The Mandatum: let’s not be hard on Pope Francis

by Joseph Shaw. Chairman, Latin Mass Society.

It is tempting to see the decree allowing women’s feet to be washed on Maundy Thursday as an indication of an acceleration of liturgical decay underway with Pope Francis, following his breaking of the rule up to now. However, what has happened is no different from what happened under his predecessors.

Bl Pope Paul VI gave in to the pressure of endemic abuse when he allowed the reception of Communion in the hand. But there are other examples too from his troubled reign. One of the most peculiar documents of the Papal Magisterium is his Sacrificium laudis, an Apostolic Letter directed to religious superiors, begging, cajoling, and ordering them to preserve Latin in the Office. You won’t find this document in the Acta Apostolicis Sedis, or on the Vatican website. The speed of its transformation into waste-paper gives new meaning to the phrase ‘dead on arrival’. (You’ll find an English translation on the LMS website.)

Pope St John Paul II gave way, again because of the pressure of abuses, on Altar girls. It was he, also, who permitted another set of countries to take up Communion in the hand. It was on his watch, again, that the restrictions on Communion under Both Kinds fell by the wayside – this was forbidden on Sundays, in theory, and for ‘large congregations’, but the American bishops defied him, and he gave in. It was under him that major investigations of American seminaries and women religious were turned into whitewash, liturgical abuses were established on an industrial scale at the World Youth Days, and being blessed by witch doctors, kissing the Koran, and putting Buddha on altars became de rigeur. Religious sisters not wearing their habits sat right in front of him at a Papal Mass of beatification in Australia in 1995. That day, liturgical discipline was dead.

Pope Benedict XVI allowed Communion in the hand in Poland, where Pope John Paul II never had. Did Pope JP know something his successor did not? It was Pope Benedict who chose to continue JPII’s Youth Day Masses, and Assisi ecumenical gatherings, at a moment when it would have been perfectly possible to let both series stop, and merely tried to make them less awful. But he did not continue JPII’s series of Instructions lambasting liturgical abuses: he must have realised it was pointless. It was under Pope Benedict that the investigation of the American women’s religious lost its conservative mojo: yes, he was the one who appointed João, Cardinal Braz de Aviz as Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, in 2011, with entirely predictable results.

There is, however, an important difference between the actions of these three Popes and Pope Francis. As far as one can tell, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Pope Benedict beleived that poor liturgical discipline was a bad thing. Paul VI lamented Communion in the hand and the loss of Latin. John Paul II apparantly dislike Altar girls, and condemned abuses vigourously before permitting them. Pope Benedict surely had no sympathy with the ghastly things which were happening in American convents. There is no reason to think that Pope Francis is similarly conflicted when he allows the washing of women’s feet on Maundy Thursday.

And another thing: to be crass about it, the Mandatum is not all that important. It happens once a year, and it is optional. It is not an integral part of the Maundy Thursday service – despite its name. Allowing Altar girls and EMHCs and syncetistic pagan rites during Mass are far more serious issues.

Let’s not get on a high horse about Pope Francis at this juncture. This is just another step, and not a particularly large one, in the development of the Ordinary Form away from Tradition, and it is not happening because of the personality of the Pope. It is happening because the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 was unstable. It included a series of compromises which were never going to last. Given the direction of pressure, these compromises were always going to unravel the same way.

This is the real lesson to be learned. Attempting to shore up the totering edifice of the Novus Ordo with ferocious-sounding rules has failed. JPII and Pope Benedict didn’t manage it, and obviously – obviously – Pope Francis, though not a liturgical ‘meddler’, is not going to succeed in a project in which he has no interest. If it is collapsing, it is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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24 Responses to The Mandatum: let’s not be hard on Pope Francis

  1. ginnyfree says:

    Fear not Gertrude, the gates of the nether world shall not prevail. God bless. Ginnyfree

  2. All right, even if Francis has not acted in a way very different from that of his three immediate predecessors, allowing priests at a mass in St. Peter’s to distribute the Eucharist to a group of Finnish Lutherans ( is much more troubling for many of us. A particularly sensitive friend of mine, who is almost in despair over this papacy, e-mailed me about the Lutherans receiving Communion, with the message, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

  3. Gertrude says:

    Thanks Ginny and God bless for reminding me. Robert: Sadly, I am with your friend.

    I include a quote (abbreviated) from Fr. Ed Tomlinson which is very poignant:

    “….people in my congregation are going to be unsettled by this change. Our experience of innovations in the Anglican church was not a happy experience that built up our faith. We are therefore, understandably, a little fearful of changes to sacred tradition and biblical witness.”

