The Globe and Mail
March 28, 2018
By Michael W. Higgins
Michael W. Higgins is a distinguished professor of Catholic Thought at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
One of the highlights of the liturgical year, for me at least, when I was a seminarian in the mid-1960s, was the steak-and-wine celebration immediately following the Holy Thursday mass. The Feast of the Last Supper, as it was also known, was traditionally understood as the occasion when Jesus instituted the priesthood, so there was special reason for an enclave of clerics and would-be clerics to break their Lenten fast and rejoice in their unique and sacred calling. It was an event for men only, although in fact there were some women present: the nuns who prepared and served our food.
It was also the liturgy at which the feet of the youngest seminarians were washed by the rector and vice-rector in imitation of Jesus’s washing of the feet of the apostles at the Lord’s Supper. Again, the only women present were the nuns, who assumed a prayerful position at the back of the chapel. Their feet were excluded from the washing, although in terms of humble service – the model of behaviour Jesus exemplified – they were the best living illustration.
The faculty and students in no way saw this ecclesiastical arrangement as anything other than normative and unalterable. It was God’s will. It was their spiritual gift.
I was reminded of this patriarchal bit of theatre recently when the Mary McAleese affair erupted, first on the Irish scene and now globally.
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