Diaconate and the Washing of the Feet

Hi Everyone,

So this is a question that seems to come up for me ever Holy Thursday, and I figured I might see what other people thought. The icon of Christ washing the feet of the apostles traditionally has been associated with the living icon of Christ the servant we see in the diaconate. Certainly, as the fullness of Holy Orders was instituted on Holy Thursday, and thus Holy Thursday was the institution of the diaconate as well as the priesthood, why is it that it is the priest and not the deacon who is the proper minister at the washing of the feet. It would seem to me to make more sense to have the deacon wash the feet. Any thoughts?

Peace in Christ,
Nate

Please refer to the Acts of the Apostles to see when the Diaconate was instituted.

The priest is the proper minister to the Mandatum, since the diaconate was not established during Holy Thursday; rather, it was instituted much later during the Acts of the Apostles when the Apostles decided that they needed the assistance of seven men in order to carry out the ministry of service to widows, orphans and the poor. One of these men was St. Stephen, who wound up being the first martyr of the Church.

Were the scenario that you presented correct, then the Holy Father would not have been the one to wash the feet. Nonetheless, the Mandatum is proper to the priest/bishop and not the deacon.

Cristiano,

I think I need to clarify myself. I’m not talking about the creation of the specific order of deacon. Certainly that wasn’t instituted until much later. However the Apostles, in as much as they received the fullness of Holy Orders at the Last Supper received both the orders of priesthood and diaconate. The orders of the presbyterate and the diaconate only share in the fullness of the Holy Orders found in the episcopate. So in as much as we can say that Christ instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper, we can also say that He instituted the diaconate. However we only understand this because we know that Christ really instituted the fullness of Holy Orders from which these lesser orders draw. This is why a bishop wears both a dalmatic and a chasuble. He is both the fullness of priest and deacon at once in the Holy Orders of the bishop. I mean if you want to get historically technical, the order of the presbyter actually came historically after the institution of the diaconate. However that doesn’t mean the priesthood didn’t exist until the order of the presbyter was instituted. It existed in the Holy Orders given to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops.

So again I ask why it is the priest and not the deacon who washes the feet? Since it is the deacon who sacramentalizes service and the priest who sacramentalizes sacrifice, it would seem that there would be a greater symbolism if it was the deacon who washed the feet.

Peace in Christ,
Nate

Actually, the Apostles were not only the first priests, they were also the first bishops since the bishops are their successors. The deacon’s role in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is limited to the proclamation of the Gospel, occasional preaching of the homily and assisting the celebrant with the liturgy of the Eucharist (as far as the preparation of the gifts, incense and the distribution of Holy Communion are concerned).

However, the ritual for the Mandatum clearly indicates that this is something that the celebrant should be doing, and, in this case, the celebrant of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper is either the priest or the bishop. The deacon can assist with holding either the bowl or the jug, but, it is the celebrant who washes the feet.

Furthermore, the diaconate did not come into its own being unti the Acts of the Apostles, thus, it did not exist, per se, until after the Apostles decreed the need for it and ordained the seven men.

As benedictgal said, the Apostles were not just the first priests, but the first bishops - they were the hierarchy pf the Church.

That is why they are the ones to wash feet - Jesus was teaching them that the leaders must be humble servants. One of the titles for the Pope is Servant of the Servants of God.

Too often, when people have power, leadership, they become proud. Jesus was instructing them that they must always be humble.

Answer #1: Because it is a discipline of the Church. It should be a priest washing the feet of 12 men. No changes.

Answer#2: Because it is Christ (or the priest in persona Christi) that celebrates the passover Mass and then washes of the feet. If you were to have a deacon doing that, you would contradict the concept of in persona Christi because of the split of tasks (consecration vs. washing). The washing of the feet is not an act of service but an act of absolution. This is just my own opinion.

I agree the point is always a priestly function and isn’t it a good image to see that our priests are to be humble and a servant. I am always uncomfortable seeing a deacon wash feet at this time of year however at other times of the year in different circumstance such as at L Arche it is beautiful.

It is always a shame that a priests does not spend one to two years as a deacon to really understand his role better as servant before priest.It is no wonder that so many priests have an improper conception of the diaconate as the struggle to turn deacons into either altar boys or personal assistants. Even Christ sent the Apostles out to preach and serve the marginalized before he taught them to be priests and ultimately bishops.

Pax

A good priest does not have to spend one or two years in the diaconate to know what the routine is. He knows full well what deacons go through because he was once one himself. Do you not think that the priests lay just as much work on a transitional deacon as they would on a permanent one? Furthermore, the transitional deacon has more on his plate because he still has to prepare for his presbyteral ordination and must have more to learn.

