Monday, April 01, 2013

Feet Washing

Jacopo Tintoretto 1518 - 1594
Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples
Oil on canvas
210 cm x 533 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Jacopo Tintoretto 1518 - 1594
Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples
about 1575-80
Oil on canvas
204.5 x 410.2 cm
The National Gallery, London

Ford Madox Brown (1821‑1893) 
Jesus Washing Peter's Feet 
Oil paint on canvas 
1168 x 1333 mm 
Tate Britain, London

Ford Madox Brown (1821‑1893) 
Jesus Washing Peter's Feet 
Watercolour on paper 
394 x 448 mm 
Tate Britain, London

Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet was a favourite theme of Tintoretto, and there are at least six known works by him on the subject. Two which are in Venice are still in their original locations

The Prado Washing is disturbing to look at. However the weird perspective derives from its original location on the right wall of the presbytery of San Marcuola in Venice. 

The Prado commentary explains:
"the image of Christ washing Saint Peter's feet was on the part of the canvas closest to the congregation. When seen from the right, the painting is extraordinarily coherent. The dead spaces among the characters disappear and the composition appears ordered along a diagonal that begins with Christ and Saint Peter and continues along the table and the Apostles around it, to end at the Arch behind the canal, which is the work's true vanishing point."
In the background to the scene is the celebration of The Last Supper in another room

Ford Madox Brown`s work caused an outcry when first shown. Jesus was shown half clad. He had to paint in more clothes for Christ

Of course, the theme of the paintings is a disturbing one as it was for the Apostles. Even today people still get greatly disturbed by it. Very greatly. So greatly that they allow themselves to be driven away from the powerful message contained in the Gospel of John by distractions

It is a very strange story. The years and the repetition of it do not diminish its strangeness. The event is narrated in John 13

It arises before the Last Supper:
"So, during supper,  
3 fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God,  
4 he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist.  
5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.  
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?"  
7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later."  
8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."  
9 Simon Peter said to him, "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."  
10 Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all."  
11 For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."  
12 So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?  
13 You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.  
14 If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.  
15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  
16 Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.  
17 If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.  
18 I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.'  
19 From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.  
20 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me." "

The act of washing another's feet was one that could not be required of the lowliest Jewish slave. 

Christ has washed their feet. He tells the Apostles to wash the feet of others in the same way he has

The instruction (or Mandatum) does not admit of exceptions

It is re-enacted once a year in the Missa in Cena Domini of Holy Thursday. In the Roman and Orthodox rites

The Coptic liturgy does it ordinarily every Sunday

Members of the Benedictine Order who followed the old Rule of St Benedict did it once per week It is said that the act was a religious one and was to be accompanied by prayers and psalmody, "for in our guests Christ Himself is honoured and received". 

John Calvin ridiculed the annual re-enactment by the Catholic Church:
"The Papists boast that, by Christ’s example, they observe the forty days’ fast, or Lent. But we ought first to see whether or not he intended to lay down his fast as an example that the disciples might conform to it as a rule. We read: nothing of this sort, and, therefore, the imitation of it is not less wicked than if they attempted to fly to heaven. 
Besides, when they ought to have followed Christ, they were not imitators, but apes. 
Every year they have a fashion of washing some people’s feet, as if it were a farce which they were playing on the stage; and so, when they have performed this idle and unmeaning ceremony, they think that they have fully discharged their duty, and reckon themselves at liberty to despise their brethren during the rest of the year.   
But — what is far worse  — after having washed the feet of twelve men, they subject every member of Christ to cruel torture, and thus spit in Christ’s face. 
This display of buffoonery, therefore, is nothing else than a shameful mockery of Christ. At all events, Christ does not here enjoin an annual ceremony, but bids us be ready, throughout our whole life, to wash the feet of our brethren and neighbours."
The last sentence can not be disputed

But many Baptists observe the literal washing of feet as a third ordinance. It appears regularly in their services

The Anglican Church in England has seen it revived by Archbishop Rowan Williams after the practice fell into desuetude in the 18th century (except for some ordinations)

It is a long standing practice or discipline in the Catholic Church. 

The washing of feet was in use at an early stage without relation to Holy Thursday, and was first prescribed for use on Holy Thursday by a 694 Council of Toledo. 

By the twelfth century it was found in the Roman liturgy as a separate service. 

Pope Pius V included this rite in his Roman Missal, placing it after the text of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. He did not make it part of the Mass, but indicated that it was to take place "at a suitable hour" after the stripping of the altars.

