The Traditional Understanding of the Mandatum
Taken from the Carol Byrne series:

The Mandatum or Foot-Washing Ceremony

Now, we come to a reform which did not arise spontaneously from the devotion of the people, and which nobody except the progressivists wanted and, certainly, no one requested or needed. Pius XII introduced a ceremony that had no precedent in the History of the Church: the washing of the feet of laymen during the Mass of Holy Thursday.

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The mandatum was traditionally for clerics, a reflection of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles. 
After many abuses we see, below, Francis washing the feet of Muslim & Hindu male & female refugees
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What is most disturbing about this innovation is that it originated from the most extreme wing of the Liturgical Movement, as Fr. Hermann Schmidt S.J., Professor of Liturgy at the Gregorianum, Rome, candidly admitted:

“It was during the Liturgical Congress at Lugano in 1953 that we proposed, not without opposition, putting the foot washing after the chanting of the Gospel at Mass. … It is a new evolution in the history of the mandatum. (3) [emphasis in the original]

The rubrics state that this can take place in the sanctuary (“in medio presbyterii”) after the homily. This is in marked contrast to the rubrics of the pre-1955 Missale Romanum, which stipulated that after the stripping of the altars, the clergy gathered together for the foot washing ceremony (conveniunt Clerici ad faciendum Mandatum). This was to take place in a specially designated area (in loco ad id deputato), which was usually a chapter house or a priest’s residence or a different part of the church building where the ceremony could be performed in privacy and without the participation of laymen.

The first point to note about Pius XII’s innovation is the cacophony of symbols it presents.
In fact, when viewed against the backdrop of liturgical tradition, the whole ceremony abounds in anomaly.

This was the first papally sanctioned use of the sanctuary for the purposes of “active participation” by the laity. It may have seemed a small concession in 1955 and few people, then, realized the threat such an innovation posed to the priesthood. But History has shown that it acted as a snowball that gathered an unstoppable momentum until, with the proliferation of lay ministries in the liturgy in the 1970s, it completely submerged the uniqueness of the priesthood.

Clericalizing the Laity

Theologically, there ensued some adverse results, which could have been foreseen and avoided. By giving lay people privileges to enter the sanctuary and therein perform liturgical functions hitherto reserved for the clergy, Pius XII opened the way to undermining the role of the ordained ministers.

It was inevitable that the effect of this radical innovation would not only blur the distinction between the priest and the non-ordained members of the Church, but also create confusion over the architectural expression of that distinction: the sanctuary for the clergy and the nave for the people. And it is equally obvious that this weakened concept of the priesthood would, in turn, lead to the re-ordering of churches or the building of new ones to express the “new theology” that exalted the laity and diminished the role of the priest.

In short, the reformed Holy Thursday rite fails to invoke the spiritual connections that were inherent in the traditional liturgy and its supporting architecture, both of which helped reinforce what the priesthood means. It is also clear that this particular reform went hand in hand with the progressivists’ revolutionary ideas of what a church is, how it should function and what message it should proclaim: the democratization of the People of God.


Dr. Carol Byrne: A Series on the History of the Dialogue Mass
Laymen Introduced in the Foot Washing
Taken from here [slightly adapted - emphasis mine].

Before looking further into the phenomenon of lay people having their feet washed in the sanctuary, it would be useful to keep in mind the sort of thinking among the progressivists that led up to it.

Ever since Beauduin launched his famous dictum at the Malines Conference in 1909 about “active participation” as the right of the laity, his slanderous accusation gained ground through the Liturgical Movement that a dominating clergy had been for centuries unjustly depriving lay people of their rightful role in the liturgy.

When Pius XII came to the defense of the so-called lay “victims” by granting them more active roles in the liturgy, he was not only lending support to the reformers’ clerical-lay conflict theory, but also unwittingly creating conflict among the clergy. There were voices raised not only among the clergy, but also the laity against the various reforms of Holy Week. Where all this was leading to was the perfect Marxist-style bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all), which would be played out at Vatican II.