My parochial vicar, when he served as rector of our cathedral, never asked the deacon to do things that he would not do himself. He has always had great respect for the deacons assigned to him.

I am sorry but this is a self contradicting statement! How can he know full well if he does not train properly? The ordination confers a character on the soul but it does not give you experience.

I think that seminarians need a good experience during the diaconate because life in the seminary is not a life of service. The pastoral year may not be sufficient. This would hold especially true for seminarians that did not have any real professional experience in life, but they just got into seminary after school.

benedictgal,

Didn’t ordain the Apostles “priests” in the sense that we have the “order of the presbyterate.” In the sense that they received Holy Orders, yes Holy Thursday is the institution of the priesthood. However Holy Thursday is not the institution of the order of the presbyterate, just as it is not the institution of the order of the diaconate. It is the institution of the order of the episcopate, from which both the diaconate and the presbyterate were instituted (historically in that order). However, like I said, the bishop is both priest and deacon in that he possesses the fullness of Holy Orders. Again, this is why the bishop wears the dalmatic under his chasuble.

It might help to think of it like this. The Apostles handed on the Holy Orders they had first been given. If they had not been given both the sacerdodal and the diaconal character of Holy Orders, then they couldn’t have later instituted the separate order of the diaconate, nor could they invite others to share in their sacerdodal work. When Christ instituted Holy Orders, He gave the Apostles the fullness of Holy Orders. Were they “deacons” in the sense of the order of the diaconate? No, no more than they were “priests” in the sense of the order of the presbyterate. However they were both priests and deacons in that what they received had both a sacerdodal and diaconal character to it. It is in this sense that we can say that Christ instituted the priesthood on Holy Thursday, and it is in this sense we can say that Christ instituted the diaconate on Holy Thursday.

And I’m not denying that the ritual calls for the priest to wash the feet. It says it right in there. All I’m asking is why it calls for the priest and not the deacon. After all “with sacred ordination, [the deacon] is constituted a living icon of Christ the Servant within the Church.” (RATIO FUNDAMENTALIS INSTITUTIONIS DIACONORUM PERMANENTIUM 11) It would stand to reason that if our liturgy is going to express the what it is we believe, then it should be the deacon. I mean three of the four gospels give us the emphasis on Christ the High Priest, but one of them gives us the image of Christ the Servant. It is in the washing of the feet that we are shown the diaconal character of Holy Orders. So again, why shouldn’t it be the deacon, who is the “living icon” of this, be the person who does it. Or better yet, why should it be the priest instead of the deacon? I’m also not including bishops in this question. As they have the fullness of orders, it would seem to me just as appropriate for them to wash the feet as the deacon, if not more so.

I’m not encouraging anyone to break with ritual here. I’m just posing a question regarding what seems to be to be a theological-liturgical inconsistency. And just because the ritual says so isn’t a good enough answer to me. Liturgy grows and adapts to our understanding of doctrine. It has before, and it will again. Until then, it’s up to us amateur theologians and liturgists to ask the tough questions.

However, your interpretation misses one key point. The diaconate did not take shape until after Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, deacons are not charged with confecting the Sacrifice, thus, “do this in memory of Me,” Jesus’ command to the Apostles, does not factor in the diaconate.

Furthermore, the Mandatum has been traditionally done by the celebrant of the Mass, whether he is a priest or a bishop. Because the ritual says it is so factors in this tradition. Liturgy does not adapt to our understanding of theology; we adapt ourselves to the Liturgy.

Again, the diaconate did not come into being until after the Last Supper. There were seven men ordained to the diaconate, but, they were not ordained to offer the sacrifice.

Where is the theological-liturgical inconsistency?

You say:

But that it is your own view.

Why did Jesus wash the feet of the apostles? Peter thought that it was an act of service and Jesus told him “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” and “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

My point was just a simple observation that in some places a priest becomes a priest within and months weeks days or even minutes, (says my bishop) of being ordained a deacon. The deaconal ordination is rarely celebrated at the cathedral and the transitional deacon doesn’t get any time to think about his new ministry if he is graduating from his studies in one month and being ordained a priest the next month. This lack of experience as a deacon while not fatal in their ministry is certainly not beneficial. Everything he has focused on for the last several years is his role as priest in service and liturgy. Since deacons are not present in the seminary they don’t even get a chance to observe them there. And as what happens so frequently when the permanent deacons show up for their study weekends the seminarians take off and never even get to see fullest extent of the deacon in his the liturgical roles in the hours, mass and benediction. To have a priest shout at a deacon to take off the dalmatic because they thought it was a preistly vestment is a sure sign they needed to stay a deacon a little longer.

However I never like seeing deacons or anyone other than the celebrant or another priest being called to wash the feet of anything other than 12 men.

