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Washing of feet no longer male preserve

VATICAN (SE): On Holy Thursday in 2014, Pope Francis created a canonical uproar when he washed the feet of a Muslim and a woman at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a rehabilitation centre in Rome.

The papal gesture sparked a canonical polemic, at times vitriolic, with accusations from some quarters that he had broken the law. While sager heads withheld a smile, they can now afford a grin, as a letter from Pope Francis, dated January 20, was promulgated on the following day by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, saying that from now on it is not only men and boys who may have their feet washed, but any member of the people of God.

The pope says in his letter that he has for some time reflected on how “the rite of the washing of the feet contained in the liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini (the Lord’s Supper), with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it 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.”

In tracing the history of the ceremony of the washing of the feet, Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary for the congregation on sacraments, says that the 1970 rubric, which uses the Latin word viri (men), has only mimetic (copying or appearing the same) value.

He points out that the innovation of Pope Francis does change the significance of the rite from being an exterior imitation of what Jesus did to an interior expression of self-giving for the salvation of all people.

Pope Francis explains that from now on all members of the people of God may have their feet washed during the liturgy.

The pope says that ideally both the young and old, clerical and lay, sick and healthy, men and women should be represented.

The bishop of the host diocese for the Eucharistic Congress, Archbishop José Palma, was quick off the mark, putting the instruction in Cebu into line with the pope’s invitation on the day following its promulgation.

“Jesus washed the feet of others and gave us the example,” he said.


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