By Fr. Jude Verley, osc
The Rule of St. Augustine, which the Crosiers follow, begins with this mandatum, “Before all else, dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us.”
Almost 1,100 years earlier, in the Gospel according to the Evangelist John, we hear another mandatum, “After Jesus had washed feet of his disciples, and returned to the table, he said to his disciples, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Mandatum comes from Latin, meaning “command, order.” When the Order of the Holy Cross (the Crosiers) was founded in the 13th century, the Order took this command of Jesus seriously and the Rule of St. Augustine seriously…for these two mandatums go hand-in-hand, symbolizing humility, service and care for one another, out of love of God and neighbor.
Throughout its 812-year history, the Crosiers have strived to live the mandatum expected of us in the Rule of St. Augustine.
Also at its beginnings, the Order practiced the ritual act of the washing of feet, after the example of Jesus. Each week, the prior of each Crosier community, in an act of humility, would wash the feet of his confreres, giving an example that we Crosiers need to be of service in love and humility.
Yet as the Order evolved, the practice of the ritual washing gradually disappeared over the centuries. By the 1800s, the ritual act was no longer carried out.
In the Jubilee year 2000, during Lent, the then-Crosier priory in Shoreview, Minnesota, decided to resurrect the ritual near Holy Thursday. The prior at the time once again found himself washing his confreres’ feet in this ritual act of humility. But the ritual was expanded to become Service of Reconciliation for the confreres gathered. Each was invited to express, in his own way, how he had not lived up to being the community member his vows called him to be. It was not meant to be a confession of sins, but rather an expression of faults and failings to one’s confreres.
In the Conventual Priory of the Holy Cross—in the Crosier communities in Phoenix and in Onamia, the Crosiers continue to gather for this ritual mandatum. (This year in Phoenix the ritual was observed April 7, the Thursday before Holy Week; for Onamia is April 13, Wednesday of Holy Week.) Because of the larger number of Crosiers in Minnesota, members of the community share with the filial prior, Fr. Kermit Holl, osc, in the washing of the feet. In Phoenix, with 13 confreres, the Conventual Prior, Fr. Tom Enneking, osc, washed each confrere’s feet.
This holy ritual of Jesus—this mandatum from St. Augustine—continues to remind each Crosier of his need to love God and neighbor in humble, loving service and each of the Crosiers with whom he lives.