PAX

However, your interpretation misses one key point. The diaconate did not take shape until after Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, deacons are not charged with confecting the Sacrifice, thus, “do this in memory of Me,” Jesus’ command to the Apostles, does not factor in the diaconate.

I haven’t missed the point. You seem not to be able to separate the diaconal character of Holy Orders from the order of deacon. The diaconal character was present at the Last Supper, not the actual order of deacon. The sacerdodal character was also there, but there was anyone who was ordained to the order of the priest. The historical implementation of these later orders is really irrelevant because the fullness of Holy Orders was present at the Last Supper. Yes, the order of the diaconate was implemented in Acts. The order of the presbyterate isn’t recorded in Scripture but is generally understood to have been implemented sometime shortly after the order of the diaconate. Does that mean that Christ didn’t institute the priesthood at the Last Supper? Of course not. In so far that the Apostles received the fullness of Holy Orders, they received both the priesthood and the diaconate. Again, this is why the bishop wears a dalmatic under his chasuble. He is both priest and deacon. The diaconate isn’t some kind of separate version of Holy Orders.

For lack of a more perfect analogy, try this on for size. Let’s say I bake muffins and I have a whole baking tin full of them. Some of them are blue berry, some of them are walnut. Then let’s say I share the blue berry half with one friend, and the walnut half with another. Can either friend claim that their muffins existed before the other? Likewise the Apostles received the whole “muffin tin” so to speak when they received the fullness of Holy Orders from Christ at the Last Supper. They then shared their diaconal character with the order of the deacons, and their sacerdodal character with the order of the priests. However both the sacerdodal and diaconal characters were “baked” on the same tin. The Apostles did not have the authority to create new orders than what they had already been given. To deny that the diaconate was instituted at the Last Supper is to deny that the Apostles possessed the diaconal character in the orders they received.

Furthermore, “do this in memory of me” is not the only command Christ gave at the Last Supper. Certainly a very important one, but one that John’s gospel omits in favor of Jn 13:15, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This isn’t done to give any less emphasis on the sacerdodal character of Christ or the Eucharist. However it does give us a view into the diaconal character of Christ and the Holy Orders He gave the Apostles.

[quote]Quote:
Originally Posted by csoup223
It is in the washing of the feet that we are shown the diaconal character of Holy Orders.

But that it is your own view.
[/quote]

This isn’t just my view, it is a common understanding in the Church. Here’s a quote from paragraph 10 of the Permanent Diaconate National Directory and Norms for Ireland.

Jesus insisted that service would be a distinguishing characteristic of his disciples (cf. Lk 22:16). Just as he instructed the twelve to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of him, so also he clearly explained tothem that his washing oftheir feet was an example to them of how they should act (cf. Jn 13:12-15). It is not purely a coincidence that the priestly ministry of offering sacrifice and the diaconal ministry of washing feet both have an important resonance, and indeed their model and perfection in the Lord’s Supper which itself is inseparably linked with the cross of Jesus.

You said:

Liturgy does not adapt to our understanding of theology; we adapt ourselves to the Liturgy.

I think you might be misunderstanding the word “our.” I’m not referring to the personal sense, but to the context of the Church as a whole. There is a reason the liturgy saw such change after Vatican II. It was because Vatican II had advanced our understanding of doctrine, and the liturgy needed to be adapted to to reflect that understanding. Trent was the same way. Liturgy changes. Not in its essential elements, but in the nonessentials, it does. To believe otherwise put one in some rather poor company.

Where is the theological-liturgical inconsistency?

If the deacon is the “living icon of Christ the Servant” and the model of diaconal ministry is the washing of the feet, then why would you have the priest do the diaconal ministry of washing the feet when his proper role is the sacerdodal offering of the Eucharist. To me this stands out as an inconsistency.

Again, I’m not inviting anyone to abuse the current ritual, but I think it is a valid question. I don’t feel that having a preference to have the deacon do this is any more offensive to the priesthood than mandating the deacon read the Gospel. There are different roles at mass and it just seems to me that this one ought to be the role of the deacon.

However, again, you seem to miss the entire point of the Last Supper. Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist and the first Ordination to the prebyterate and the episcopate. The diaconate did not exist until St. Peter and the 11 exercised their authority and mandated that such a ministry exist. It was over the course of time that the diaconate evolved into what it is today, but, to say that it began at the Last Supper is a severe misrepresentation.

The diaconal nature of the deacon was not put into motion until the Acts of the Apostles when St. Peter and the Apostolic Band made the decision, based upon the authority conferred on them by Jesus Christ, mainly to bind and loose (to St. Peter a greater degree than the rest of the Apostles), to ordain seven men to assist in the ministry to widows, orphans and the poor.

