The Reform announced Thursday (Jan. 21) that Pope Francis has challenged the sexist tradition of excluding women from the foot-washing rite on Holy Thursday. The Pontiff will allow priests to not only wash the feet of women, but to also open the rite to members of the community. This allowance reflects the Pontiff’s goal to make the church more inclusive.
Foot washing is one of the rites derived from the life of Christ, which is now established in many churches as a holy ordinance. Catholic law currently provides only for the washing of men’s feet during the sacred rite, and it is generally reserved for male religious leaders.
On the evening before Good Friday, the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite commemorates the moment when at the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples for the last time before his sacrifice.
The new law was decreed from the Vatican liturgy office that sets rules for celebrating Mass and other rites. A prior letter from the Pope to Vatican Liturgy Head, Cardinal Robert Sarah in December 2014, asked the cardinal to “make changes so that the rite might fully express the significance of the gesture performed by Jesus at the Last Supper.”
The new decree states that pastors picking a dozen people to stand in for the apostles at the foot-washing rite “may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. [and that] 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 is not the first time that Pope Francis has boldly suggested that the acts of Christ’s own humility are not reserved for the robed XY.
Just shy of a month following his election in 2013, Pope Francis shocked the religious world when he washed the feet of young people – including women and a Muslim, when visiting a detention center outside of Rome (photo).
Examiner reported in 2012 that, “Most Christians know of Mary Magdalene. Even non-believers majorly know the story of Mary the mother of Jesus. [and] Time would fail before one could mention every woman who had holy boldness and compassion making a difference in the early Christian church… Ironically, not women have not only been instrumental in the long-standing prominence of Christianity in many countries around the world, they are also among the earliest recorded evangelists.”
While fundamentalists bellyache over extending the universal rites of Christianity to women, “It would seem that a recollection of Christian roots would solve this entire debate.”
Consider Saint Nino, who like many apostles was an evangelical “closer.” God may set the stage with any number of seeds via His workmanship on the earth. Then, He will water in what way He will. Then, He gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). (Closers (men and women) are often called to the forefront when God intends to accomplish revival among His people and in the world to be won). While St. Nino’s ministry was so profound that many have elevated her testimony to the pages of legend, scholars do agree that her zeal – and that with anointing, is majorly responsible for converting some of the boldest believers in the Christian world.”
Critics of the move to allow women into the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite are justifying their conclusion for exclusion by stating that all of the disciples of Christ were men.
The Bible speaks severally of the original 12 disciples of Christ, whom He called when initiating His master plan of evangelism. However, these are not the only disciples of Christ. The Bible also speaks of a select few elect women, and a multitude of others who likely included women. If Jesus had only twelve disciples, perhaps there would be more unity among the churches – we would all worship together.
The Catholic Church believes that the formal institution of an all-male priesthood was established at the Last Supper. Said Joseph Shaw, head of the Latin Mass Society, opening ordinances to women challenges the concept of the all-male priesthood and sheds an uncomfortable light on the unwavering stance to deny ordination to woman clergy.
Yes, Jesus called the first twelve: Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (the son of Alpheus), Simon the Zealot, Judas (the brother of James), and Judas Iscariot. No. These twelve were not the only disciples. Luke 10 records another seventy disciples (whose chromosomes were not specified).
Further, if we first properly define the letter of discipleship, we can understand that woman-disciples are females following the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Jesus did not first appear to the “vicar” of the church, Peter, or even to the beloved disciple. He appeared to Mary and the women who followed him and served him.”
Luke lists women along with the original twelve disciples. Mark states that women at the cross followed Jesus and provided for him. Matthew also tells of women followers at the cross and later at the tomb. This apparently large group of women also “followed and witnessed Christ’s miracles and preaching throughout the region.”
Jesus himself commissioned Mary Magdalene to proclaim his resurrection: “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). She returned to Jerusalem saying, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her” (v. 18). She was the first preacher of the good news of the resurrection to the same men who had just been at the tomb before Jesus appeared to Mary.
Advocates of greater roles for women in the church welcomed the change proposed by Pope Francis. Further, is some churches of other denominations, women both participate in and formally perform the rite of foot-washing.