Bishop Joseph E. Strickland has issued an instruction to the priests of the Diocese of Tyler regarding the ritual washing of the feet that takes place during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrated on Holy Thursday.
The instruction comes in light of a decree promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in January that outlines a minor innovation to rite requested by Pope Francis. That decree adjusted the rubrics of the Roman Missal and the Ceremonial of Bishops so that those chosen to have their feet washed may now include both baptized males and females. Until the recent decree, the rubrics required those chosen for the rite be men.
The optional Rite of Washing of the Feet is a relatively recent insertion into the liturgies of Holy Week. It was added to the Holy Thursday Mass by Pope Pius XII in the 1955 reforms of Holy Week and subsequent revisions of the Roman Missal. Prior to those changes it had been a separate ceremony outside of the Mass.
Since the 1955 change, there has been debate among liturgical scholar about the primary meaning of the rite. Some held that the ritual symbolized service, while others believe that the ritual reflected Christ’s institution of the priesthood.
Pope Francis explained in his decision that he had been reflecting on the foot-washing ritual for some time, and determined that it needed to better reflect “the significance of the gesture Jesus performed in the Upper Room, giving himself ‘to the very end’ for the salvation of the world, his boundless charity.” To that end, he ordered that the rubrics be modified to permit participants for the rite to be chosen “from among all members of the People of God,” and likewise insisted that those who are chosen receive an explanation of the meaning of the ceremony.
Bishop Strickland’s instruction asks the priests of the diocese to continue including the ritual in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and provides that priests should “choose a group, not to exceed 12 people, of baptized Christians that broadly represent the parish. This may include clergy, religious, and lay faithful which may include children who have the maturity to participate.”
Holy Thursday, celebrated on March 24 this year, is the beginning of the Sacred Triduum, the liturgies which take the Church through passion and death of Jesus to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter.