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Pope changes liturgical norms to allow washing of women's feet on Holy Thursday

January 21, 2016

Pope Francis has altered the liturgical norms of the Catholic Church to allow the washing of women’s feet, as well as men’s, in the liturgy of Holy Thursday.

In a letter explaining the move, the Pontiff said that he had decided to make the change in order that the Holy Thursday liturgy “might express more fully the meaning of Jesus' gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity.”

The Roman Missal had stipulated that men and boys should be selected from the congregation on Holy Thursday to have their feet washed by the celebrant. At the Pope’s instruction, the Congregation for Divine Worship has ordered a change in the wording of the Missal. In his accompanying letter the Pope explains 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.” He suggests that pastors should explain the change in the right to their people.

The formal requirement that only males should have their feet washed had been routinely ignored in many dioceses. Pope Francis himself has washed the feet of women and girls during Holy Thursday ceremonies in his pontificate.

The washing of feet recalls the gesture that Jesus made at the Last Supper, washing the feet of his apostles, who were all men. Advocates of the old rule had argued that in the Holy Thursday liturgy, which commemorates the institution of the priesthood, the selection of men underlined the role of the male priesthood.

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jan. 26, 2016 4:29 AM ET USA

    I agree with Lucius49. Sad. Sad. I am eager for the next pope to,hopefully, reverse these false ecumenical changes in Church rubrics, etc...

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 23, 2016 4:24 PM ET USA

    Since the issue of washing children's feet has been raised, I hope that all in attendance at the foot washing of children have their background checks and safe-environment certifications in order. I would hate for even the appearance of abuse to be reported to the secular authorities. I am required every year to conduct training in "touching safety" to all the youth in our CCD program. Touching the bare feet of a child is normally a cause for great caution and adequate supervision.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 21, 2016 10:20 PM ET USA

    Personally, I don't have any problem with it since washing of feet is a symbol of humble service to ALL. And since Pope Francis himself started the practice of including women in the ritual a while ago, it made sense to put it into liturgical rubrics. However, I also liked when Pope St. John Paul II washed the feet of twelve elderly priests - that was profoundly meaningful.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Jan. 21, 2016 8:38 PM ET USA

    If you are only obedient to the Pope when it suits you then you are not really obedient to the Pope.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jan. 21, 2016 7:20 PM ET USA

    Well this relieves many pastors from sinning who have been violating liturgical law for many years in washing the feet of women and girls.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Jan. 21, 2016 2:07 PM ET USA

    Fr. Z observes that the foot washing rite is optional so "Fathers" it doesn't have to be done at all. And 2. this doesn't apply to the extraordinary form of the liturgy, only the ordinary form. (When will we get a reverent mass, one that doesn't conform to the lowest common denominator. My local priests have the bad habit of maintaining a running commentary and annotations on things throughout the Mass.)

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Jan. 21, 2016 1:40 PM ET USA

    Sad to hear. I see this as another surrender to the spirit of the times instead of the Church maintaining her own traditions based on her own judgments. The world is too much with us. Another cave-in to disobedience like the communion-in-the-hand decision because people were already doing it. Sad.

  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Jan. 21, 2016 12:52 PM ET USA

    Here we go! Since Roman Missal's instruction has been widely ignored in the West, the Pope issued an "executive order". There will be plenty to do for the next Pontiff to bring back order and tradition.

  • Posted by: loumiamo - Jan. 21, 2016 12:31 PM ET USA

    Fundamentally, even from the initial washing by Jesus, women were included by the basic nature of men, who have both male and female sex chromosomes, an X and a Y. By this dual nature, male priests have always been true representatives of both sexes, in a way that women can never be. So this change wasn't truly necessary, but since it comes from the Pope, it belongs in the treasury of the Catholic Church. And of course there's the added benefit of all the fireworks that be comin real soon.