  4. ginnyfree says:

    Tell your friend to read up a bit on the truly wretched Popes we’ve had in the past and be grateful. I usually look to Pope Alexander VI when I need a reminder that sometimes the Cardinals can be duped into electing a loser. His pontificate helps me keep some perspective on it all. So yeah, I can thank the loser for messing everything up so badly that it proves that the Office is of God and will outlive whoever holds it for a while no matter how poorly they abuse its power and cause harm to the flock or grave scandal the rest of the world can use to discredit us as Catholics faithful to the Office rather than the men in it. We will survive whatever scandals accompany whoever takes the Seat of Peter for a while. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  5. ginnyfree says:

    P.S. Oh please pray for those poor priests who had some wool pulled over their eyes by a certain dizzying glamour that accompanies a certain person long enough to allow this obvious sacrilege to occur.

  6. If I understood correctly, Pope Francis is permitting washing of the feet of “the People of God” which is not limited to women but includes , according to the Vatican II documents ,Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Pagans who are seeking God with a sincere heart.

    The symbolism in Christ’s washing the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper was alluded to by Jesus when he said to Peter, ” You are clean but not all” and it seems ,due to the exclusiveness of the
    first Mass and Ordination at the Last Supper, that the mutual foot washing which the Lord recommended to the Apostles for future times had to do with their correcting and sanctifying each other, as members of the clergy. Following this reasoning, the footwashing of all of the “People of God” , while it may be a gesture of ecumanism, does not follow the original Scriptural symbolism
    of Jesus washing the feet of the Church’s first priests…or rather, first Bishops. If we consider what is happening in the Episcopate these days, it would seem fitting to wash the feet of Bishops.

  7. Michael says:

    The essence of the argument Dr. Shaw is putting forward here seems to me to be that because previous popes caved on liturgical abuses, we shouldn’t mind too much when Pope Francis does the same, even though (as Dr. Shaw admits as much himself) he is not conflicted on these issues as they were. Hmm – the argument that we shouldn’t mind bad things in the present because similar bad things happened in the past doesn’t strike me as a particularly good one.

    Furthermore, I think the reason people are so concerned by this recent move of the Holy Father is not necessarily the decree in and of itself, but that it has taken place in the context of repeated criticism of people who value the traditions and clear teachings of the Church, as well as a constant rhetoric of being ‘open to the new’ which seems a mere pretext for dilution of distinctive Catholic teaching on priesthood, salvation, and many other things. The decree is yet another sign of the general direction that this pontificate has been going in and seems set to continue in. The Mandatum itself is not that important in the grand scheme of things no, but the message it sends out, when taken with everything else we’ve experienced thus far, is not one that fills me with confidence, to put it mildly.

    Anyway, it is a good time to reflect (yet again!) on the wording of Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility, which actually puts very strict limitations on what a pope can or can’t do. Also, as Dr. Shaw notes in his article, the Mandatum is optional – best thing to do might be to just avoid it in the future, unless one can find a parish where it will be celebrated with due reverence and appreciation of its sacerdotal character (i.e.; by ignoring the new options added to the legislation for one thing).

  8. ginnyfree says:

    Well, I’m seeing a liturgical fashion statement rather than an out and out act of defiance or support of female ordination. As is so fitting to a our bad boy Pope, he is shocking those he can in a way he can and bad press be damned! He doesn’t mind all the raised eyebrows and he doesn’t mind the speculations that his actions cause. We ought to know that by now. There are those who will take advantage of his actions to whisper that the Pope favors women’s ordination because he allows this formerly male only activity to be extended to women. However, he doesn’t want them to say that, so he washes the feet of persons no one would consider as candidates for ordination at all and turns the gesture into an act of humility that may simply be a smoke screen to hide subtle approval in. See what mean? You have a field day speculating on this. Here is some older speculations: Have some fun. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  9. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 18:11 yesterday

    You certainly nail it there in your first paragraph, showing up the surprising flaws in Dr. Shaw’s bizarre reasoning for our not getting too bent out of shape when we are dished up yet more liturgical oddities… official ones this time! The whole issue is, as you say, of more concern when taken in context with the “repeated criticism of people who value the traditions and clear teachings of the Church”. Well said!

    Mrs. Maureen Avila @ 16:31 has put her finger on where the real problem lies with this decree, I think, when she reasons:
    “the footwashing of all of the “People of God” , while it may be a gesture of ecumanism, does not follow the original Scriptural symbolism of Jesus washing the feet of the Church’s first priests…or rather, first Bishops.”

    Once again, Fr Simon Henry, from the offerimustibidomine blog, drawing on the argument of an insightful letter from a fellow priest from India, points out brilliantly where the real misunderstanding lies with Pope Francis’ changes of Christ’s command to His Apostles (bishops) to follow His example (John 13:15). (Emphasis is mine.)

    “An interesting letter to the Holy Father from Fr Conrad Saldanha.