The Traditional Understanding of the Mandatum

As part of the liturgy of Holy Thursday, the Mandatum was, according to longstanding tradition, a ritual performed among priests, based on Christ’s example of washing the feet of the 12 Apostles at the Last Supper. It is not to be confused with the so-called “Mandatum of the Poor,” (1) an entirely separate ceremony that existed alongside its clerical counterpart. Whereas the latter included laymen, the former was a discreet service performed by clerics and for clerics away from the public gaze. Up to 1955, there was no official approval for either form of ablution to take place in the sanctuary or during the Mass of Holy Thursday.

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The Pope washing the feet of other clergymen in the late 19th century
Here we are considering only the ancient tradition whereby a religious Superior (Pope, Bishop or Abbot) would wash the feet of clerics under his charge. It was always understood to be a ritual re-enactment of the actions of Christ when He washed the feet of the 12 Apostles to make them worthy of priestly service at the altar. (2)

The theological symbolism of the traditional ceremony spoke volumes about its meaning: it was a commemoration of the priesthood on the anniversary of its institution and, thus, intimately related to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. We will need to keep this in mind when we come to consider the inclusion of laymen in 1955 (and later lay women) into the ceremony.

The history of the Liturgical Movement has shown how the harmful nature of the reforms is never more sharply exposed than over the issue of lay “active participation” and the consequent steady diminution of the priesthood. The 1955 reform of the Mandatum is a good example of this baneful process, as it illustrates the reformers’ strategy of deconstructing a liturgical ritual and subverting its principles.

Bypassing the Mandatum’s Significance

In this they were aided by the Instruction issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which accompanied Pius XII’s Decree Maxima Redemptionis introducing the Holy Week reforms in 1955.

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At first the change allowed only laymen on the altar for the Mandatum on Holy Thursday
This Instruction, together with the rubrics of the new Ordo of Holy Week, acted as a sort of “game-changer” by introducing a new element into the Mandatum that would produce a significant change in its meaning. All the Instruction says about the foot washing is that it is a demonstration of Christ’s “fraternal love” and an example for the faithful to engage in acts of “Christian charity.” (3)

The inclusion of laymen (“viri selecti”) in what had hitherto been an all-clerical ceremony completely changed the way future generations of Catholics thought about Christ’s actions at the Last Supper when He washed the feet of His Apostles.

Small wonder that so many have lost sight of the fact that the original Mandatum was not intended for Christ’s followers in general, but only those whom He had personally called to the priesthood. How, then, could laymen be said to represent the Apostles in a ceremony that was meant to commemorate the institution of Holy Orders and the exercise of the priestly ministry?

Ratcheting up the Reform

To bestow this privilege upon laymen could only threaten to undermine the identity by which the priesthood is defined. This was an early phase of the reformers’ end-game strategy.

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Before long, every abuse entered. Above, Card. Bergoglio washing the feet of an unwed mother;
below, with drug abusers
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With it they turned the ratchet of liturgical confusion another notch. Having first stigmatized all priests as “elitist” who said the Mass in its entirety while the congregation remained silent, they turned the ratchet by promoting vocal participation as a “right” of the laity to say Mass with the priest. They turned it again when they persuaded Pius XII to allow laymen to enter the sanctuary and stand in the place of priests.

Thus, a precedent was set in 1955 for the post-Vatican II introduction of “lay ministries” to supplant the traditional role of the priest. Pius XII’s promotion of the foot washing of the laity became the emblem of the liturgical chaos that undermined the role of the priest. It matters not that the ceremony was only optional; its consequences were far reaching.

Once the principle had been breached and the essential meaning lost, secularism has made its way into the ranks of the priesthood and even into the sanctuary where priests always exercised their exclusive ministry. That which is supernatural and transcendent was made to yield to the democratic spirit of the modern age and adapt itself to an earthly end.

Hence the liturgical free-for-all we see today where literally everyone and anyone can have their feet washed in the name of equality, diversity and inclusiveness. As a result, the Mandatum has now turned into a political platform for immigration and other fashionable shibboleths, making a mockery of liturgical law, spirituality and tradition.

