (his personality and intellectual stature would hardly accommodate such an immature self-concept), or that Francis is acting ostentatiously and with a self-conscious spirit of self-promotion, affecting humility in order to garner adulation, in choosing not to choose similar attire.

    Instead, deeper and more worthy motives ought be sought for: plainly, for Pope Benedict, a scholar and a gentleman raised in a part of Germany where continuity and a culturally-educated sensibility are far more part of life than in philistine Australia, the liturgy, and the dignity of the Papal office, required the maintenance of continuity and even a reforging of continuity where such had faded, by seeking to “worship the Lord in beauty of holiness”. This same Pope on more than one occasion stated that the Pope is not some kind of monarch, but a servant: his accoutrements were in no way intended for self-gratification or to project regal splendour; they were, however, meant to worthy of their purpose – at Mass and Office, to be worthy of the sacred liturgy, which is fundamentally an act of divine worship, deserving of the offering up of the best of human talent and artistry; as part of the Papal wardrobe, not only to be appropriately dignified but functional (an octogenarian obviously needs his head kept warm when outdoors in winter, and his old shoulders too).

    Pope Francis, being instead a religious vowed to poverty, and one who has devotedly served the poor in his pastoral ministry, quite naturally (and indeed as his own prudent judgement would direct him, so as freely to fulfil, given his new state of life, the spirit of his religious vows insofar as he can) chooses a simpler and less complicated, less outwardly ornamented attire, both in his ordinary duties and in his liturgical functions. He is as perfectly free and entirely praiseworthily able to do so as Pope Benedict was perfectly free and entirely praiseworthily able to do otherwise – for these are not matters either compulsory or forbidden, but ones in which Christian freedom may be exercised.

    It so happens that the contemporary spirit seems more accepting (for fairly facile reasons, without deeply inquiring into the worthier motives) of such Franciscan simplicity rather than Benedictine ressourcement: but it would be quite unjust, nay, insulting, to claim that either Francis postures as poor and humble (yet is neither), or that Benedict was proud, rich, a strutting peacock, who never helped the poor (risible sentiments, easily disproved).


    As to the washing of feet on Holy Thursday:

    (1) This is not the acme of the Sacred Liturgy of that holy night, but one part – and still an optional one – that illustrates the sacrificial self-giving and condescension of the Son of God, foreshadowing His Cross and Passion; the Mass itself presents not this, but the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood as the work of Holy Thursday, each to continue in their own way down the ages what was foreshadowed in the Cenacle: the Sacrifice of Christ for us and our salvation;

    (2) To our modern secular sensibilities, washing the feet of the poor and suffering seems somehow more “authentic” – and thus as an evangelical tool has much to commend it, so long as the poor and suffering are not exploited for the sake of a photo-op;

    (3) At the Last Supper, the feet washed were precisely those of the Apostles, already constituted priests of the New Testament when told at the Consecration of the Host and Chalice “Do (offer) this as my Memorial” – and indeed having the fulness of the priesthood, that sacramental likeness to and imprint of Christ the One High Priest which they were able to pass on: so in fact for Popes down the ages (until this year) to wash the feet of twelve bishops was to even more closely mirror that first washing of feet – I would argue that it would be likewise more closely symbolic of that first washing for all bishops to wash the feet of priests;

    (4) As to choosing whose feet to wash – twelve priests (or, for the Pope, bishops), or twelve poor men – such were in fact the two options given for this ceremony until the reform of the Roman Liturgy about fifty years ago: this ritual was to be carried out in cathedrals and conventual churches (it was otherwise optional and I believe rarely done);

    (5) Pope Gregory the Great himself washed the feet of twelve poor men (so Pope Francis is in good company in making his choice!), and mysteriously a thirteenth man of fair countenance joined them – afterward, no one could find where he had gone or who he was, and Gregory came to believe it was an angel who had graced the proceedings: thereafter (until the recent reforms), thirteen and not just twelve persons were to be assembled for the washing of the feet;

    (6) The vexed question of whether or not to wash the feet of females as well as males has arisen only in recent decades – presumably, on some level the thirteen poor men were representing the apostles (all male), and this echoes Our Lord’s choice of males only to be His priests (ordained at the same Last Supper), so officially the rubrics still require males only for this ritual; well-meaning persons, conscious of the offence this may engender (pun intended) in our age, bend the rules here (and famously the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires has) – if as may happen Pope Francis does so, of course he ipso facto is derogating from these norms by virtue of his plenitude of Apostolic power: while I would argue that to maintain the age-old rule is better, it must candidly be accepted that to implicitly change it does at least lessen the apprehended scandal for the many (without of course signalling any change in favour of WO, which the same Cardinal has explicitly said is not possible).

    • Tony says:

      … Pope Gregory the Great himself washed the feet of twelve poor men (so Pope Francis is in good company in making his choice!), and mysteriously a thirteenth man of fair countenance joined them …

      Angels are men?

      Or could it be that ‘man of fair countenance’ is code for … you know … woman?

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