Pope Francis opens Holy Thursday foot-washing rite to women

From: The Catholic Herald

Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during Holy Thursday Mass in 2013 (CNS)

The Holy Father broke convention in 2013 when he washed women prisoners’ feet

Pope Francis has issued a decree changing the way that the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite is celebrated around the world.

The decree was published today by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and signed by prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah.

The decree says that the rite should no longer be limited to men.

The Vatican website has published a letter from Pope Francis to Cardinal Sarah confirming the changes.

The letter, written in Italian, says that the Pope made the changes “so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus’s gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity”.

The Pope continues: “After careful consideration, I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the washing of the feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the Pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen.”

Francis broke convention on the first Holy Thursday after his papal election in 2013, when he washed the feet of women prisoners.

In practice, many parishes around the world have long included women in the rite.

The foot-washing rite is known as the Mandatum, after the first word of Jesus’s saying in John 13:34 before he washed his disciples’ feet: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another”).

The rite was celebrated separately to the Holy Thursday Mass before Pope Pius XII restored it in 1955.

The rubric for the washing of the feet in force until today read: “After the homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each one, and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and then dries them.”

According to the decree, the rubric will now read “Those chosen from among the People of God” instead of “The men who have been chosen”.

According to the Vatican Information Service, the decree says: “The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ’s humility and love for His disciples.

“In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus’ words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.

“In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who ‘came not to be served but to serve’ and, driven by a love ‘to the end’, to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.

“To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: ‘Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers’ (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and lay people.

“This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully.”

From Fr. Simon Henry – http://offerimustibidomine.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/

Pope St John XXIII kisses the feet of a priest at the mandatum
It seems that in order to catch up with his own practice, Pope Francis has changed the rubrics of the Missal to allow those who are to have their feet washed during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to allow candidates to be drawn from all the faithful – ie men or women.  See reports: Vatican Bulletin.  Catholic Herald.
What a shame it seems to innovate – possibly just to “catch up” with the fact that many parishes have long ignored the prescription of the Missal anyway.  It seems so many erosions of the Faith happen this way  The rule or instruction is ignored, then comes the legislation to catch up with it because it has already become the accepted practice – the normal, if not the the norm according to the rules. It has been put by many that this is how we ended up with communion in the hand. Surely, legislating to accommodate those who flout the rules is not a good way for any organisation or society to manage itself.
Perhaps it is is another submission to the secular world and the Church being so afraid to be “out of step with it”. A sign in itself of a lack of confidence in the whole message of the Faith.
Of course, the instruction does still say that candidates should be drawn from the faithful – that is, from among Catholics…
It also says “can” not “must”, so that leaves the door open to continue in the tradition carried on until now.

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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4 Responses to Pope Francis opens Holy Thursday foot-washing rite to women

  1. Michael says:

    Good grief. As is pointed out in the following piece, if this is really about extending the symbolism of the foot-washing to all the faithful, then why continue with the symbolism of the twelve at the heart of it? Either it is about showing God’s self outpouring of love to all, in which case the symbolism pertaining to the Apostles need not be retained at all, or it is something specifically to do with priestly service, in which case blurring the lines like this is decidedly unhelpful, and will only give more fuel to the fire of those seeking women’s ordination (as well as further confusing the different roles of clergy and laity):


    Also, as Fr. Hunwicke points out, the new decree explicitly limits those having their feet washed to ‘the Faithful/People of God’, whereas this stipulation was not present in the previous legislation. Yet on a previous Maundy Thursday, the Holy Father felt moved to wash the feet of a Muslim woman – will this practice be repeated now he has, in another sense, actually increased official restrictions (after ignoring restrictions in that case by including women)? Some clarity, as ever, would be appreciated:


  2. Gertrude says:

    I suspect (I really wish wrongly) that the Holy Father will include ‘all’ religions professing belief in A God as being the Faithful/People of God and that we can expect to see quite a collection of folk in this coming Maundy Mandatum.

    I have to confess a chuckle when reading Fr. Ed’s prohibition by his wife of scouring the parish for suitable ladies!

    God help us.