Absurd though it may be, this is just the logical conclusion of having reinvented the Mandatum as community service, (4) with the priest as social worker. Thus, we have arrived at a point where the priesthood is no longer honored in this rite as a supernatural benefit to the Church – as it had been honored since the early Middle Ages – but only insofar as it furthers the ideology of “equality” for all.

Most Catholics who have attended a Holy Thursday foot washing service would, if asked, be inclined to explain its significance in a manner not dissimilar to Protestants – that is, as a symbol of the charity and humble service that all Christ’s followers must practice towards one another. That is what the Mandatum has now been reduced to – an exhortation to mutual aid: you wash my feet, I’ll wash yours, metaphorically speaking.

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The Catholic Mandatum now looks like the Anglican foot washing, above, the Bishop of Wales

This impression has no doubt been induced by the sight of a preponderance of laymen upstaging the clergy in the sanctuary to have their feet washed. It came originally from Pius XII’s – or rather Bugnini’s – 1955 Instruction, which gave a secular twist to the Mandatum by presenting it as a charter for general benevolence.

That was not, however, how it was perceived throughout the history of the liturgy, particularly by Patristic writers (1) and medieval theologians, none of whom taught that Christ’s action of washing His disciples’ feet was a sign of indiscriminate service to mankind, as is commonly taught today. (2)

It has always been understood that the priesthood of Aaron and the Levites in the Old Testament – all of whom underwent ritual foot washing before service at the altar – was a prefiguring of the Mandatum when Christ prepared His Apostles to become priests of the New Covenant by washing their feet. It was because of this understanding that the Church Fathers gave the Mandatum a mystical interpretation, one that required the Apostles to be cleansed from sin and made like unto Christ.

In other words, the ancient Christian custom of the Mandatum was about the status and identity of the priest as alter Christus. Its exclusive nature as an all-clerical ceremony, as preserved in the traditional Holy Thursday ceremony, was intended to illustrate this identification of Bishops and priests as “other Christs” – which explains why it was distinct from any other kind of foot washing that existed in Church History. (3)

The only explanation, then, that makes liturgical sense is the traditional, hierarchical one: The successors of the Apostles imitate Christ by washing the feet of the clergy who are subject to them: priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons and monks.

A Faux Symbolism
That was the situation until 1955 when Pius XII’s Commission altered its complexion and meaning by allowing laymen to replace the clergy. It was a calculated decision of the progressivists, motivated by their antipathy to the hierarchical nature of the Church and it was made with full awareness of the likely consequences.

Unsurprisingly, it played into the hands of those who challenged the exalted status of the ministerial priesthood. Cardinal Yves Congar stated:

[quote]“We are still far from drawing the consequences of the rediscovery of the fact that the entire Church is one single People of God and that the faithful compose it along with the clergy.

"Implicitly, unwillingly and even unconsciously, we have the idea that the Church is composed of the clergy, and that the faithful are merely their beneficiaries or clientele. This horrible conception is inscribed in so many structures and customs that it appears to be set in stone, unable to change. It is a betrayal of the truth. There is still much to be done to de-clericalize our conception of the Church.” (4)

Pope Francis seconded this with his obliquely accusatory statement that lay people are not “second class members” of the Church. (5)

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At Francis' invitation, today even women wash the feet of other parishioners

Progressivists thrive on this kind of cryptic ambiguity created by the proponents of the “new theology” in order to accuse the Church of having lost the truth and to blur the essential distinction between the clergy and the laity.

We cannot fail to notice that, as a result of this reform, the focus of the Mandatum was suddenly switched to the Protestant “priesthood of the laity,” while that of the ordained minister is constantly being undermined.

Indeed, there is clear evidence of this in Vatican II’s promotion of the laity to official positions traditionally occupied by priests in the Church.

From being a privileged institution on account of its fundamental role in building the Church – the first Apostles were, after all, its nucleus – the priesthood has passed into a kind of limbo, deliberately marginalized as a function of no great consequence, just one of those myriad “jobs” to be performed by the faithful, to which they are allegedly entitled by reason of their common Baptism.

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