Can women have their feet washed on Holy Thursday?


Is it okay for woman to have their feet washed by the priest on Holy Thursday? The rubric would seem to indicate men but the USCCB seems to say that it is okay to include women. Can you help clarify this and offer support that I can use to take to a liturgy committee so we can get it right and defend what we do?


The document to which you refer is titled Holy Thursday Mandatum and was authorized by the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In reviewing the document, I was unable to find any indication that it was authorized by the USCCB as a whole and approved by the Vatican. Without such USCCB authorization and Vatican approval, it does not carry legislative force.

In a March 23, 2004, column, Fr. Edward McNamara of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum answered this question as follows:

Q. I have learned today about the washing of the feet ceremony at Mass in my parish on Holy Thursday. To take the place of the twelve apostles, we are to have six gentlemen and six ladies. I would welcome your comments about this innovation. — M.R., Melbourne, Australia

A. The rubrics for Holy Thursday clearly state that the priest washes the feet of men ([Latin], viri) in order to recall Christ’s action toward his apostles. Any modification of this rite would require permission from the Holy See.

It is certainly true that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that all disciples are equal before the Lord. But this reality need not be expressed in every rite, especially one that is so tied up to the concrete historical circumstances of the Last Supper (source).

The documentation of the Church’s expectation that those whose feet are washed by the priest on Holy Thursday will be twelve chosen men is as follows:

The washing of the feet of chosen men which, according to tradition, is performed on this day, represents the service and charity of Christ, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” This tradition should be maintained, and its proper significance explained (Paschale Solemnitatis 51; emphasis added).

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