  3. Michael says:

    Gertrude @ 14:31:

    Yes, unfortunately I have the same suspicion. Probably best to just turn off the news when it comes around this year! Also, one commenter (11:47, January 21st) at wdtprs.com’s first piece on this noted that although these changes only add options to the Mandatum, it is easy to see diocesan liturgical offices making the inclusion of women (and later on probably all and sundry) a positive requirement. Another commenter there (11:24, January 21st) made some very good points (the second one is particularly important IMO):

    I agree with Ed Peters when he commented on facebook that it is a good thing that this issue has been settled and we don’t go though the farce of the Pope going against his own liturgical law. However that it has been settled with this decision makes me sad for two reasons:

    Firstly because there is a beauty and depth of the person of christ, in the priest, washing the feet of those men who he chose to act in his person, to be his body and to celebrate the sacrifice of his death, and indeed to sacrifice themselves for him. Indeed I liked the idea of the bishop washing the feet of his priests at the chrism Mass. That seemed fitting to me. That a priest washes the feet of some people from the parish because of ‘service’ doesn’t carry that same depth to me.

    Secondly, its a dreadful idea to change a law because people are breaking a law already. The rights and wrongs of his particular situation aside, the only fruits of indulging disobedience is further disobedience. At some point the Pope will want these people to be obedient to him, and he will find that they pay him no attention, because he himself rewarded their disobedience in this issue by giving them their way. One thing the Church doesn’t need more of is emboldened dissenters, or powerless Popes whose line of credit in the bank of authority has run dry.

    I enjoyed Fr. Ed’s description of his marital prohibition re scouring the parish as well btw! 🙂

  4. Ken Sears says:

    Yet the pope extended the foot-washing to include Muslims.

    It is worth asking at least whether or not the fact that Jesus washed the feet only of his disciples, and followed it up with the command that they do likewise FOR EACH OTHER, i.e., within the household of the faith, not to mention his subsequent words that they “love EACH OTHER”, so that, in this way, “all people will know you are my disciples”–again, it is worth asking…at least…is it not?…whether all this is significant, and whether what the pope is doing veers, in terms of Christian object lesson, from what Christ was, essentially, telling his followers.

    Someone may object: “Oh, so you’re saying Jesus told Christians only to love Christians?!”

    To which petulant and not even remotely reflective objection, the simple answer is no.

    If we care to genuinely engage intelligently with the act Jesus committed, and listen to His own (!) interpretation, then certain conclusions turn out to be self-evident. Jesus told Peter there was no need to wash his hands and his head because a person who’s just had a good bath doesn’t need a bath all over again; all he needs to do is wash the dust of the road off of his feet. (And the Lord added that not all in the room had had the all-important “bath”, referring to His betrayer Judas.). Then He went on to tell his disciples they must do for each other what He had done for them. Clearly, the all-cleansing bath is Christ’s unique, unrepeatable saving act of atonement/redemption; it goes to the very core of the imbedded, fatal Sin and drives it out. That is our “bath”. It can only happen once. But along life’s road, as we follow Jesus, we do indeed pick up dust–we sin, we yield to unworthy, unholy impulses and temptations–and we come back to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing.

    In what was obviously a viscerally jarring, humiliating object lesson, Jesus portrays the love with which believers must attend to each other’s spiritual journey, and, astoundingly, CONFERS upon them the honor and duty to help each other along the way of sanctification, to wash the “dust of the road” from each other’s hearts and minds. What’s important here is, this is something that believers do for believers. It is entirely within the context of a shared faith and common journey.

    While the pope is well-intentioned, I fear that his public act profoundly misrepresents–dare I say, violently distorts–the very core and intrinsic import of Jesus’ own act. Moreover–and I really, really DON’T like saying this…yet I think I must–I cannot squelch a certain cynicism over a very public, very celebrated, ritualized act of “profound humility”. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against the long flowery prayers recited on street corners, for all to hear and admire. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the one who wasn’t “clean”, there were no cameras around, and the only audience on hand was genuinely shocked, embarrassed, even appalled. How can we observe this annual papal tradition, therefore, without being awkwardly aware of the difference (a difference only heightened by the distortion of the essential lesson Christ invested in it), aware of a certain contrived, self-conscious artificiality in it all?

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