Pope Francis invited a woman to this year’s foot-washing ritual. The religious leader insisted that all members of the people of God should be allowed to partake in the annual tradition.
Overturning centuries of tradition, Pope Francis on Saturday invited a woman for the annual foot-washing ritual. The completely unorthodox gesture during Lent has invariably upset conservatives but was hailed by women’s rights activists. The Pope, however, insists that he included the woman merely to ensure that all the members of the people that God created were included.
The grand gesture of including a woman in a ritual that has been, for centuries, reserved for males has shocked many Catholics worldwide. It was the Pope Francis’ intention to change the church’s centuries-old tradition and explicitly allow women and girls to participate in the Easter Week foot-washing ritual. Incidentally, the Pope had already performed the rite on women and Muslims just weeks after he was elected, reported Desert News.
Pope Francis on Thursday overturned centuries of tradition that banned women from a foot-washing service. Until now, only men or boys were formally allowed to participate in the annual ritual, in which a priest washes and then kisses the feet of 12 people. The ritual is to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died. Pope Francis, however, questioned the indirect condition that banned women. In a letter to the Vatican department that regulates rites of worship, he categorically questioned the logic behind the rule, stating the group should be made up of “all members of the people of God,” including women, reported the First Post.
While there’s nothing specifically mentioned about banning women from taking part in the foot-washing ritual, Vatican rules for the Holy Thursday rite have long noted that only men or young boys could participate. The ritual takes place in Catholic parishes around the world on Holy Thursday, four days before Easter, reports Reuters. While the ritual is performed by many priests, including the Pope, all of Pope Francis’ predecessors have traditionally performed the ritual on 12 Catholic men, recalling Jesus’ 12 apostles. Needless to add, this has only cemented the doctrine of an all-male attendance in a male-dominated Christian religious hierarchy.
Incidentally, while many traditional priests have steadfastly followed the rules about an all-male attendance, quite a few parishes have slowly welcomed the idea of including women and girls in some rituals that were previously meant strictly for boys. The orthodox rule followers are typically observed in the developing countries, where religious fervor and zealotry take precedence over the virtues that Christianity and other religions preach.
While Pope Francis surprised the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic community by including women in the foot-washing ritual within a few short weeks of getting elected to lead them, he had initiated the change when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. In fact, Pope Francis has even included young, old, sick, and healthy people of different faiths. During his many travels, the Pope has ensured he interacts with people of all religions with an equal commitment that reaches far above religion.
Officially confirming the change initiated by Pope Francis for the foot-washing ritual, the Vatican published a decree from the Vatican’s liturgy office, which read, “The rite can now be performed on anyone chosen from among the people of God. The group can include men and women, and ideally young and old, healthy and sick, clerical, consecrated and lay.”
The decree also outlined a few rules that seek to ensure those who participate in the ritual are aware of its significance, religious and otherwise.
“Priests must make sure that those participating are instructed beforehand as to the significance of the gesture. Pastors should instruct both the chosen faithful and others so that they may participate in the rite consciously actively and fruitfully.”
While words like “people of God” that have been traditionally used in the decree mean baptized Christians, the wording suggest rituals like the washing of the feet could be open to men and women of all faiths and not just Catholics.
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