Sacraments & Sacramentals

March 16, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Amid reports of priests saying their bishops are insisting they wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy, Pope Francis’ liturgy chief has told reporters that washing the feet of women during the Holy Thursday celebration is not a requirement according to the new rite. 

Cardinal Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, told reporters February 26 that every bishop or priest “has to decide in accord with his own conscience, and according to the purpose for which the Lord instituted this feast.”

Pope Francis decreed in January that the practice of a priest washing exclusively the feet of men during the optional Holy Thursday rite was outdated. According to the new instructions, “pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God,” adding that “such small groups can be made up of men and women.”

The Pope said he decided to innovate on the rite “with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus’ gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity.”

A confusion arose when Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship, appeared to suggest in a commentary on the rite that pastors are obliged to “choose a small group of persons who are representative of the entire people,” including women. 

Cardinal Sarah’s clarification comes as good news for Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan who has raised serious concern about the changing of the rite. 

Bishop Schneider told Rorate Caeli last month that allowing the “foot washing of women along with the men not only distracts from the main focus on Eucharist and on Priesthood, but generates confusion regarding the historical symbolism of the ‘twelve’ and of the apostles being of male sex.”

“The public washing and usually also kissing of the feet of women on the part of a man, in our case, of a priest or a bishop, is considered by every person of common sense in all cultures as being improper and even indecent,” he added. 

Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press, told the Wanderer that Cardinal Sarah’s clarification is timely, but unlikely to change the minds of those who champion the new rite as a “requirement” in the name of ‘inclusion.’ 

“Of course it should be made clear that this is a permission, not a requirement. But even that clarity won’t affect what actually happens,” he said, noting a similar situation in which the permission that was granted for female altar servers under Pope John Paul II made some bishops insist that the regular use of altar girls be normative for all Masses.

Fr. Fessio said that while the pope, as supreme legislator, has the power to change Church laws “any which way he desires,” the prototype of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 male apostles will always remain the same. 

“One thing is certain: There is a ‘symbolic dissonance’ or disconnect [in the new rite that allows for women participants]. The humility and service of which Jesus gives an example is something every Christian owes everyone. Nevertheless, the historical origin of the example is Jesus’ washing of the feet of His 12 apostles. Trying to make the gesture more ‘inclusive’ than Jesus Himself did simply muddles the historical image,” he said. 

Fr. Peter Stravinskas, scholar, author, and apologist, told Faithful Insight that the innovation continues a problematic trend in the Church where repeated disobedience to clear liturgical norms is eventually rewarded by a change in Church law. 

“We’ve now seen how direct disobedience to norms against reception of Holy Communion in the hand, altar girls, reception under both species on Sunday, switching Holy Days of obligation, and now allowing women to participate in the foot washing rite, leads to a change in the norm.”

“There’s a pattern here: Disobey repeatedly, and eventually the law will change. It appears to be an inexorable process,” he said.

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The other day a friend wrote and asked a question. It was an interesting question.

Jesus to Nicodemus, "You must be born again of water and the Spirit."

“Is the answer to this that in the earlier examples, only the disciples did the baptizing and John is using a Hebraic figure of speech such that his disciples did them in his name and by his authority? If so, it would seem that these baptisms were not, in fact, salvific but were more like the non-sacramental baptism of John the Baptist. Am I getting close?

“FYI, the context here is a caller asked the same question and got two different answers from two different guests. The caller wanted to know how Jesus could administer the very salvific baptism he announces in John 3:5 when the Spirit had not been sent yet.

Thanks, author of John’s Gospel!”

Here is how I responded: 

Transition periods in salvation history are not always easy to peg, for example, did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them (Jn 20:22-23) or when the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost? 

 Another one, in Acts they were baptized in the “Name of Jesus” but Matthew says “in the Name of Father…Son…Holy Spirit.” The believers St. Paul found in Ephesus had only been baptized with John’s baptism and were then baptized by Paul in the name of Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). Should  it be in the Name of the Trinity, or in the Name of Jesus? And obviously some Christians were baptizing without the full understanding or proper method of baptizing.

Jesus stood as a bridge or transition between John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance and St. Paul’s baptism in the Name of Jesus that brought the Holy Spirit. I have to believe that when Jesus baptized, or rather when his disciples baptized in persona Christi, that something actually happened since Jesus had already announce the salvific quality of baptism earlier in John 3:3-5. Just like Jesus turned bread into his Body in the Upper Room, I believe that Jesus also through baptism brought about a regeneration. If not his baptism in John 4:1-3 is out of context with what He says in John 3:3-5.

As to who baptized – Jesus or his disciples? Let’s begin with the multiplication of loaves and fish. When Jesus broke the loaves did HE give the miraculous bread to the people (Jn 6:11) or did his disciples distribute the bread and fish? Or did Jesus give it but THROUGH the hands of his disciples (Mt 14:19)?

 Your comment about in persona Christi I think is very correct. 

 From my book St. John’s Gospel, A Commentary and Bible Study Guide:

In verse 11, how did Jesus distribute the bread and fish? How do the other Gospels shed light on the actual means of distribution (Mt 14:19; Mk 6:40–41; Lk 9:14–16)? How did Jesus work through his apostles (cf. Jn 4:1–2; CCC 1335) as his delegated agents, with the claim that it was done by Christ himself? How does this help us understand the priesthood and the sacraments (cf. Jn 4:1–2; CCC 1548)? How does this help us understand the deeper meanings and sacramental content of St. John’s Gospel?