The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted the rite into the Mass

One of the great exponents of the practice was Saint Pope Pius V whose tomb Pope Francis prayed before on the first full day of his pontificate.  

St. Pius joined to prayer assiduous mortification and large alms. He often visited the hospitals, washed the feet of the poor, kissed their ulcers, comforted them in their sufferings, and disposed them for a Christian death. 
In his charity he visited the hospitals, and sat by the bedside of the sick, consoling them and preparing them to die. He washed the feet of the poor, and embraced the lepers. It is related that an English nobleman was converted on seeing him kiss the feet of a beggar covered with ulcers. He was very austere and banished luxury from his court, raised the standard of morality, laboured with his intimate friend, St. Charles Borromeo, to reform the clergy, obliged his bishops to reside in their dioceses, and the cardinals to lead lives of simplicity and piety.  
Lataste, J. (1911). Pope St. Pius V. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 1, 2013 from New Advent: 
In the 19th century, the custom and practice was still adhered to as can be seen from the two works below:

Sir David Wilkie
Cardinals, Priests and Roman Citizens Washing the Pilgrims' Feet 
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 73.7 cm 
Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Glasgow

Sir David Wilkie
The Princess Doria washing the  Pilgrims' Feet in Rome
Oil on canvas
50.2 x 42.2 cm
Purchased by George IV
The Royal Collection, London

Wilkie, a  son of the manse,  is principally famous as the most popular genre painter of his time

In 1825–8 Wilkie travelled on the Continent for reasons of health and his work changed radically under the influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting

From sketches done in Rome, he executed these works in Geneva (of all places)

These were the only two Italian works which he brought back to London.

The scenes obviously deeply affected him

The London critic in The Edinburgh Literary Review described the works as "pathetic" and indicative that at heart all artists were "Roman". However King George IV thought otherwise

One of the antiphons for the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday is Ubi caritas. The opening words sum up the antiphon: "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est." (Where there is Love and Charity, there is God)  As an antiphon for Maundy Thrsday it cannot be bettered

The Gregorian melody was composed sometime between the fourth and tenth centuries. 

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero. 
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus. 
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart. 
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst. 
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen

Pope Francis in his recent visit to Prison for Minors "Casal del Marmo", Rome on Holy Thursday, 28 March 2013 by his acts and words tried to communicate the same command which Christ had communicated nearly two thousand years before
"This is moving. Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples. Peter didn’t understand it at all, he refused. But Jesus explained it for him. ... 
It is the Lord’s example: he is the most important, and he washes feet, because with us what is highest must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign, right? 
Washing feet means: “I am at your service”. And with us too, don’t we have to wash each other’s feet day after day? But what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. Sometimes I am angry with someone or other … but… let it go, let it go, and if he or she asks you a favour, do it. 
Help one another: this is what Jesus teaches us and this what I am doing, and doing with all my heart, because it is my duty. 
As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty which comes from my heart: I love it. I love this and I love to do it because that is what the Lord has taught me to do. 
But you too, help one another: help one another always. One another. In this way, by helping one another, we will do some good. 
Now we will perform this ceremony of washing feet, and let us think, let each one of us think: “Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”. Let us think about this, just this. 
And let us think that this sign is a caress of Jesus, which Jesus gives, because this is the real reason why Jesus came: to serve, to help us."

The then Pope Benedict XVI in his Message for this year`s Lent (2013) perhaps put it more succinctly but not as effectively when he wrote:
"Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love. "

In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI in his homily for the Mass of the Last Supper devoted a great deal of time to what he called, the sacramentum (not a sacrament but a holy thing) of the washing of the feet

He said:
"[I]n this way the word with which the Lord extends the sacramentum, making it the exemplum, a gift, a service for one's brother, also acquires new meaning: 
"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn 13: 14). 
We must wash one another's feet in the mutual daily service of love. 
But we must also wash one another's feet in the sense that we must forgive one another ever anew. 
The debt for which the Lord has pardoned us is always infinitely greater than all the debts that others can owe us (cf. Mt 18: 21-35). 
Holy Thursday exhorts us to this: not to allow resentment toward others to become a poison in the depths of the soul. It urges us to purify our memory constantly, forgiving one another whole-heartedly, washing one another's feet, to be able to go to God's banquet together."
Those who feel greatly aggrieved by a possible breach of a rubric by a good Christian doing a Christian act in obedience to his Master might wish to recall that. And he is Peter`s successor. Not them

1 comment:

  1. Amen. That last paragraph of Benedict's homily is so good, and enough to challenge us personally without looking for someone else - say, a new pontiff? - to criticize.