    It gave me further reflection that in the context of the liturgy the Gospel of the foot washing in the Mass of Holy Thursday is intimately linked to the Eucharist – we get no passage from the Gospels of the actual Institution but rather the foot washing – indicating the Eucharist as service, as what is celebrated in that Mass – the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass. It seems to me that seeing a Holy Father washing the feet of his priests, as was done in the past is, is much more fitting in this context. The Mandatum is an image of what Our Lord did for his disciples – it is that which is being re-enacted. Perhaps another example of how it is not always in the best interests of true teaching that we tinker with the things of the liturgy to make them appeal to the world, instead of meditating on what we already have and then explaining. Thus the foot washing is an image of the priest – hence the restriction to men. The iconography now says something different.

    The disciples – the priests – bring the good news; literally bring it about it in the Mass… “as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:7).”

  10. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 10:24, January 23rd:

    That letter from Fr. Saldanha hits the nail pretty firmly on the head if you ask me! As always, it is hard to discern Pope Francis’ real motivations here (whilst personally I think he just doesn’t think these things through and/or often see the wider significance to what he does, many others, on both sides of the opinion spectrum, would see him as a much cannier operator), but it is clear that this change sends out a very confusing message, and taken with the direction of this papacy so far, one wonders what other distinctive traditions might be ‘enlarged’ and robbed of their significance in the future, or whether the Year of Mercy might leave us with clear and important distinctions blurred even further.

  11. Michael says:

    Also see the most recent article from The Bones… for some useful commentary on this. I can’t seem to post links from that site for some reason!

  12. GC says:

    Dear Michael, you are the latest in a long line of people who have been inexplicably consigned to the spam bin. I rescued your The Bones link from there (2 above this).

  13. toadspittle says:


    GC: Beat you to it, Toad.

  14. Michael says:

    Thank you GC! It is strange, but providing links to The Bones… blog has had this effect once before as well. Spamming software is strange in this respect – I’ve had similar problems with other programmes myself, and have never been able to understand what it is about the criteria they use that allows most safe/acceptable things through but not others.

    Ah well, when the computers ‘take over’ (as Hollywood often suggests will be the case, and which some excitable trans-humanists and futurists will welcome – for about five seconds – with open arms) they can tell us themselves; along with all the animals who are really no different from us in kind and will thus inevitably evolve to the point of being able to communicate with us (as well as paint pictures, build grand edifices, solve equations, etc) at some point. What a sensible time we live in.

    Sorry, bit of an odd digression I know! Anyway, thanks for the link-retrieval 🙂

  15. Michael says:

    P.S. Some very good commentary on the Mandatum decree here:

  16. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 10:07


    And that Bones article you link to is a real bombshell…. But nonetheless, inarguably and terrifyingly accurate!

    The only way to survive this papacy is to remind ourselves that it will not be permanent, and that Doctrine cannot be changed. Innovations to liturgy and discipline (like the Mandatum) which pastorally is doing much harm to the faith of Catholics, can, and hopefully will be reversed when a Pope who revers Tradition and the Supernatural is once again seated on the Chair of Peter.

  17. Robert says:

    Personally I am far from impressed with Holy See from 1958 onwards. The emphasis has been on human to the detriment of the Divine. This human has extended into PA exercises more in keeping with the secular Presidential selection processes. Talking up Public perception on a Global stage. However Our Lord said My Kingdom is not of this world (that is a Fallen World that de facto suffers from Sin, starting with Original Sin). This world is NOT an Eden.
    Frankly why would a male priest want to fondle a woman’s bare feet in public?
    From the time of the Apostles there has been a clear segregation between male and female (and for obvious reasons) . The attempt to distance from sacred Apostolic Tradition into novelties more in keeping with worldly secular opinions is evidence of the public disobedience of the Vatican to Virgins request to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart (actually Putin has asked for this to be done!) and the third secret of Fatima
    Frankly its just a PR stunt. The spirit of Assissi 1986 haunts the Vatican.

  18. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 10:38:

    Very true indeed! It is also always important to recall how many limitations the First Vatican Council placed upon the papal office, listing a strict set of conditions which would have to be satisfied for any statement to be infallible, and also maintaining that:

    …the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

    and that first and foremost the papal office is concerned with safeguarding the unity of the Church:

    In order, then, that the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation.

