Thursday, January 21, 2016

Washing of the Feet Officially Opened to Women

By a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Pope Francis has officially ordered the modification the rubric of the Roman Missal according to which only men were to have their feet washed at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The letter and a relevant decree of the Congregation were announced today on the Vatican website; the dating of the letter is currently given on the website as December 20, 2014, which one can safely assume is a mistake for 2015. The relevant portion of the letter reads as follows.

As I have said to you in conversation, for some time I have been reflecting on the rite of the washing of the feet, which forms part of the Liturgy of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the intention of improving the ways in which it is put into practice, so that they may fully express the significance of the gesture carried out by Jesus in the Upper Room, His giving of Himself ‘unto the very end’ for the salvation of the world, his charity without limits.

After due consideration, I have come to the decision to introduce a change to the rubrics of the Roman Missal. I order therefore that the rubric be modified according to which the person chosen to receive the Washing of the Feet must be men or boys, so that from now on, the pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. It is furthermore recommended that to those who are so chosen, an adequate explanation of the meaning of the rite itself be provided.

This relevant portion of the CDW decree reads as follows.

At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to St John, to demonstrate the humility and charity of Christ towards His disciples as it were in a drama, the restoration of Holy Week, y the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria (November 30, 1955), gave the opportunity of performing the washing of the feet of twelve men, where pastoral reasons recommended this. This rite, in the Roman liturgy, had been handed down with the name of the Lord’s Mandatum (commandment) about fraterncal charity, from the words of Jesus (cf. John 13, 34) which were sung in an antiphon during the celebration.

Bishops and priests acting in this rite are intimately invited to conform themselves to Christ, who “came not to be served, but to serve,” and driven by charty “unto the end” (John 13, 1), to give His life for the salvation of the whole human race.

That this full significance of the rite may be expressed to those who participate in it, it seemed good to the Supreme Pontiff Francis to change the norm which is read in the rubrics of the Roman Missal Romani (p. 300 no. 11) legitur, “Chosen men (viri) are lead by the ministers…”, which therefore must be changed in the following manner, “Those who are chosen from the people of God are lead by the ministers…” (and consequenly in the Bishops’ Ceremonial no. 301 and no. 299 b: “seats for those designated”), so that pastors may choose a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and unity of each portion of the people of God. This group may consist of men and woman, and suitably (may consist) of young and old, the healthy and the sick, clergy, consecrated persons and laity.

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the force of the faculties given to it by the Supreme Pontiff, introdces this change in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, reminding pastors of their duty to instruct with appropriate preparation both the faithful chosen (to have their feet washed) and others, so that they may participate in the rite knowledgably, actively and fruitfully.

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