The Lost Sacraments: The Washing of the Feet

Throughout the middle ages, Latin and Byzantine theologians debated the number of sacraments which should be acknowledged.  While the Byzantine East never formally limited their number, preferring to adopt the position that the mysteries by which God makes us holy and by which we enter into the Divine life are innumerable, nevertheless, a certain number of liturgical rites were considered pre-eminent.  During the Counter-Reformation, the Latin West fixed seven sacraments  to be canonical (at least, seven for men, the ordination of female deacons having fallen into disuse even in Milan after Innocent III’s pontificate).

The West did not rid itself of those other, less central rituals, however.  Rather, the Latins christened them as sacramentals (“little sacraments”).  Eventually, their celebration fell into general disuse.

Among the sacraments which did not make the Counter-Reformation cut, the Washing of the Feet (or Pedelavium) is among my favourite.  It remained a part of the Mozarabic Rite among the monasteries of Northern Spain until at least the eleventh century.  There, it was used to greet visitors to the monastery.

I first encountered reference to this ritual in the book, A Saint under Moslem Rule, by Justo Perez de Urbel when I was an undergraduate.  It helped spark an interest in the Mozarabic Rite which has continued until today.

I was recently able to access a copy of the ritual as referenced in that book, and below is my attempt at a translation. The Latin Text is drawn from Gilson’s edition of the Mozarabic Psalter (British Ms 30,851), which is now in the public domain and accessible via Google books.  This manuscript was kept in the monastery of Sto Domingo de Silos, in northern Spain, until the dissolution of its library in the nineteenth century.

In the MS, this rite is preceded by a prayer the cellarer of the monastery is to recite upon receiving guests.  The ritual is followed by the “Order of the Saints” which seems to have usually been recited after Vespers (according to Woolfenden, Daily Prayer in Christian Spain).  Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume with Urbel that this rite was inserted at the end of the Vesperal service when newly arrived guests were present, and before the procession to the reliquary (where the Ordo Sanctis was recited).  The cellerar’s prayer which precedes the Pedelavium bears similarities to the benediction recited at the end of the Mozarabic Vespers service, as does the use of the verse “Deus Deorum Dominus locutus est… a solus ortu usque ad occasum”.

A note on the translation:  The Latin of the text shows the evidence of early medieval pronunciation.  The diphthong ae is often written as e (“eternum”  “prophete”);  “v” and “b” are interchanged, as they still are by Spanish speakers today.  Prepositions are followed by accusatives where in classical Latin ablatives would be used.  Although I have stuck to a perhaps overly-literal translation, the lack of clear grammatical markers has sometimes made exact translation difficult.

In two sections I have completed the text using references from the Mozarabic Sanctorale and Missale Mixtum as contained in Patrologia Latina under the works of Isidore.  These additions or explanations are placed in italics.  It is my hope that this service might once again be practiced more frequently than the annual Holy Thursday ritual (which, incidentally, uses different texts and prayers, even in the Mozarabic Rite, than what is presented here).

Verses for Washing the Feet, according to the Mozarabic Rite

V/: Let us love one another because love is from God and all who love his brother is born from God (is a child of God) and knows God. V/: Hear this all of you, so that we may love. The Lord God of gods has spoken and has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting:  from Zion the appearance of his beauty. (Cf.  Ps. 50 or 84) So that we may love.

R:/ In those days a sinful woman who was in the city who had heard that Jesus was dining in the house of Simon the Leper took an alabaster jar of perfume, standing behind took hold of the feet of the Lord Jesus to moisten his feet with tears and with the hair of her head dried them and kissed them and anointed them with perfume.

Hymn during which the feet are washed (and presumably dried, anointed, and kissed)

As far as the Pharisee
When indignantly he sees
the Author of life
he refuted God saying

To himself, if he had
The spirit of a prophet
He would know instantly
The woman when he is touched!

The knower of hearts
And Lord of heaven
Thus rebuked the Pharisee
with these words

Telling a parable:
To two were
Forgiven their debts
By a creditor

And which of them
Loved him more?
I suppose, he himself says,
the one to whom the greater was given?

The Lord, now, [replied]
You have declared rightly
Thus the sinful woman
That was absolved she will love (the more)

He has loved much
To him who is given much
This much, even more
Any who be freed from evil.

With tears therefore
Let us moisten the footsteps of Christ
with the woman
So that he may wash us

Christ descended
To redeem the world
That he might free
Souls from death

The example has taken hold
Of his disciples
So that they wash the feet
Of one another in turn.

And while surrounded
He drew near Peter
Unfamiliar with this work
He answered the Lord thus:

Never in eternity will you
The teacher of good things
Wash my feet for me!
Not faulting, on the contrary

The teacher said, In fact,
If I do not wash you
You will not arrive at
the eternal kingdom with me.

Peter, remorseful
Thus said to the Master
Not only the feet
But the hands as well and the head.

Only be not deprived
Of your company
Because you have promised
Love to the beloved ones.

Where there is love
And delight
There is the congregation
Of the saints (or holy ones).

