Maundy Thursday Ritual Admits Women

On Thursday, the Vatican announced that a key ritual during Easter week will admit women this year. On Maundy Thursday of Easter week 2016, the 12 people chosen to participate in the foot-washing ceremony with Pope Francis will include women, who have been traditionally left out of the rite in the past.

CNN reports that this change is more than an isolated symbolic act. In an official statement from the Vatican, it was confirmed that the decision to admit women to the Maundy Thursday rite was a permanent one. Changes had been made to the Roman Missal allowing women to take part in this Easter Week event.

The event is one of the series of rituals intended to memorialize incidents in the last week of the life of Christ in his human incarnation. Known as “Holy Week” by most Christians, the days leading up to Easter in Western Christian tradition are also known by some as the last week of Lent, a 40-day vigil preceding Easter. The Maundy Thursday narrative is devoted to the words and actions of Jesus Christ and the apostles at their supper together. During the evening, Christ expressed his devotion to his followers by a ritual ablution of foot washing. In the New Testament, this called back to the accounts of various miraculous healings credited to the religious figure throughout the quartet of gospel accounts of the life of Christ.

Pope Francis conveyed his support for this idea, stating that it was a more accurate reflection Christ’s ministry to humanity, adding, “His giving of himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, his limitless charity.”

“After careful consideration, I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the washing of the feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God.”

The original letter from Pope Francis calling for the change admitting women to the ritual was issued to the head of the liturgy office December 20 of last year. The implementation of women’s inclusion in the ritual comes after nearly two years of resistance from the office, which is headed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is a conservative traditionalist. As a group, the office released a statement regarding the change to the ritual.

“Our prayer during this Year of Mercy is that the inclusion of women in the church not stop at our feet, but will be one of many signs to include women fully in the institutional church.”

Although the change in the Roman Missal comes as a shock to many conservative members of the church, this is not without precedent. In 2013, Pope Francis chose the group of 12 to participate in the ritual from a group of juvenile offenders. Along with the males who were included by dint of tradition were women and Muslims. This radical move to include non-Christians and women was seen by observers of the Vatican and Pope Francis in particular as another iconoclastic move by the characteristically progressive head of the Roman Catholic Church.

While the move was celebrated by those who wish to see the roles of women in the Catholic Church continue to evolve, observant conservatives have already weighed in with their reservations. Rorate Caeli, a traditionalist Christian blog that reports on developments in Roman and Anglican ritual and social policies, weighed in on the matter. The author of the post opined that the change to the ritual was inevitable, going on to predict this would not be the end of moves away from liturgical traditions, with a wholesale overhaul of the Novus Ordo (the entire liturgical canon) possibly happening in the future.

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