Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Change in Holy Thursday liturgy encourages do-it-yourself liturgical experimentation

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 21, 2016

On its face, the Pope’s decision to include women in the foot-washing ceremony of the Holy Thursday liturgy does not seem a matter of earth-shaking importance. The question only arises once a year. The liturgical rule that included only males has been widely ignored for years, and the skies haven’t fallen.

Still this is a sad day for two reasons.

As with the previous Vatican decision to allow altar girls, this change vindicates the pastors who have violated the official norms all along. They will be encouraged in their (mistaken) belief that they represent the liturgical vanguard, and emboldened to try other changes. The rules governing the liturgy are the only protection that we poor laymen have against a willful priest’s desire to celebrate the Mass the way he wants. That protection has now been further eroded.

Again as with the decision allowing altar girls, the inclusion of women strips away an important symbol of the all-male priesthood. The apostles, whose feet Our Lord washed at the Last Supper, were in fact all males. On Holy Thursday especially, as we recall the institution of the priesthood, it behooves us to recall that fact.

In years past, when service at the altar was restricted to males, a young Catholic boy would naturally wonder whether he belonged there. Now, with altar servers and lectors and cantors and extraordinary ministers all hustling around the sanctuary, both male and female (but in practice, mostly female), the pious young Catholic boy wonders whether there’s any room left for him.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jan. 22, 2016 10:54 PM ET USA

    I notice that the changes do not discuss the kissing of the feet after washing them. This is a nice sign of humility but that was not reported as being done at the last supper. By adding this it strikes me that we are saying that we know how to do it better than Jesus. This is very dangerous territory.

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Jan. 22, 2016 6:38 PM ET USA

    As the Church continues to be feminized, fewer and fewer of its members will bother going to mass and most of them will eventually leave the Church permanently. Like "the pious young Catholic boy," the men in that group of Church-leavers will have wondered "whether there's any room left" for them. At some point will faithful Catholics, those loyal to the ancient traditions and teachings of the Church, be the only ones who remain actually in the Church?

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 22, 2016 12:01 PM ET USA

    Washing of the feet, connected with the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, indicates that priesthood is for service. In that symbol we imitate Christ who "came not to be served but to serve." In my opinion, it makes good sense to include women in the ritual, especially since women already became involved in many liturgical functions around the sanctuary. But in the current climate it also makes sense to skip that optional action altogether, lest it become too politicized and confusing.

  • Posted by: rcdifonzo74559 - Jan. 22, 2016 10:30 AM ET USA

    The washing of women's feet will certainly detract from and weaken the concept of the institution of the priesthood, so integral to the Holy Thursday Mass.What you say is absolutely correct.The sanctuary is becoming increasingly feminized.

  • Posted by: familyzeisel9936 - Jan. 22, 2016 8:27 AM ET USA

    I would also add that the pious dad begins to question whether or not he should raise his family with a rule against girls altar serving. It is difficult to do as the Church ought when the church generally doesn't. It is also difficult to receive the labels of judgmental, behind the times, and uncharitable from those who go with the status quo.

  • Posted by: keelergmom2722 - Jan. 21, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    It states in Inaestimabile Donum that 'No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority'. And this is because the Liturgy is the common possession of the entire Church. Deeply troubling what has been done.

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

    It is imperative to understand one thing in all this- this is no surprise. So-called "traditional" Catholics have predicted for decades that these types of changes were inevitable. Incrementally they are being realized. "Resistance" has never had anything to do with pride, indiscretion, selfish preference, nostalgia, personal taste etc. Sooner or later this will be understood by all who "will to see." Your points are well-taken. This is a sad day. Most importantly what you say is true.