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Easter foot washing ceremony can now include women, Pope Francis decrees

21 January 2016 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Ruling to 'express the full meaning of gesture of Jesus at the Last Supper'

The foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday can now include women, according to a decree from the Vatican released today. 

The ruling from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was issued along with a letter from Pope Francis to the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Robert Sarah. 

Writing in Italian, the Pope says that the changes are being implemented “to express the full meaning of the gesture made by Jesus at the Last Supper, his gift of himself ‘to the end’ for the salvation of the world, his boundless charity”.

He added that priests can now choose from “among all the members of the people of God” to participate in the ceremony which takes place during the Mass of the Last Supper. 

Up until now, according to rubrics set down by Pope Pius XII in 1955, only males were allowed to have their feet washed. 

But in 2013, soon after his election, Pope Francis washed the feet of two female prisoners during the Holy Thursday liturgy, one of whom was a Muslim. This was the first time a Pope had washed the feet of a woman during the ceremony, which imitates Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet. 

At the time his move upset liturgical conservatives: Fr Paul Gunter OSB, secretary of the Department for Christian Life and Worship for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, told The Tablet that the Pope’s example should not be followed by parishes. 

However, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires the Pope often washed the feet of women and many parishes across the world already include females in the ceremony. 

 

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