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The Catholic Church on the Other Side of Judgment

By: Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


“For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God…” 1 Peter 4:17

52. The priest then washes his hands as an expression of his desire to be cleansed within.

General Instructions of the Roman Missal


I recently awakened to the news of the Pope’s acceptance of the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Though expected and overdue, it was deeply saddening.

I grew up in Boston, in an era past, when the “culture” of the Catholic Church was so interwoven into our own blue collar culture, that even such a thought would have been inconceivable.

Like every person who has heard or been in any way affected by the current scandal and crisis facing the Catholic Church, I am outraged, deeply hurt, concerned and moved to both prayer and action.

I have prayed my heart out, attempted to explain this horror to my children, tried in any way I can to support the victims, promote proper prosecution for the offenders and help provide insight to other Christians and people of good will who have been shocked by this grievous scandal.

Because I love the Catholic Church, I have proposed, along with many others, that this is a time of purification that sets a course, a way of response, paved by justice, truth, penance and authentic conversion, if she responds in a manner that is faithful to the gospel she proclaims.

This Cardinals resignation, accompanied by his sincere request for forgiveness, was one of many steps in that process. The entire Church must now walk the way of purification for her sins of omission and commission, she must be made holy.

This way has been forged by the Lord who “hears the cry of the poor” - the abused and the faithful who deserve a Church that can be trusted. He is the One who will guide us all through this time of testing, travail and eventual triumph. He is the “Holy One”, the One “set aside” for the Father and for us.

I believe that we have only begun to walk down that road. It is a difficult and painful road that will demand heroic honesty and sincere humility from a Church that finds itself in a time of purification and judgment.


Just prior to the beginning of the consecration in the Sacred Liturgy, is a “rubric” more pronounced in “Old Mass”, but still present in the “New” -that is unless it is not being done in a misguided attempt at “novelty” parading under the cover of “liturgical reform.” Unfortunately, this happens all too often but must remain the subject of an entirely other article for the future.

This “washing” , called in the latin “Lavabo” is present in almost every Liturgy of the East and West.

In the West, the priest moves to the “epistle side” of the altar and washes his fingers as he recites the words of Psalm 25 verses 6-12. In the Latin that is: “Lavabo inter innocents manus manus meas…”. In the vernacular, or “Novus ordo” liturgy, we can faintly hear him pray “Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”

The emphasis is penitential. It is not a washing in the sense of Pontius Pilate, but rather an acknowledgment of both the horrible stain of personal sin along with its “social” structure and implications.

It is a symbolic act, intended to speak to a life of penitence, a life to be embraced by all the faithful. It expresses a call, to both personal and corporate cleansing and purification, for all who are invited to take part in the great sacrifice of praise and surrendered love, being made present on the altar. Our entire service is called the “Mass” or Divine Liturgy.

The first term, “Mass” used as a popular name for the liturgy in the West, is taken from the dismissal, (from the Latin “Ite, Missa Est” ), and is meant to emphasize that what occurred on the altar and was proclaimed from the ambo must, after the dismissal, proceed through the lives of the faithful into a world awaiting the fullness of redemption.

I propose that in a similar way, the “Lavabo” is the path that the Church must now proceed along as she continues through this time of purification.

After all, how can she, through her sons and daughters, present the “Spotless One” unless she is herself purified?


Archbishop John Myers, of the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, released an extraordinary pastoral letter on December 8, 2002, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast is the day when the Western Catholic Church remembers God’s choice in preparing a person and a place for purity Himself to ...

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