Furthermore, when the priest/bishop celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he acts in Persona Christi. The deacon does not since he cannot celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The most important words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper were those that instituted the Holy Eucharist and his command of doing this in memory of Him. Part and parcel of this was that they would have a share in his ministry, a share that would enable them to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and perpetuate this offering through succession, whether that succession came from their ordaining their successors (the bishops) and/or their direct collaborators (the priest).

When St. Peter tried to protest the Mandatum, Jesus told him that if He did not wash his feet, Peter would have no share in the ministry of Jesus. Yes, the Mandatum involves service, but, this service is tied directly to the priesthood. That is why on Holy Thursday, the Mass of Chrism is traditionally celebrated by the bishop/archbishop and his clergy. Holy Thursday also marks the institution of the priesthood. The diaconate does not come until much later.

While I see appreciate the reference to this document to support your opinion, I do not consider such document as representative of the common understanding in the Church. I say so because I have seen a case of documents related to the CCC (published by the USCCB) that had wording which could have misled people into heretical thinking.

A document written to address the diaconate is obviously looking only at the service aspect of the Gospels, because that it is the task of the document. However, the Gospels tell us much more than simple cases, the complexity of the revelation is not that simple. This is why we argue with our protestant brethrens.

I have also yet to find anything in the authoritative documents of the Holy See that supports the assertion. The bottom line is that it is best to look to the Holy See for guidance on matters like this. Pope Pius XII. when he made his revisions to Holy Week (mostly the Easter Vigil) could have made changes to the Mandatum, but, he chose not to do so. Clearly, it was not the Church’s intention to leave this to the deacon to do since the celebrant, whether he is a priest, a bishop, a cardinal or the Pope, is the one who acts in Persona Christi, imitating the gesture that Christ did to his Apostles. Furthermore, only the priest and above can act in Persona Christi since they are charged with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the commandment that Jesus gave at the Last Supper.

Deacons do not have the charism to act in Persona Christi during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Please note what Ecclesia de Mysterio says:

2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers – e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology – or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi preside” at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.

This would, as I read it, also apply to the Mandatum, since this occurs within the context of the Mass.

However, again, you seem to miss the entire point of the Last Supper. Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist and the first Ordination to the prebyterate and the episcopate.

Jesus did not celebrate the first ordination to the order of the presbyterate. A bishop is not a presbyter, he is as bishop. A presbyter only shares in the fullness of the Holy Orders found in the episcopate. Again, historically speaking the presbyterate did not exist until sometime after the diaconate. Holy Orders were not given in the neat orders we have today. That was left to the Apostles to do later. Holy Orders was given as a whole package. The fact that you would separate the diaconate or the presbyterate from the episcopate demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Furthermore, when the priest/bishop celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he acts in Persona Christi. The deacon does not since he cannot celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Being in “persona Christi” is one of those terms that is often used without knowing what it really means. We are all in “persona Christi” whether we are ordained or not by virtue of our Baptism. That is what being a “Christian” means. So when we talk about being in person of Christ we have to be specific. When someone is ordained, they are configured to the persona Christi capitas, the person of Christ the head. When a priest celebrates the Eucharist, he is acting in the person of Christ the High Priest, and when a deacon serves at mass he is acting in the person of Christ the Servant. All of these roles are acting in persona Christi. To say that the deacon isn’t acting in persona Christi is to deny that the deacon’s Holy Orders have any real effect.

That is why on Holy Thursday, the Mass of Chrism is traditionally celebrated by the bishop/archbishop and his clergy. Holy Thursday also marks the institution of the priesthood. The diaconate does not come until much later.

Deacons are clergy. The Chrism Mass isn’t just celebrated by the bishop and priests of a diocese. All the deacons are also there. This is because it isn’t just the priesthood (sacerdos) that was instituted at Last Supper, it was also the diaconate (diakonos).

While I see appreciate the reference to this document to support your opinion, I do not consider such document as representative of the common understanding in the Church. I say so because I have seen a case of documents related to the CCC (published by the USCCB) that had wording which could have misled people into heretical thinking.

First off all, to call a document put out my a bishops’ conference suspect seems rather brash to me, especially without good reason. I don’t see any reason to question bishops in good standing with Rome. Secondly, references to Jn 13 are found in most any magesterial document from the Holy See talking about the diaconate. I simply used the Irish Directory because it states very well the point I was trying to make.

I did not call the document suspect. I did not question the bishops. I was simply making a statement on the specificity in the use of the Gospel at that point. I was not saying that that specific view of that passage was wrong. I was implying that limiting ourselves to only that view because of that document is the wrong approach.

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