Pope Francis to Celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at Juvenile Prison

According to Vatican Radio, it was announced by the Holy See Press Office on Thursday that Pope Francis will celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the juvenile prison ‘Casal del Marmo’ in Rome, the same facility visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, also features the rite of the washing of the feet. In his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio used to celebrate the Mass in a prison, hospital or hospice for poor and marginalized people. The other Holy Week celebrations are expected to follow the schedule already released by the Office for Liturgical Celebrations.

Italian media reported earlier that the Pope was inviting 3,000 of Rome’s poor to this Mass.

The full name of the juvenile prison is “Istituto Penale Maschile E Femminile Per Minorenni Casal Del Marmo,” which of course raises the question of whether the Pope will wash the feet of females and males (as he did as archbishop of Buenos Aires). A strict reading of Church directives, supported by some U.S. bishops, allows only men (viri) to have their feet washed.

Pope Benedict visited this prison in 2007.


  1. For good or for ill, we have adapted some Gospel passages to our own understanding. For example, we usually interpret Matthew’s judgement scene (“What you have done to the least of my brothers…”) to mean we must see Christ in all others, especially the poor. That is certainly true. But not the ‘point’ behind Matthew’s passage. Here, Jesus is referring to how we treat those He has sent to us. Have we been hospitable in receiving them? Or did our lack of hospitality to those Jesus sends lead us to sin?
    Similar scenario in the Washing of the Feet. It’s not service to the poor that is illustrated (though service to the poor is a gospel mandate) but the example of ministers ministering to their fellow ministers. (One concrete example of how Peter would strengthen his brothers…) Jesus was basically saying to the apostles, “Take care of each other, look after each other, be hospitable towards each other so that together you may serve My people”.

  2. Is this all really happening? Of course it is, but even my (looking-for-change) head is spinning like a top.

    Which is, I would imagine, what would happen if Jesus showed up, but only multiplied.

    This is all rather stunning. In a good way.

  3. So am I right in thinking that this is instead of the Mass at St. John Lateran? If so, wow.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #7:
        That all depends on how long or short one’s notion of tradition is. Yes, this may be a break with newer standard procedures, but II assume that there were some earlier popes who made analogous choices, of truly turning to the outcasts of their day for the washing of feet. So, maybe Pope Francis is here simply returning to an ancient and venerable possibility within our tradition.

  4. Matthew’s retelling of Jesus’ exhortation against the “hypocrites” (e.g. Mt. 23:27 – 32 NRSV), contains a mild double meaning. ὑποκριταί (hupokritai, “hypocrites”, c.f. LSJ), in a classical Greek sense, primarily takes the sense of “actor”, and then a deceiver or false witness metaphorically.

    When the Matthean Jesus criticizes his interlocutors’ hollow praise for the prophets who they venerate and (contrary to human nature) swear would never have killed, he speaks merely to the human desire to confess that true poverty and compassion are virtuous while seeking human satisfaction all the while. Pope Francis, though a man and certainly prone to a fallen nature, at least possesses the drive to turn away from the reassuring but perhaps empty world of court ritual. There is no whitewashed tomb, no decoration in the Roman prison: just hardship and despair punctuated by an austere episcopal visit.

    Could not Pope Francis dress as a prince for me and his self-appointed “traditionalist faithful”, only then to wear the most basic cassock and apron for the prison mandatum? Is not Christ rex (“Christ the King”) and executed prisoner at once? Yes, but given the limitations of one man Pope Francis has decided to show the face of Christ as prisoner. Lord, grant me the ability to accept a pope in the image of Christ’s crucifixion.

  5. This is just amazing, really; I thought it was some sort of a hoax when I first read it. Perhaps the report came from The Onion, or something. Then when I saw a certain well-known traditionalist blogger having an aneurism over it, I knew it wasn’t a joke. Thank heaven for this pope!

    1. @James Murphy – comment #6:

      While Fr. Z might be exaggerating the significance of the relocation of Holy Thursday Mass from the Lateran to the prison, I still agree with him to a degree. I certainly do not mind that Pope Francis performs the mandatum for prisoners (as Jack Rakosky notes, popes have at times elected to wash the feet of laymen, and with Pope Francis now possibly laywomen as well). I agree with Fr. Z to the point that the Lateran is the traditional site for Holy Thursday and that this ancient custom should not yield to novelty. Couldn’t Pope Francis transport the prisoners to the Lateran? Or, would this scenario resemble an act of cruelty and not compassion, since the prisoners are freed only briefly and even then only for a liturgical rite?

      Many traditionalists view the pope as the living human representative of tradition as well as the vicar of Christ. Yes, the vicar of Christ should act charitably. However, a pope who does not attend to his papal duties as set out by longstanding convention is not, per many traditionalists, fulfilling his duties as vicar. I suspect that for not a few traditionalists, Pope Francis has increasingly erred on the latter point.

