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Pope washes women's feet

Washing Women’s Feet?

Pope washes women's feet

Last year Pope Francis washed the feet of women as well as men in the usual Holy Week ceremony. The instructions for the rite call for “men who have been chosen”. Often recent Vatican translations into English will insist that “men” includes “women”, but in this case many of those same people are insisting that “men” this time excludes “women”!

My understanding is that many are regarding the pope’s action as interpreting the rubric, as he is the supreme legislator and interpreter, and so they are including women in the footwashing. This appears to be the approach in the Roman Catholic diocese here in Christchurch (NZ).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website says

it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.

While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men (“viri selecti”), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, “who came to serve and not to be served,” that all members of the Church must serve one another in love.

But recently it was reported that

Three years ago, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino issued guidelines that gave priests the option of either using only men or not celebrating the ritual at all. Given the heightened attention to foot-washing last year, some parishioners thought Morlino might re-evaluate his position.

That has not happened. Brent King, the diocesan spokesman, said priests have the same two options this year — men-only or no ritual.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf fisked that article here.


Some resources for Holy Week

Palm Sunday Service
Reflection on Palm Sunday collect
Maundy Thursday Service
Good Friday Service
Easter Vigil Service
Easter Season Services
Reflection on the Easter Season

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6 thoughts on “Washing Women’s Feet?”

  1. Another great article, and one that is timely as we approach Holy Week again.

    No doubt the proponents of this approach would argue that the original Latin uses different words that are all translated as ‘men’, but it’s always struck me as odd that people will use the same word in English to include and then exclude when it suits their particular view of things.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Andrew.

      On that, I remember in the early days of trying to help people get their heads around gender-inclusive language, at gatherings people being asked “OK, would all men please move to this side of the hall…” The result pretty much was all that was needed 🙂


  2. We’re not beyond this discussion YET? Really?

    Foot washing is not a sacrament, but it is a symbol, and HOW it is performed communicates loudly. Exclusion of females, as a class, screams loudly about second class citizenship.


    1. The exclusion of females most definitely do not imply “second class citizenship”. Men and women have their roles in the divine plan. Was Our Blessed Mother’s role less important to the apostles?

  3. Brian Poidevin

    What you report above is just a minor issue in what is effecting the church today, Anglican as well as Roman. This performance is merely one of the minor stupidities
    One has only to watch the patronisung attitude of many Anglican male clergy to female priests to see it flourishing. In fact the divinisation of the male priesthood is alive and well in Australian anglicanism. In a much more serious matter than foot washing- though that is symbolic enough- it has been common in the sexual abuse crisis as reported in the Australian royal commission, Victorian parliamentary enquiry etc.. And not just in Roman Catholicism- see the Anglican Diocese of Grafton.
    The American bishop is behaving impeccably in the history of many in Christianity and the bulk of christian history despite Teresas and Thereses and Catherines not to say Dorothy, Evelyn, Chrisyina to pick at random. And of course there are those millions central to the church’s survival.

    by NCR Editorial Staff
    We say: It’s tempting to look at news about sex abuse and church finances and conclude that the system is broken. In reality, it’s the clerical system that’s broken.

  4. Brian Poidevin

    I probably should have added this to my previous post. it makes the point

    Fr Paul Gunter, secretary of the Department for Christian Life and Worship, told The Tablet that Pope Francis had legitimately dispensed himself from liturgical norms but that his was a unique pastoral context. In parish churches, Fr Paul said that the washing of the feet is meant to be an imitation of the Last Supper and is “intrinsically attached” to the institution of the priesthood

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