VATICAN CITY, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- A decree by Pope Francis, issued Thursday, expressly includes women in the traditional Holy Thursday rite of foot-washing.
The tradition of the priest washing the feet of 12 parishioners seated at the altar during Mass on the Thursday before Easter is taken from the Gospel of John, where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. The custom, known as the Mandatum, traditionally involved 12 men. The Pope's decree, contained in a letter to Prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah and published Thursday by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, specifies the recipients will no longer be "the men who have been chosen," but "those chosen from among the people of God."
In many instances around the world, those chosen are 12 other priests and not an assortment of young and old, or healthy and disabled men. In most American Catholic churches, priests have included women in the foot-washing for many years. The pope himself broke the precedent in 2013, washing the feet of 12 women prisoners at the Vatican on Holy Thursday.
"This decree can be seen as a concession to existing practice," said the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, "and its good intentions are evident. It nevertheless ... reinforces the trend which has seen priests increasingly surrounded by women during Mass, serving, doing the readings, and as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. This inevitably makes the all-male priesthood itself harder to understand."