There exult
The throng of angels
Singing Alleluia
To the ethereal king

There Seraphim
Pronounce the three “Holies”
The choir of virtues at the same time
Rings with our song.

There be the elect
Constellation of the confessors
The resounding songs caressing
softly their ears.

There exult
the flock of virgins
whose spouse
Christ rejoices in their midst.

There be neither anger
nor indignation
but love established

The landowner spoke to his workers who had stood idly the whole day. But they said to him answering, “It is because no one has hired us.” “Get you into my vineyard and as much as the full measure will have been I will give to you in eternity.”

God is Love and who remains in love remains in God and God in him, Alleluia.

V/: Blessed are they whose way is innocent…
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart.
And do no wrong but walk in his ways.
You have commanded that your commands be diligently kept.
Oh that I might be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes.
Then should I not be put to shame when I beheld all your commands.
I will give you thanks with an upright heart, when I have learned your just ordinances.
I will keep your statues; do not utterly forsake me.

Prayer: O Lord, just as we seek the blessedness of the innocent, so with our whole heart may we observe your decrees.

Scriptural References:

Ps 50; (Psalm 84 might also make an interesting use, if the dwelling place of God is interpreted as the body; v8 also has the “deus deorum” versicle of the Latin text.)

Lk 7:36-48 (primary); Mt 26:1-13; Mk 14:3-9

John 13:5-20. (Note v.20 for association of this rite with monastic hospitality: “Whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”)

Ps 119, “aleph”

Item Versi Pro Pedes Labandos

V/: Diligamus nos invicem quia karitas ex deo est et omnes qui diligit fratrem suum ex deo natus est et nobit deum. V/: Audite hec omnes. ut diligamus. Deus deorum dominum locutus est:  et vocavit terram, a solis ortu usque ad occasum:  ex Sion species decoris ejus. P: ut diligamus.

R/: In diebus illis mulier qui erat in civitate peccatrix quum audisset quod Ihesus discubuit in domum simonis leprosi obtulit alabastrum ungenti stans retro secus pedes domini Ihesu lacrimis cepit rigare pedes eius et capillis capiti sui tergebat eos et osculabatur et unguebat ungento.


Quod fariseus
ut vidit indignans
auctorem vite
deum redarguit dicens.

Huic si esset
prophete spiritus
protinus sciret
mulierem qua tangitur.

Cognitor cordis
eceli [et caeli?] dominus
sic fariseus [pharisaeum?]
his convicit sermonibus.

parabolum dicens
duobus sibi
devitoribus laxantem.

Et quis eorum
plus eum amaret
quin ipse ayt
cui magis donaberat.

/Dominus autem
vere profiteris
ita peccatrix
quod solveretur amabit.

Multum dilexit
Multum datur ei
tantum ne ultra
aliquod libeat mali.

Lacrimis ergo
Christi vestigia
cum mulierem
rigemus ut nos abluat.

Christus descendit
mundum redimere
ut liberaret
a morte animas.

Exemplum prebuit
suis disciplulis
ut sibi inuicem
pedes abluerent.

Dumque precinctus
pervenit ad Petrum
ignarus facti
ita respondit domino.

Numquid tu mici
pedes in eternum
preceptor bone
lavabis ymmo inmerito.

Revera inquid
si te non labero
eternum regnum
tu non consequeris mecum.

Conpunctus Petrus
sic ayt magistro
non tantum pedes
sed manus simul et capud.

Tantum ne frauder
tui consortio
quod promisisti
karitatem amantibus.

Ubi est karitas
et dilectio
ibi sanctorum
est congregatio.

Ibi exultat
turma angelorum
regi cantantes
alleluia ethereos.

Ybi ter sanctus
serafin depromit
virtutes/ simul
resonant canticum nobum.

Ibi electus
Cetus confessorum
aures demulcent
suabes resonantes melos.

Ybi exultat
agmina virginum
quarum sponsus
gaudet in medio Christus.

Ibi nec ira
nec indignatio
sed firma karitas
in perpetuum.

Dixit paterfamilias operariis suis quid hic statis tota die otiosi. at illi respondentes dixerunt quia nemo nos conduxit. ite et vos in vinea mea et quot iustus fuerit dabo vobis in eternum.

Deus karitas est et qui manet in karitate in deo manet et deus in eo alleluia.

V/: Beati inmaculati.

[Antiphona: Tu mandasti mandata tua domine custodire nimis.

Beati inmaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege domini.
Beati qui prescrutantur testimonia ejus in tota corde suo exquirunt eum.
Non enim qui operantur iniquitatem inuiis eius ambulaberunt.
Tu mandasti mandata tua domine, custodire nimis.
Utinam dirigantur vie mee ad custodiendas iustificationes tuas.
Tunc non confundar dum respicio in omnia mandata tua.
Confitebor tibi domine in directione cordis mei in eo quod didici iudicia iustitie tue.
/Iustificationes tuas custodiam, non me derelinquas usquequaque.

Oratio: Domine ut beatitudinem inmaculatorum consequamur, tribue ut in toto corde mandata tua prescrutemur.  Amen ]