    The bottom line though is, as you say, to remind ourselves of the impotence of any pope to change doctrine, and of the impermanence of each reign. Pope Francis has just recently, in a curial address, made some very encouraging comments with respect to family and the indissolubility of marriage, but as we’ve seen plenty of swings in every direction thus far, and have been given due warning that he doesn’t seem to see how changing or ‘adapting’ pastoral practice will have an effect on doctrine, waiting patiently and taking the long view is very good advice! 🙂

  19. kathleen says:

    Yes, Michael, it’s the only way to keep calm and positive, isn’t it? This is just one more of those ‘all passing things’. 😉

    We are going through some hard times within the Church in many aspects these days. Not least of them is how so many Catholics themselves, in true Pope Francis fashion, are kowtowing to the world and its ways – and surely, legitimising what was a liturgical abuse, i.e. including women in the ritual Mandatum as a fine example – instead of that of Our Sovereign Lord and King. We have had 500 years of secular, worldly Protestant errors seeping into the mindset of many Catholics too, especially in countries where Protestants are in the majority. However, Our Holy Catholic Church has weathered many a storm in Her 2.000 year old history, and come out from it strengthened and all the wiser afterwards.

  20. toadspittle says:

    “Our Holy Catholic Church has weathered many a storm in Her 2.000 year old history, and come out from it strengthened and all the wiser afterwards.”
    Many “storms” ? There’s The Reformation, but I can’t think of any others. I will be readily and swiftly informed, no doubt. Whether The Church emerged from The Reformation “stronger,” or not – is debatable. Maybe it did. But I doubt many Protestants will agree. As to whether or not it came out “wiser,” there is clearly no way of verifying.
    2,000 years is a considerable span, but age is not really a yardstick of anything, You might say the same about, say, Judaism, over a far longer timespan. What does that “prove”? Being around 2,000 years, means no more than that a religion is 2,000 years old.
    How about Sin? That’s been around a good stretch. Does that give it any special validity?i

  21. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 10:51:

    However, Our Holy Catholic Church has weathered many a storm in Her 2.000 year old history, and come out from it strengthened and all the wiser afterwards.

    Another very important point to keep in mind! 🙂 It’s amazing how much turmoil she has experienced, from within and without, and yet she is still here, with the ancient truths preserved and saints still being produced from every corner of the world.

    We are going through difficult times though, and I have Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World on my reading list (a book endorsed by Pope Francis ironically!) – a story which, according to what I’ve heard, describes very well a fictional world where a creeping worldliness infects the Church. It will be interesting to see how many parallels there are with real life events!

  22. kathleen says:

    Michael @ 18:15 yesterday

    “It’s amazing how much turmoil she has experienced, from within and without, and yet she is still here, with the ancient truths preserved and saints still being produced from every corner of the world.”

    So true, Michael! And these modern times are in many ways producing more “turmoil” and fierce challenges for all true Catholics than ever before. (Hopefully they are also producing more “saints” to combat them at the same time! 😉 )

    As if we didn’t have enough problems with so much secular hostility, and enemies after our blood in the world at large, we also have our blinkered (or even blinded) members in abundance these days “within the gates” of the Church Herself! They simply refuse to even admit that there are any problems in the first place (except for those from the annoying “trads” who won’t shut up)… so therefore do not face up to the sacrileges, abuses, heresies and betrayals being committed daily, even at the highest levels, against the Holy Bride of Christ.

    There is such amazing ignorance about the Church, Her history of persecution, battles against evil, heresies, etc., and Her amazing achievements under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it is enough to make one weep. (Toad’s vacuous contribution ^ yesterday @ 17:10 is a prime example!)

    It goes to show the absolutely vital necessity for a proper Catholic education for children and adolescents about their Faith, starting with true Catholic families where this is lived and nourished… and then for good Catholic schools. These are things that I think have been sorely neglected and lacking in recent decades.

  23. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 08:21:

    Yes, the comment you refer to does display a rather (ahem) interesting view of Church history I must say, as well as a strange interpretation of your reference to the Church’s age as being without reference to anything else but age. As you say though, lack of knowledge of Church history (or a skewed understanding of it) is all too common* and this is doubly annoying given that (as has been noted here before) there is so much information available now to supplement such gaps in knowledge. I fear though, that a lot of people prefer to remain in ignorance with respect to this area, because it makes it easier to bolster absurd versions of history that support a generally anti-religious, specifically anti-Christian, view of the world.

    And that such narratives are swallowed hook, line and sinker by many within the Church herself shows to what extent Catholicism (in the West at least) has become subject to secularisation – shown, as you say, in the many ways that Catholics have either ignored abuses or capitulated to the spirit of the age. All the more reason, as you very rightly point out, for making sure the grass roots (family first, and also the schools) are sources of nourishment for forthcoming generations!

    *I know someone (have known for a long time in fact) with an extremely keen interest in and broad knowledge of history, particularly late antiquity, and even more particularly the Roman Empire, and yet whenever anything Church-related comes up, even the most superficial understanding of events is lacking. As for the medieval and early modern period, the standard view that everything was terrible until Galileo came along (or something like that) is invoked. Actual happenings surrounding the Church, its influence on and interaction with culture, etc, is studiously avoided, and yet pronouncements made about it with great confidence. Unfortunately not an uncommon phenomenon!

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