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Saint of the Day: St. Michael of the Saints

Eastern Catholic Churches in India: Only Men for Foot-Washing Ritual

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 03/24/16


The two Eastern Catholic churches in India have decided not to include women in the washing of the feet ceremony on Maundy Thursday this year, which some Catholics say stands in conflict with papal guidance. Pope Francis allowed the inclusion of women in the ceremony by changing the previous prescription that said the “feet of 12 men be washed.” The changed regulation now asks pastors to “select a small group of the faithful” for the ritual washing. Cardinal Oswald Gracious, the head of the Latin-rite church in India, explained the changes in a circular early this month to all bishops encouraging them to consider “all sections of the faithful” including women for the ceremony. However, Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Eastern Syro-Malabar Church, told media that his church will wash the feet of only 12 men following the age-old liturgical tradition as the Vatican has exempted Eastern churches. Father Jimmy Poochakkatt, spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Church told that his church, and the smaller Syro-Malakara Church, were exempted because changes are part of the Latin liturgy and Eastern churches are “liturgically different.” He said the churches have sought clarification from the Vatican’s Eastern congregation, which oversees the Eastern-rite churches, and it has exempted them because Eastern churches do not follow the Roman rite or Roman Missal. However, this exclusion of women is a temporary decision, the spokesman said. “We are an autonomous church having freedom to decide on our liturgy, but the synod is our supreme decision-making body. Any liturgical change such as this must come from the synod,” Father Poochakkatt said.

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