Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Monday 25 October |
Saint of the Day: Sts Gavin, Protus, and Januarius
Aleteia logo
home iconChurch
line break icon

Cardinal Sarah: Priests Don’t Have to Wash Women’s Feet on Holy Thursday

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Courtesy of EMP photos

Courtesy of EMP photos

Diane Montagna - published on 03/15/16

Clarification comes after priests voice concerns about recent liturgical innovation

VATICAN CITY — Priests are not obligated to wash the feet of women during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Cardinal Robert Sarah has confirmed.

The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments told reporters [a colleague and myself] in Rome on February 26 that every bishop or priest “has to decide in accord with his own conscience, and according to the purpose for which the Lord instituted this feast.”

Cardinal Sarah’s clarification answers an apparent disparity between the January 6 decree, In Missa in Cena Domini, and the accompanying explanatory note written by the Secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche.

The decree states that “pastors may [possint] select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God” and that “such small groups can [potest] be made up of men and women.”

And yet in the explanatory note, Archbishop Roche seems to suggest an obligation to choose a group representative of the entire people of God, without specifics as to sex. He writes: “It is for pastors to choose a small group of persons who are representative of the entire people of God — lay, ordained ministers, married, single, religious, healthy, sick, children, young people and the elderly — and not just one category or condition.”

Cardinal Sarah’s clarification comes after bishops and priests have voiced concerns about the new rubric, which permits the washing of women’s feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Before the foot-washing mandatum was changed by Pius XII and inserted into the Mass on Holy Thursday, women’s feet could be washed, but only by other women, and the ceremony took place outside of the Mass.

In a February 2, 2016, interview, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, said that according to his conscience, he could not include women in the foot-washing ceremony on Holy Thursday. Bishop Schneider acknowledged that the revised mandatum isn’t binding, saying: “Thanks be to God no priest or bishop is obliged to wash publicly the feet of women on Holy Thursday, for there is no binding norm for it, and the foot washing itself is only facultative.”

Jesuit priest and founder of Ignatius Press, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, has also weighed in, suggesting with skepticism that permissions are often misunderstood as requirements: “Of course it should be made clear that this is a permission, not a requirement,” he said. “But even that clarity won’t affect what actually happens.

“Here’s a similar situation in which we can already see the results: When permission was given for female altar servers, it was a permission given to bishops, not directly to priests (i.e., if a bishop so chose, he could permit the practice in the diocese). It was clear in the decree that no priest was required to have female servers, even if the bishop had given the permission. How was this treated? Many bishops insisted that the regular use of altar girls be normative for all Masses.

“So this new permission will be (and already has been) treated as a requirement.”

  • 1
  • 2
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Marinella Bandini
Exclusive: Carlo Acutis as seen by his mother
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio replied to John Paul II’s letter with a miracle
Philip Kosloski
Meet Sandra Sabattini, a newly beatified 22-year-old
Theresa Civantos Barber
St. John Paul II’s perfect advice for lasting love in marriage
Cerith Gardiner
A collection of Pope John Paul II’s quotes on some of life’s most...
John Burger
Once considered for top post in Anglican Church, former bishop be...
Philip Kosloski
How kindness begins in your heart
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.