Our parish always washes the feet of women and children, as well as men, during the Holy Thursday evening services. I know this is not correct, as it changes the whole meaning of the ritual which is meant to memorialize Jesus washing the apostles’ feet before the Last Supper. Also, the priest has “helpers”, who also wash feet along with him, (I suppose to speed things up) which confuses the matter even more. I am always disturbed and frustrated that this is allowed. Can you direct me to a reference I can show my priest regarding this before this happens again this year? And what am I to do if he ignores the reference and continues this aberation which, I am sorry to say, would not surprise me. Thanks and God Bless.
The Congregation for Divine Worship’s document Paschales Solemnitatis, in its Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper instruction, states (51):
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.
Its proper significance can be found in Scripture where we read the account of Christ washing the apostle’s feet before the last supper (cf. John 13:3-20). It is important to recognize here that Jesus chose only men to be his apostles. The Church considers this fact to be extremely significant, for example, when considering the Church’s authority to ordain women (see Why can’t women be priests?).
Thus, the Sacramentary instructs (emphasis added):
The men who are chosen are led by the ministers to chairs prepared in a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers, he pours water over each one’s feet and dries them.
(Note: The Latin word used for men in the original instruction indicates males only. In his book, Mass Confusion (p.44), Jimmy Akin explains, “When the term viri appears in Church documents, it indicates that the text is making a requirement for males and not females. If a text intends to include either a male of a female in a requirement, it uses a different Latin term, such as homo, which is not gender specific”.)
It is clearly inappropriate and illicit to include in this ritual the washing of women’s and children’s feet. For instruction on addressing such liturgical abuses see “Remedies” (chapter 8) of the Church’s instruction Redemtionis Sacramentum as well as Jimmy Akin’s “Practical Steps” (chapter 12) in Mass Confusion.
It is allowed, however, to have ministers assist the priest (see above).