Viri Selecti Or Mulieres Selectae?

The young man did not seem impresssed, for sure...

The young man did not seem impressed, for sure…

And so the Pope did it and, as he regularly did during his time as an Archbishop (he seems obsessed with continuing to do everything as he did before becoming Pope; another sign of humility, or pride as the case may be)  has washed the feet of at least one woman during his Maundy Thursday Mass. 

Someone will correct me if I am wrong, but last time I looked the rules mandated (not suggested) the use of chosen men, viri selecti.

When I was (blessedly) scourged with Latin, there was no way  Vir could be translated as “human”, and if I had done it the dreaded blue pencil of my severe teacher would not have been far away. But it was a very long time ago, or we must have been both wrong; or perhaps, who knows, Latin is becoming more “inclusive”…

Now, only two things may be happening here:

1. I do not remember, or we were wrong all the time. Vir means “person”, and viri selecti means “chosen people”. 

2. The then Cardinal Archbishop and now Pope doesn’t have any problem in going against the rules both when he was Cardinal Archbishop and now that he is Pope. 

“But Mundabor”, you may say, “this is not de fide, merely an instruction of the Missal! Of course the Pope can change the instructions; he is the Pope!” 

Yes, and no. 

Firstly, he can certainly change the instructions, but then he should first change them and then act in accordance to the thus changed rules. To just do what he pleases with the Roman Missal can only encourage many others to do the same. We are, here, confronted with a Pope sending a clear signal that rules can be disobeyed: certainly by the Pope every time his “humility” suggests to him that he may do so, and most certainly by the many liberal priests who will feel authorised – nay, encouraged – to follow his example. 

Secondly, whilst I am not a liturgist – and am ready to stand corrected by intelligent arguments – I rather think that those like this Catholic blogger are getting the meaning of the washing of the feet in a deeper way than the usual (at least in the last decades) “it’s only a sign of humility” interpretation. I have no knowledge of women being chosen in past centuries among the “viri (cough) selecti” by Popes or other clergy. Please also note that, as explained here, Pope Benedict preferred to wash the feet of priests as opposed to laymen.  

Be it as it may, it can’t be denied the instructions of the Roman Missal say “men”. Whilst I am not a mother tongue, I think it can be comfortably asserted that in English, “men” does not mean “women” by any stretch of the imagination. (It can mean “mankind” in some limited context, but you would use it differently: “we have brought Man to the Moon”, etc. This is clearly not the case here).

I am curious to read the reaction of liturgists to this. Again, the Pope may well change the rules, but he is doing something different: he is saying that he can make the rules as he goes along, and it is not so important that rules are respected.

I do not doubt, though, that today we will be overflowed by a tidal wave of sugary comments by NuChurch bloggers about the courageous and inclusive choice of the new Pontiff.

Benedict was, whilst largely ineffective, a Pope of intellectual depth whose acts and speeches spoke to intelligent people.   

Make no mistake: in a sharp contrast with Benedict’s, this pontificate will please the stupid the world over.  


Posted on March 29, 2013, in Catholicism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Mundabor,
    Pope Francis is clearly conscious of the symbolic importance of his actions – there are plenty of people around him, not least Msgr. Marini, who will remind him of this, if he is as tone-deaf as his “conservative” defenders try to pretend. We must therefore assume – and can do so safely – that he knows what he is doing. Now, what is he objectively doing in washing the feet of women? Is he just saying, he wants to humiliate himself? No, this is impossible, because he can humiliate himself before men just as easily as before women. In this regard, there is no difference between the sexes. But he breaks the law in order to do so before women. Therefore, it is important to him that women are included in the rite. (It is, by the way, also important to him that muslims are included in it….) If it were about humility, there would be no need for law-breaking. He could just wash the feet of male inmates.
    If he chooses to include women in this rite, there is only one thinkable, plausible reason to do so: In order make a point about the role of women in the Church. And what point might this be? Well, as far as I know, Jesus washed the feet of His apostles, those who transmitted their authority through an unbroken succession of Bishops to this day. The only plausible interpretation of the law-breaking Pope’s action is therefore that he thinks women can and should be included in this succession.

    I cannot but interpret this rupture as a signal that he personally thinks women should be ordinated priests and, eventually, bishops. Which is no surprise, as he has often made clear his admiration for Walter Kasper, one of the chief agitators for the “ordination” of women deacons and, eventually, priests. This Pope’s theology is formed by people like Kasper, and he will do everything he possibly can to impose his un-Catholic, modernist vision on the Church. He is a rather strong-willed man, our new Bishop of Rome.

    Alas, he will find willing servants in self-proclaimed “conservatives” falling over themselves in order to please the one in the Vatican, who still refuses to call himself Pope or act like one. Now, it’s no longer “Save the Liturgy – Save the World”, but rather, “Sell the Liturgy – Sell the Church” for them. And they approve of this transaction, because the Pope does.

    At least we have a strong leader in the Vatican now. The problem is just where he wants to lead us. We have a strong Pope, but not an orthodox one.

    • I wouldn’t go as far as that, Catocon, though in the end with such a maverick we can never tell.

      I also doubt this Pope is theologically very refined, or a deep thinker, though I concede he is smart enough.

      In my eyes, what he wants to do is simply to send a signal that following the Misalle isn;t so important, provided we are inclusive and work for peace; ah, and of course talk all the time about the poor.

      If he believes in God – which I think he does, though in a very strange way – he must know that male priesthoos is untouchable; but I do not doubt that will be a good deal of rubbish about letting women feel that whilst they can’t be priest, in a sense they are etc. In this, he fill follow a long neo-modernist tradition: we are in favour of the capital punishment but we are actually also against it, we understand the need for war at times but we can never see this need arising, and so on…

      I liked “Sell the Liturgy – Sell the Church” a lot!


  2. awkwardcustomer

    Washing women’s feet – they’ve been doing it for years.

    20 years ago, before being received into the Church, I went on retreat to a Redemptorist monastery for Holy Week and the very modern Abbot asked for women volunteers for the Washing of the Feet at the Maundy Thursday Mass.

    Rules are there to be broken, you see. It’s a modern badge of honour that priests I’ve met wear with pride.

    • Oh I know that, I have seen it myself! But that a Pope should do it!

      If you look at the following post, there were Muslims too. I wonder when we have lost our ability to be scandalised.


  3. Will the muslims now be killed for taking part in a catholic ceremony?

    • I can’t see any problem. Muslims are allowed to deny their religion as much as they like if this is in their religious interest. Formal conversion would be different, but again Muslims in Italy are different than in countries like the UK, because a very Un-PC country does not allow fanatics to get much leeway.


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