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Pope washes feet of prisoners—male and female—at Holy Thursday liturgy

March 28, 2013

“I do this with all my heart,” Pope Francis said as he washed the feet of a dozen young prisoners at Rome’s Casal del Marmo detention center.

“It is the example set by Our Lord,” the Pope said, recalling how Jesus washed the feel of his disciples. “It’s important for Him to wash their feet,” he said, “because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others.” He encouraged the young detainees to ask themselves: “Am I really willing to help others.”

As part of the traditional liturgy of Holy Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Pope washed the feet of 12 young detainees: 10 male and 2 female. He thereby disregarded the liturgical rules of the Church, which specify that the celebrant should wash the feet of males in the congregation, in a gesture that recalls Christ’s service to his own 12 apostles. Although many other bishops and priests have included women in the ceremony, Pope Francis became the first Pontiff to do so.

The papal Mass was not open to the media, but his homily was broadcast and photos were made available after the ceremony. Pope Francis had surprised other Vatican officials by his announcement that he would celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy in a prison, following the pattern that he had established in the Buenos Aires archdiocese.


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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 01, 2013 12:25 PM ET USA

    Mario--I accept that the Holy Father has full authority to do what he did. The point all of us are making here is that everything he does has a huge impact at the parish level at East Wherever. If he is going to change liturgy, it should be a conscious process and the faithful should be given a heads-up.

  • Posted by: mario.f.leblanc5598 - Mar. 29, 2013 8:22 PM ET USA

    Remember the priest, the levite and the Samaritan? Are we asking Francis, acting like the Samaritan, to be more priest-like or levite-like? I am not here to tell the pope what to do, but whatever he does should be regarded in good faith rather than with suspicion.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 29, 2013 7:28 PM ET USA

    It's a lead story on the Drudge report; people are taking notice. Polemics will go on for some time. Nonetheless, we're in confused times and this action is nothing if not a source of confusion. As we encounter tremendous confusion in the natural order related to serious issues and growing pressures on the Church to consider married priests and to expand the role of women in the Church to the point of ordination, it gives many pause. We can't judge nor ought we pretend; "watch and pray."

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Mar. 29, 2013 12:04 PM ET USA

    We just acquired a pastor who enforced the rubric for the first time in living memory in this parish. It is difficult to accept the point that Pope Francis is making here, and I sympathize with the other commentators.

  • Posted by: Don Vicente - Mar. 28, 2013 6:50 PM ET USA

    Traditionally, the Pope CANNOT break a rubric. If he does something liturgically "contra legem," then by that fact, it is then legal for all priests to do that in the liturgy. So we are now free to wash the feet of women without any moral qualm. Like it or not, that's the tradition.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Mar. 28, 2013 6:07 PM ET USA

    So, once again, those who have gone out on a limb to defend a tradition are left "holding the bag." They're made to look like fools for trying to hold to traditional practices. It was the same story with girls serving on the altar. I think people in ministry like our new pope have to learn that this will cause many to throw up their hands saying "you simply can't trust these fellows (i.e. Rome) not to change their 'rules' from one day to the next. Best to just cave in from the start."