Bishops ask to include women in feet washing ceremony

The new regulation puts no restrictions on the number of people selected, bust asks to select a small group of the faithful.

New Delhi: Women can be included in the feet washing liturgical ceremony of Maundy Thursday in Catholic parishes across India, says a note circulated by the conference of Latin rite bishops.

Pope Francis has directed the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to make some changes in the earlier regulations that said only the feet of 12 men be washed during the ceremony, the circular said.

The term “12 men” has been changed to “people of God” and the prescription to wash only the feet of men no longer holds. “Women too could be part of the group whose feet are washed,” said the circular.

Pope Francis, on the first Maundy Thursday service after his election as pope washed the feet of several inmates of a prison in Rome. Among those whose feet he washed were some girls and some not belonging to the Catholic faith.

“Although the Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that this was not to be taken as changing the discipline of the Church, it is now clear that the Holy Father was giving a message,” said the circular signed by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of Conference of Catholic Bishops of India.

It said the new regulation also does not put restrictions on the number of people selected for washing the feet but simply says “the pastor may select a small group of the faithful.”

The group could include “men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and lay people,” it said quoting from the new regulation.

Both the number and composition of those selected would vary from parish to parish. “For example, in some parishes there may not be clerics available to form part of the group. So one should not go out of the way to make sure that each of these categories are part of the group,” the circular said.

Cardinal Gracias said although number 12 is no longer binding, “I do think this was a logistically convenient number” and having “too big a number would disturb the service” and “having too small a number might not give the Washing of the Feet its adequate significance.”

The circular asked to discuss issues in pastoral council if pastors face the resistance to the change and get the councils assistance in deciding the composition of the group.

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