      While I want to share the joy of my more progressive brothers and sisters when they celebrate Pope Francis’s innovative liturgies, I also see traditionalism rounding the same bend in the opposite direction, ready for a head on collision. In order to avoid a high-speed wreck, both sides must arrive at some point of reconciliation before Pope Francis’s papacy rends the Church in a more profound way than the way in which liturgy has rent the Roman faithful. Yet, this reckoning will not come. Sadly, Pope Francis’s reign might well result in near-schism over “what a pope should be”.

  6. Apparently, St. Malachy was correct. This is the last Pope — if by that we mean the remnants of the Successor to Constantine rather than the fisherman Peter. And I say, RIP to former and you are centuries overdue to the latter. Viva.

  7. So … in regard to the much-lauded “hermeneutic of continuity” … this does or doesn’t comply?

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #8:
      The “hermeneutic of continuity” never meant that in accidental things, such as whose feet are being washed, there would always be continuity. Moreover, at least the last two popes have chosen to wash the feet of different groups. So the continuity was that there was no continuity anyway.

      There is a clear continuity here. After all he is still washing feet!

      You should not try to set up straw men.

      1. @Louis Veuillot – comment #14:
        There is more than “Clear continuity” here, Louis. Be honest, there is a mix of continuity and rupture. Including plenty of rupture.

  8. Catholic News Service gives some of the earlier history:


    At the start of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI reversed a 20-year Vatican tradition of washing the feet of priests during the Holy Thursday evening Mass. In 2006 and 2007, he returned to a practice in effect before 1985, when he washed the feet of 12 laymen from the Diocese of Rome during the evening Mass.

    From 2008 onward, Pope Benedict switched back to washing the feet of 12 priests from the Rome diocese.

    From 1985 to 2001, Blessed John Paul II washed the feet of 12 priests each year during the Holy Thursday Mass. Beginning in 2002, because of his weakened physical condition and his inability to walk, the pope had cardinals perform the foot-washing ritual, but always washing the feet of 12 priests.

    However, in the first six years of his pontificate, Pope John Paul continued Pope Paul VI’s practice of washing the feet of laypeople.

    For several years, Pope John Paul washed the feet of elderly laymen, including a group of homeless men living at a shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity in 1980. In 1983, he washed the feet of 12 young men from Italy’s Boys Town, and in 1984 the 12 were representatives of Rome parish youth groups.

    In 1974, Pope Paul washed the feet of 12 boys undergoing therapy for the effects of polio. In 1977, he washed the feet of 12 boys, ages 12-14, who were students at the Rome Diocese’s minor seminary..

    Sounds to me like we have a lot of continuity within two traditons. Francis, like Benedict for awhile, is going back to the prior practices of JP2 and P6 of washing the feet of laymen. Both JP2 and Benedict also washed the feet of priests. So all the recent popes have washed the feet of laymen, but some of them have washed the feet of priests. Maybe this Pope will be the first to wash the feet of laywomen since there are some women in this prison.

  9. Folks wishing to gain a fuller understanding of the Mandatum would benefit from reading Peter Jeffrey’s book A New Commandment: Toward a Renewed Rite for the Washing of Feet published by Lit Press. The mandatum has meant many things in many eras. Keen readers of the Missal know that it does not specify twelve men for the mandatum. Altering the number of footwashees – regardless of being young men or women in the prison next week – would do wonders to get people thinking about the mandatum in a broader way.

    1. @Michael Silhavy – comment #16:
      Well, I’ve long thought that the Mandatum-as-sign-of-Orders should be part of the Chrism Mass – where the ordinary should wash feet of his priests and deacons (how about all of them!) – and Mandatum-as-sign-of-Discipleship should remain in the EMOTLS as it has been received and practiced in many parts of the Church (oh, and I don’t mean Mandatum variants such as washing hands….shudder…)

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #17:
        I agree with you about different symbolisms/theologies arising from different ways of celebrating the Mandatum. I would be supportive of what Karl Liam describes EXCEPT having recently read Patrick Regan’s fine new book on comapring the seasons in the EF and OF, I am now more aware of the overly clerical (precisely, presbyteral) emphasis that the Chrism Mass now takes, in contrast to early versions.

        He analyzes the different orations, to be sure, but also notes how the addition of things like the presbyteral renewal of vows, make it seem much more like a celebration of ordained priesthood, rather than a celebration of our common baptismal priesthood. To be sure its both, but perhaps the former is overshadowing the latter? In some cases, even the role of the oils is overshadowed by other elements heavily focused on presbyteral ministry (i.e. the Preface…just how do we interpret the reference of the “one Priesthood” in the early part of that Preface?).

        Even in the way we conceive it, it’s often thought of as “a Mass for the bishop and his priests…oh and some laypeople come too!” Or maybe that’s just been how I’ve inferred it?

        All that being said, I do love the Chrism Mass, and look forward to participating in it every year. However, I’d be hesitant to add one more presbyteral focus such as a “Mandatum Part I”.

        But I’m open to hearing more about such a thing…it would certainly ease the burden of the evening Mass ritual, and open it to more potential theology.

  10. Pope Francis, in this “Year of Faith,” is challenging us to reflect on what we profess. Are we about following Jesus on His way to the Cross (and Resurrection) or are we about following the rubrics which are time & human bound which Peter can use his keys to unbind? “When I was in prison …”

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