Blogs > Pope Francis washes his feet of traditional liturgists

21 January 2016 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Pope Francis washes his feet of traditional liturgists

“You will never wash my feet,” a shocked Simon Peter said when he saw Jesus with a basin of water and a robe. Even today the imitation of one of the most powerfully symbolic moments in Christ’s life has the power to scandalise. 

Pope Francis has now asked that the foot-washing ceremony, which takes place during the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, can include women (a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments was issued today to that effect). 



There will, however, be many liturgical traditionalists left unhappy by this move. They were pretty outraged in 2013 when, soon after his election, Francis washed the feet of two women prisoners, including one Muslim during the Holy Thursday liturgy. 

As Christ only washed the feet of his male disciples they argue the ceremony should copy that. The rubrics of Pope Pius XII, issued 1955, also state that only males should have their feet washed by priests. Now the Pope has widened participation to all “the People of God.” But what is the real reason traditionalists are unhappy? 

Fr Paul Gunter OSB, secretary of the Department for Christian Life and Worship, told The Tablet in 2013 that: “Jesus performed the Washing of the Feet when he gave his mandatum to the 12 Apostles. Since the occasion was intrinsically attached to the institution of the priesthood, the gesture was not incomplete because of its not being extended to women.”

By extending the ceremony to women Francis is seen as allowing women to participate in Christ’s priesthood. In truth, the Vatican ruling is unlikely to have a major impact on parishes because many of them have been washing the feet of women for years. And when he was in Argentina Pope Francis regularly had female participants in his Holy Thursday liturgy. 

What the Holy See has done is rubber stamp current practice. It also continues a trend in this papacy of upsetting traditionalists - those who like things done the way they always have. 

But he doesn’t seem to mind. During his daily homily on Tuesday the Pope said “Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,’…they sin” adding: “the Christian who is obstinate sins!” 



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User Comments (7)

Comment by: Mark godswin
Posted: 07/09/2016 05:00:12
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Comment by: Richard Brooke
Posted: 25/01/2016 16:55:16
Regarding M's description of what the Pope has authorised as a "liturgical abuse", he or she should remember that all those whose feet Jesus washed were Jews. Since the Church has sanctioned the washing of Gentile feet for centuries, what makes the Pope's most recent development of Christian tradition any more of an abuse than previous practice?
Comment by: jcahill
Posted: 25/01/2016 00:43:17
We have been including women in the Holy Thursday foot-washing for many years in many dioceses in the USA. When I became rector of our Cathedral in Covington, KY in 1994 it was an already established tradition.
Comment by: Pakiam
Posted: 23/01/2016 14:30:59
Well done ,holy father, you set an example , some of your bishops were too abtuse to follow suit. Now you have decreed it. Well done ! You have to do it for nearly every branch of your curia ! God bless you . We pray for your safety! Ab.murphy pakiam
Comment by: Tom Dawkes
Posted: 22/01/2016 21:44:23
I see that some automatic processing has distorted Professor Thomas O'Loughlin's name in my earlier posting referring to recent articles of his on foot washing. My apologies for any confusion.
Comment by: Tom Dawkes
Posted: 22/01/2016 21:40:58
A view on the real significance of Our Lord's washing of the disciples' feet and how far it can be part of the Holy Week liturgy
is given in several recent articles by Professor Thomas O'laughlin, of Nottingham University.

[1] ‘The Washing of Feet: the Interplay of Praxis and Theology’. Anaphora 7/1(2013)37-46

[2] ‘Celebrating the New Commandment: Foot-washing and Our Theology of Liturgy’. Scripture in Church 43 [169] (2013)

[3] ‘From a Damp Floor to a New Vision of Church: Footwashing as a Challenge to Liturgy and
Discipleship’. Worship 88(2014)137-150

These and many other articles by Professor O'laughlin are readily available on the website: see
Comment by: M
Posted: 22/01/2016 14:53:55
Fortunately, it is not mandatory and orthodox priests and parishes can continue to observe the practice as instituted by Our Lord. As with altar girls, these legitimised liturgical abuses are not compulsory and whilst modernist parishes allowed them whether they were legal or not, so orthodox parishes will not allow them even if they are now legal.

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