For Washing of the Feet, Pope Legalizes "All Are Welcome"
Three years after bringing his longtime practice in Buenos Aires to Rome – and infuriating traditionalists in the process – the Pope has employed his prerogative to alter liturgical law and officially open the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet to "those chosen from among the People of God," abolishing the rubric that (at least, technically) restricted the rite to men.
Even as the now-superseded rule tended to be honored as much in the breach as the observance, Francis directed the formal change to the Roman Missal, which was enacted by means of a 6 January decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and released today.
In a personal letter to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah published alongside the legal text, the pontiff conveyed his sense that the change to the rite was intended to better reflect Jesus' "giving of himself 'once and for all' for the salvation of the world, his love without limits." The decree itself, meanwhile, says that "pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God... consist[ing] of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople."
The Last Supper ceremony only restored to use in Pius XII's 1950s reform of the Holy Week liturgies, while centuries of tradition had limited participation in the Washing of the Feet – officially known as the Mandatum – to "chosen men" ("viri selecti") in representation of the twelve apostles, the post-Conciliar practice in many places of including women (and, sometimes, young children) received de facto approval in a 1987 clarification from the US bishops' liturgy arm, which stated that, although "this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men, 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... that all members of the church must serve one another in love."
To be sure, enforcement of the prior rubric as stated has been far from widespread, and the few bishops who've openly urged against the adapted practice have tended to take a public drubbing among parishioners and the press even beyond their respective dioceses. For his part, Francis' decision to stick with his Argentine custom of celebrating the Holy Thursday Evening Mass in prisons, hospitals or rehab centers and include women, children and non-Catholics in the foot-washing has become a regularly-cited example of the Pope's "inclusive" shift of tone; in their turns at the rite – which, by custom, would historically take place in Rome's cathedral at the Lateran Basilica – prior pontiffs usually washed the feet of 12 elderly priests.
For clarity's sake, it bears noting that the new law has no impact the Extraordinary Form of the Roman liturgy, which will maintain the men-only rule as stipulated in the 1962 Missal used in its communities.
Here below, the English translation of the CDW decree as released this morning by the Holy See:
The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.-30-
In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.
In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.
To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.
This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully.