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Pope Francis: Letter and Decree on changes to “Washing of the feet”; now women may also be chosen

From now on, women too may be selected to participate in the “Rite of the washing of the feet”. Pope Francis announced this in a letter addressed to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, concerning the Rite of the “washing of the feet” contained in the Liturgy of the Mass “in Coena Domini” on Holy Thursday. “I have reflected for some time on the Rite of the washing of the feet contained in the Liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini – the letter published today reads – with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus’ gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself ‘unto the end’ for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity”. Pope Francis hence decided to “make a change to the Roman Missal”, namely by modifying “the section according to which those persons chosen for 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”. Not just women, but children and elderly people as well may now be chosen to take part in the Rite, and “they should not necessarily be twelve, a smaller group may be chosen, depending on the context in which the Mass is celebrated”, the Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, told journalists. “Pastors – the Decree enclosed in the Papal letter reads – may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople”. It is important, however, that those chosen are adequately instructed on the meaning of the Rite itself”, the Pope recommends in the letter. The Rite of the washing of the feet is not “compulsory”, the Vatican’s spokesman recalled. However, the “meaning of this gesture is very dear” to Pope Francis, who has already washed the feet of some women both in Buenos Aires and here in Rome, at Casal Del Marmo. Next Easter, this Rite may well take on a new face in all Bishops’ Conferences across the world.

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