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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.  


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