Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Can Women Participate in the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Can Women Participate in the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet?

Article excerpt

In 1955, Pius XII reformed the liturgy to make foot washing part of the Holy Thursday Mass. Since the 14th century, it had been practiced in a separate liturgy. Then last year, the newly elected Pope Francis decided to celebrate Holy Thursday by washing the feet of inmates--including women, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians--at a Roman juvenile detention center, causing some to fret that the pope set a guestionable example. According to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, Francis took into account "the real situation, the community where one celebrates."

In the 1980s, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy stated it is customary for women to participate in the washing of feet. The committee was writing in response to questions about the language in the Sacramentary's rubric for Holy Thursday that only refers to "selected men" (viri selecti).

Confusion surrounding the washing of feet is understandable given that our contemporary rite has its roots in one of the most enigmatic scenes of the New Testament. Only the Gospel of John describes Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Many biblical scholars think the scene was written later than the rest of the gospel by an unknown author. Some believe it was added to teach John's audience, a group facing violent opposition both from other followers of Jesus as well as the Roman government, to prepare for martyrdom. Just as Jesus washed his followers' feet, a prerequisite for entering the Temple, his followers must cleanse themselves spiritually to stand before God. …

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