The 12 Whose Feet Pope Francis Will Wash This Year

This just in:

The 12 people who will have their feet washed by Pope Francis include 9 Italians, 1 Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde, and an Ethiopian woman. There will be 9 men and 3 women aged 16-86. Pray Tell reported earlier on the Pope’s planned Holy Thursday Mass.



  1. I live in the Madison diocese and my parish has been in upheaval for two weeks now about the new pastor’s plan to wash only male feet on Thursday night (in obedience to Bishop Morlino’s well-publicized decree). I wonder if Pope Francis has any idea how painful such disputes can be in the life of a parish and how much scandal the lack of unity among American dioceses has caused.
    Does anyone have any insight into *why* the Holy Father might prefer to lead by example in this case while leaving an obsolete liturgical rule in place? What is the rationale behind retaining the “viri” language but being radically inclusive himself?

  2. I’ve wondered the same thing myself and the only conclusion I have been able to draw is that he is trying to demonstrate that there can be differences between the rule itself and its application. Rather than changing the rule he simply seeks to serve and is telling us that the person in front of you is more important that the rules. If he were to change the rule that could be interpreted as sending the message that we have to wait for a formal change to do something.

    Americans, with our roots in Anglo Saxon traditions, tend to see the rule as absolute and unbreakable without consequences. Those, such as Pope Francis, who come from a more Latin background, tend to see the rule as much more flexible and therefore often less important than the person. In other words, “rules are made to be broken.” He is trying to lead by example and not by decree.

    Obviously I’m not privy to the thoughts of the Holy Father, but this is the best I’ve been able to do.

  3. American Catholics are especially rule bound because of our tradition of English common law. It is ironic that the Code of Canon Law is based on the tradition of Roman law. The latter does not presume that laws fit every person in every situation. I’ve been told that in many of the canons, the words “insofar as possible” or “to the extent possible” appear. I’ve seen some of that in the GIRM come to think of it. As Rita pointed out “Vir” is found in the rubrics which date back to a time when it was unthinkable for women to be found near the altar unless they were mopping the floor. That time has long since past. How about common sense: If a woman can serve as an acolyte and may distribute the Body and Blood of Christ, by what logic is a woman precluded from having feet washed? Could it be that there are a breed of Catholics who think it unseemly for a priest or bishop to washing a woman’s feet? Might they also be objecting to washing women’s feet because they also oppose them serving as acolytes and CM’s?

  4. I think that the Holy Father is telling us by example that the rule is abrogated. Of course an individual Ordinary can still set the requirements in his diocese –it is his right as bishop–as Bishop Morlino has chosen to do, but unless the bishop has forbidden otherwise, it would seem that the pastor is free to choose both men and women to have their feet washed. Personally, I am very grateful that I do not live in the Diocese of Madison.

  5. My own view is that the problem is caused not by the fact that when the rubric was written it was unthinkable for women even to enter the sanctuary (although of course they did, as cleaners, etc, when no one was around, as Jack points out) but by a translation problem generated by the disjuncture between formal and dynamic equivalence.

    Think about it. The rubric is talking about the people who are going to have their feet washed. You cannot translate “people” as “populi” since that means something quite different: nations or other large groupings. You cannot use “homines” since that would mean “the human beings who are going to have their feet washed” — as opposed, presumably, to animals having their feet washed! The only other word available is “viri”, which in a narrow formal equivalence means “men [of the male gender]” but in dynamic equivalence clearly means “people”, i.e. those who are going to have their feet washed.

    In other words, the “rule” does not say what people think it does. I am afraid Bishop Morlino and those who think like him need to get out a bit more.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #6:
      Yes, that’s right. Vir is used the same way that we use mankind, and “all men are creates equal.” Pope Francis has told us many times in many ways that the Catholic Church has been too crabby, to hung up on petty rules, while not doing enough to help the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised. Good for him!

  6. Here you go from David Gibson’s article at NCR – Rita is quoted:

    Highlight in reference to Morlino:

    “This is being used by those who wish to make a point about holy orders being reserved to men,” Ferrone said. The debate over the Holy Thursday foot washing, she said, “becomes yet another occasion for people who would like to see women excluded from the sanctuary.”

  7. The trouble is that men like Morlino only choose to understand *rules* and they have found every way they can to avoid taking his message at face value. Why *shouldn’t* the rule be changed to reflect normative practice?

    It was a very painful Holy Week in my parish, and this has become an enormous distraction from the liturgy.

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