Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Undressing with Dignity

I’m still mulling over the rituals of Holy Week, in particular, the Holy Thursday washing of the feet. I realize that many parishes take advantage of this ritual to include women and children in the liturgy, but I’m glad that my Parish adheres closely to the tradition that Jesus set for us by choosing twelve men from the Parish to represent the twelve apostles. This ritual combined with the average modern male makes for some interesting alchemy.

We are used to seeing women's feet at Mass: sandals, flip flops, the mysterious smell wafting up from under the pew when the woman behind you has slipped off her uncomfortable pump. Our music minister removes her shoes to play the organ, and occasionally leads the Responsorial Psalm in her bare feet.

The men of Jesus’s day would have worn sandals so their feet, calloused and dirty, would have been accustomed to exposure. The typical modern man, however, no matter his field of employment, does not usually expose his feet unless he’s on vacation. While a woman may prepare her feet for the public at the first hint of Spring, a man removing his shoes and socks on Holy Thursday, exposes skin that appears to have been sealed in a plaster cast for many weeks.

Pasty, flakey, pale and moist, a man’s feet often look more vulnerable than a new born’s. The act of exposing them for washing suggests that even though a man has been washed in Baptism, typically as an infant, here is some part of him that as an adult rarely sees the light of day. He now offers it to Christ and the entire Parish for exposure and purification.

It is profoundly humbling—not only, I imagine, for the men sitting in front of the Parish, but for those of us watching from the pews. One can’t help but notice that the rosy cheeked lector, who always dresses in a sharp and tight business suit for his participation in the liturgy, has dirty socks.

The act of dressing or undressing is a private activity. There is a reason that the doctor leaves the room when you undress and wrap yourself in a paper drape for an examination. The privacy of the dressing activity is a statement of its dignity.

I’m reminded of the scene in “Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath” by Sigrid Undset, in which Kristin’s betrothed, Simon, discovering her in a tryst with her lover, attempts to salvage what’s left of her honor by demanding she leave with him. She pauses for a moment to consider her removed garments:

“Kristin rose obediently. She fastened her cloak around her. Her shoes stood next to the bed; she remembered them, but didn’t have the courage to put them on with Simon watching.”

She has already been caught and witnessed in her shame, but to stoop down and fasten her shoes in front of Simon is too much. She would rather walk in the muck and ice shoeless.

As the men of the Parish remove shoes and a socks, and the priest stoops to wash the exposed feet, the converse of Kristin’s pride plays out. The men bend down to work the sock slowly back over their wet feet while we all watch. They have been exposed and washed, while we all witnessed. I want to avert my eyes for them.

6 comments:

TheSeeker said...

You know, I never thought of it like that, but you're so right. What a gift to be able to fully describe that feeling we all don't quite understand.

Pedge said...

Hey there. I tried to leave a comment on the Seeker's blog and couldn't get it to work. I just wanted to congratulate her on her confirmation and tell her I enjoyed looking at the beautiful pictures and reading her posts, so I'm using you to get to her. . .:) Oh and yeah, I like you too.

Betty Duffy said...

I too tried to leave a comment on the Seeker's blog to say congrats! Seriously. It didn't occur to me to put it here. Good idea Pedge.
Congratulations on your Confirmation Seeker!
And welcome to the Church!

TheSeeker said...

Thank you so much ladies. IDK why my blog wouldn't allow comments...I'll have to look into it. Strange.

TheSeeker said...

I fixed the comment box...no more sketchiness there. Question now: should I go back to the original layout or do you like the one I changed it to in my quest for a solution to the combox? (the solution turned out not to be in my html)

Betty Duffy said...

OK, Seeker, I tried to leave a comment again and now I'm getting stuck on the word verification. Anyway, I wanted to say that while the new layout is more "seeker-esque" I'm partial to the original. It struck me as being very attractive the first time I visited your blog--and not all blogs strike me one way or another.