Paschal Triduum Q&A - 23rd March 2014

In the last two weeks I have been asked for advice about several aspects of the celebration of the Paschal Triduum – the three great days of Easter. Here are two of those questions and my responses.

Washing of the Feet

Q. In recent years my parish has replaced the washing of the feet at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the practice of processing forward in pairs and washing each other’s hands. The reason given for doing this was that it allows everyone to take part, but I feel that it doesn’t express the true meaning of Christ’s actions. What is your opinion?

A. Mutual hand-washing is safe, comfortable, and tidy – and therefore comes nowhere near capturing the real act of service involved in Christ’s getting down on his hands and knees and washing the filthy feet of his disciples. To claim that such watering down (pun intended!) of the ritual is the only way that everyone can take part also misses the point.

Think of school athletics carnivals. Everyone – staff and students – gets involved, but in a wide variety of ways.
There are elite athletes who seemed to be able to run, jump and throw with complete lack of effort, specialists who can hurl a discus right across the school oval but fall over their feet when they attempt to run, and those who have a go at every event even though they seldom run a place.

And there are hundreds of others who do not participate in the athletic events at all but cheerfully take on roles - depending on their skills and interests - as scorers, time keepers, cheer leaders, judges, war cry composers, sign writers, equipment managers, bus monitors, water carriers…the list is endless. And every single person feels part of the occasion.

Similarly people participate in the Washing of the Feet in ways other than doing the washing or having their feet washed. They take an active part by watching what is happening, listening to the water splashing, singing the refrain that accompanies the ritual, reflecting on the meaning of this symbolic action.
Indeed, foot washing speaks powerfully of humility and self-sacrifice; hand washing was Pontius Pilate’s gesture.

Singing the Exsultet

Q. Last year one of our cantors sang the new text of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil. It was beautiful but there were comments that it took too long. In the previous Missal, there was a shorter version. Is there a shorter version of the new text and if so where can we find it? Someone suggested that it would be better to recite the Exultet as it would not take so long. What is your advice on this?

A. Both longer and shorter forms of the Easter Proclamation are under The Easter Vigil in the Missal.
And it MUST be sung! The rubrics in the Missal include instructions such as: “…a lay cantor sings the Proclamation ..”, “the Proclamation may also be sung in the shorter form”.

It is important that it be chanted/sung at speaking pace so in reality singing it takes not much longer than reading it would. And I cannot imagine anything more boring than the latter. It would be equivalent to reciting the National Anthem!

In any case, if we are not prepared to take a bit more time to celebrate the Easter Vigil well, then we are missing the point.


Elizabeth Harrington