07 March 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 41

We are still reading Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. Feel free to read and to comment along!

Have I mentioned that if you want to write your own readalong post, I will gladly link to it? Because I will! =) And it's not just because I leave out so many themes and ideas that are worthy of entire posts of their own, but because I'd really love to know what everyone else is thinking.

So let me start the ball rolling again . . .

Chapter III

The theme of this chapter post, in one word: purity.

By the end of this chapter post, the reader should be able to explain the Catholic understanding of cleanliness before God.

Pope Benedict XVI writes of purification as a broad theme, connecting it to the Jewish tradition of ritual cleansing before entering the presence of God, explicitly calling out the pernicious nineteenth-century idea that purity is only something to do with sex, and taking his exegetical axe to that rooted belief that purity is a merely moral issue. In a nutshell: you can't make yourself pure either by performing rituals or by freely choosing and doing the good, because you can't make yourself pure. God Himself has to make you pure. 

So let's look not just at what Jesus said about purity, but also at what He did about it, on the night of the Last Supper . . .

What the Letter to the Philippians says in its great Christological hymn--namely, that unlike Adam, who had tried to grasp divinity for himself, Christ moves in the opposite direction, coming down from his divinity into humanity, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient even to death on a cross (cf 2: 7-8)--all this is rendered visible in a single gesture . . .

. . . Jesus represents the whole of his saving ministry in one symbolic act. He divests himself of his divine splendor; he, as it were, kneels down before us; he washes and dries our soiled feet, in order to make us fit to sit at table for God's wedding feast.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week doesn't come with illustrations; but if it did, a good layout editor would have found a way to make a depiction of the Washing of the Feet work with the text in a much better way than I have here.

Inasmuch as Jesus connected the Washing of the Feet to the Passover, right before He offered Himself as the new and eternal Passover Lamb, we have to understand our purification by God in the light of His sacrifice. This is not merely a legal gesture in which One was allowed to accept the just punishment of another out of love, and in which case faith is no more than signing on some dotted line and all charity but mimicry of Him. In reality, it is a sacramental act that transforms everyone who is a member of Jesus's Mystical Body, so that we are able to act with Him and in Him, fully sharing in His glory as we do.  

And that is why it takes another sacrament to get in on all the mystical action. The Church isn't a club you can just join; Jesus Himself must initiate you through the sacrament of Baptism.

But the Washing of the Feet isn't about Baptism, although it seems to presuppose it. Pope Benedict quotes Jesus's reply to a chastened St. Peter's request to be washed all over--"He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet" (John 13:10)--and points out that Our Lord is taking for granted that his disciples have already bathed and that all He needs to clean again are their feet. And while the Church has understood from an ancient age that while the first bath need not--and indeed, cannot--be repeated, She has also taught that there is a "washing of the feet" that is only right to do before approaching that time-gate table of the Lord.

. . . we may say that in this humble gesture, expressing the entire ministry of Jesus's life and death, the Lord stands before us as the servant of God--he who for our sake became one who serves, who carries our burden and so grants us true purity, the capacity to draw close to God. In the second Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah, there is a phrase that in some sense anticipates the essence of John's theology of the Passion: The Lord "said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified'" . . .

We commemorate the literal Washing of the Feet during the Mass of the Lord's Supper every Maundy Thursday, but the sacrament of Confession is available nearly every day of the year.

Catholic Trivia Question: What is the only time of the year when a priest may turn down your request to have your confession heard?

(The Real) Question of the Day: In your opinion, what is the ideal frequency for going to Confession?

Image Sources: a) Washing of the Feet by Duccio di Buoninsegna, b) Pope Benedict XVI washing feet on Maundy Thursday 2012


Belfry Bat said...

As for the nontrivial (and non-trivia)... well, the correct answer is, of course, "as often as necessary", always with the understanding that the impossible is never necessary. It is only pride that makes "never" a special case of this.

I end up there most weekends, though I'm not sure if it's necessity or devotion or scruple. Anyways, I've never been told not to.

Enbrethiliel said...


"As often as necessary" is great for people on your advanced level of spirituality, but it seems dangerously close to "Whatever feels right" to me. What would you recommend for a run-of-the-mill penitent?

Belfry Bat said...

Don't you try flattering me, Miss! =P

(and, anyways, I really just don't know.)

Sheila said...

My habit since high school has been every two weeks. But in recent years (read: since I have little pitchers with big ears that I don't want to take into the confessional with me) I've slacked off. It's been months now, I'm dying to go because it's Lent, but I honestly believe the devil doesn't want me to! The clincher was when we were on our way the other Saturday and the older child started puking. Seriously?!

Um, yeah, I think the answer to your question is "more often than I do." Also, it would really help if churches had more confession times. I ought to be grateful that the lines are so long because it says good things about the people at my church ... but instead I am annoyed because everyone feels the need to take FOREVER.

Enbrethiliel said...


Was the puke also pea-soup green, by any chance? ;-P

I'm sure I average two to three months between confessions (even if we don't count the years in which I was rebelling against the Church and didn't receive any sacraments at all). My ideal has been "once a month," ever since I got a really aghast reaction from a confessor who heard that it had been ten weeks since my last shriving. LOL! And I laugh now because I always juxtapose that memory with another one . . .

A few years earlier, in that very same chapel, I returned to full communion with the Church after telling a priest that I hadn't been to confession in over two years. He sounded so delighted as he guided me through a general confession and absolved my sins that I got the impression I had just made his month!

I think my parish has a reasonable confession schedule, but I've experienced waiting outside the confessional for over an hour, only to have no priest show up. Sometimes it's because the priest who was supposed to be there had to leave foor an emergency; at other times, it's because the priest was the one waiting in vain the last time and he might have figured it was a slow week. =/