» Theological note: This is the only miracle in which Jesus allows his disciples to participate. Why? What does it symbolize? Compare it with Numbers 11:13ff. Here the appointed leaders participate in the “spirit” with Moses; so with the apostles and their successors with Jesus. This is a beautiful picture of the Catholic Church: “all the people” representing the universal Church, gathered in “small groups” of fifty to one hundred, representing the local churches, all being fed by Christ, the great High Priest, who provides the miraculous “bread” of the Eucharist to all the people through the hands of his priests, the apostles.”


 According to verse 1, how many disciples did Jesus have? What is symbolic and sacramental about the fact that “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples … although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples” (Jn 13:20; CCC 858, 1548)?

» Theological note: The priest in the Catholic Church sacramentally stands “in the place of Christ” (CCC 1142, 1548). The priest shares in the work and priesthood of Christ, without in any way detracting from Christ’s unique and singular position as High Priest. As one who prays for another shares in the intercessory work of Christ (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; Rom 11:2, which refers to Elijah interceding with God; Eph 6:18; 1 Tim 2:1), so those who are disciples of Christ do things in his name, especially the priest who acts in a special way—in persona Christi—in the person of Christ.”

 Now as to whether the baptism is sacramental or only a Jewish washing – as a sign of repentance, looking forward to the sacrament. This is an interesting question.

 To suggest that Jesus through his disciples did not have the authority or the power to regenerate would seem rather weak. It is interesting that he is baptizing immediately following his statement that one “must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.”  So do Jesus’ actions contradict what he just said to Nicodemus? Do the people being baptized expect more than Jesus is actually giving? And never do I see Jesus saying “you’ll have to be baptized again after my resurrection to be regenerated.”

 On the other hand, since the Holy Spirit had not officially come yet on the day of Pentecost others have a good point saying that it’s not the baptism of the New Covenant, yet.

 However, in the upper room Jesus broke the bread and said it WAS his Body even though he had not yet offered himself as the sacrifice, having not yet died on the cross. The sacrament of the Eucharist had been instituted as a New Covenant sacrament yet the descent of the Holy Spirit would not take place for another fifty three days. But Jesus still says that the bread he holds in his hand is his Body and Augustine says, “he held his own flesh in his own hands.”

 So I can see both sides though I fall on the side of believing it did what the “sign” suggests. In other words, I believe Jesus instituted the sacrament of Baptism when he announced it to Nicodemus and began baptizing immediately thereafter.

For a very thorough discussion of this matter in the 1913 edition of the 13-volume Catholic Encyclopedia, which I read only after writing the above, click here. Seems we concluded the same thing :-)


5 Benefits of Frequent Confession

The Father rushes to receive us back

It’s Lent! This season provides us as Catholics an opportunity to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” One of the ways we can best do this is by going to Confession, where we have the opportunity to accept the many graces God has in store for us through this beautiful – and often underutilized - sacrament. But Lent isn’t the only time to make Reconciliation part of your schedule. Frequent Confession has so many benefits, including:

1. Confession helps us to better “know thyself.” St. Augustine and countless other saints and doctors of the Church talk about the importance of knowing ourselves well. Through coming to know ourselves better, we realized how fallen we are, and how badly we need God’s help and grace to get through life. Frequent Confession helps remind us to rely on God to help rid us of our sins.

2. Confession helps us to overcome sin and vice. The grace we receive from the Sacrament of Confession helps us combat our faults and failings and break our habits of vice much more easily and expediently than we could otherwise do without the sacramental grace.

3. Confession brings us peace. Guilt from the sins we commit can make us feel all mixed up inside and cause us to lose our peace and joy. When we hear God’s forgiving words to us from the lips of the priest in Confession, a burden is lifted off our shoulders. Sins weigh us down and enslave us, often giving our passions power over us, instead of us having control over our passions. With the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can again feel the peace of heart and soul that comes from being in a good relationship with God.

4. Confession helps us become more saintly, more like Jesus! Jesus was perfectly humble, perfectly generous, perfectly patient, perfectly loving—perfectly everything! Don’t you wish you could be as humble, generous, patient, and loving as Jesus? Saints throughout history have felt that way too, and they have frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help transform them into people who are more like Christ. Little images of Christ—that’s what saints are!

5. Confession strengthen our will. Every time we experience the Sacrament of Confession, God strengthens our will and our self-control to be able to resist the temptations that confront us in our lives. We become more resolute to follow God’s will and not our own whims.

Jesus speaking through his priests

The words of absolution in the Confessional are beautiful: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is waiting to forgive you—all you have to do is ask! Don’t miss out any longer on the healing power of Confession…go to Confession this week, and invite someone else too, as part of this “Year of Mercy” called for by Pope Francis.

Also, consider sharing this article or our site with someone in your life whom you believe would benefit from the graces of sacramental Reconciliation!  Visit

Article by: Katie WarnerManager of Communication and Evangelization for Catholics Come Home


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