Why not wash the feet of women?

Last year, on Holy Thursday, 28 March, Pope Francis celebrated the evening Mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison for minors.

Apr 11, 2014

Dear Editor,
Last year, on Holy Thursday, 28 March, Pope Francis celebrated the evening Mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison for minors. The Holy Father not only broke with a papal tradition of celebrating the evening Mass at a Rome basilica but he also washed the feet of 12 young people of different nationalities and faiths, including at least two Muslims and two women, who were housed at the juvenile detention facility.

The ceremony of washing another’s feet “is important,’ the Pope said, because it shows that “the person who is most high among us must be at the service of the others.”

No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis’ gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a “questionable example.”

“The Pope’s washing the feet of women is hugely significant because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on — and even banned — in some dioceses,” said Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of The Jesuit Guide. “It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met: man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.”

In the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur (and perhaps in all the other dioceses), it has been the practice for many years that only 12 men are chosen. It is also widely known that in most, if not all of our parishes, it is the women who are more active participants, be it at the eucharistic celebrations or in the various ministries. Just look at our Sunday school classes or Bible studies programmes and you will find that it is the women who usually far outnumber men. It is no different at BEC gatherings, activities or meetings or even prayer services. We also have women who are serving as extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Therefore, it is puzzling why women have not been included in this Rite of the Washing of Feet.

In our times when women have achieved great positions of leadership in many countries and fields, it is only fitting that women too are included in this beautiful act of humility and service. Can we expect the change in our archdiocese and/or all the other dioceses as well?

Can we follow the example of the Holy Father in Malaysia at least in including women and the youth? By the way, in Austria, some parishes have already done this by including women and the youth.

Andrew Scott
Petaling Jaya

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