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Did St. Gregory wash the feet of an angel on Holy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday

Duccio di Buoninsegna | Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/05/23

A pious tradition recounts how St. Gregory the Great washed the feet of a mysterious visitor on Holy Thursday.

The Church continues a long-standing tradition on Holy Thursday of washing people’s feet during Mass. The tradition seeks to imitate Jesus’ act of service when he washed the feet of his 12 apostles.

As a result, priests and bishops select 12 individuals to come forward during Holy Thursday Mass to have their feet washed.

However, St. Gregory the Great ended up washing the feet of 13 individuals.

The St. Andrew Daily Missal explains what happened.

According to a tradition, the alteration was made by St. Gregory the Great. This holy Pope, when washing the feet of twelve poor men, noticed one more, of a very beautiful countenance. When he tried to know who he was, after the ceremony, the mysterious poor had disappeared. St. Gregory believed it was an angel or our Lord himself.

This tradition was revived by St. Paul VI, who, according to the New York Times, washed the feet of 13 priests.

While all other Catholic bishops will wash the feet of only 12 “apostles.” the Pope washes 13. He does this in memory of a legend dating back to the papacy of Saint Gregory the Great early in the seventh century. It is said that Saint Gregory, while performing the ceremony, noticed that a stranger had entered the group. The 13th person is said to have been either an angel or Jesus himself.

While its impossible to verify the truth behind this legend, the tradition reminds us that we should treat everyone as if they were Jesus.

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