Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church rules for a foot washing ritual on Holy Thursday, officially opening it up to women for the first time, although some churches have quietly allowed it all along.
The change, announced by the Vatican on Thursday, will allow priests to wash the feet of women and anyone else in the community on the evening before Good Friday, reported Religion News Service
. The act recreates Jesus Christ washing the feet of his 12 disciples at the Last Supper.
"After careful consideration, I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal," Pope Francis said in a letter posted on the Vatican's website and reported on by the Catholic Herald
"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. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen," said Pope Francis.
Joseph Shaw, who leads a Catholic church group The Latin Mass Society, told Reuters
that the rule change could hurt those trying to hold on to church traditions.
"I feel very sorry for priests who have been trying to obey liturgical law on this issue ... they may well feel betrayed," said Shaw. "Liturgical conservatives who have sought in recent decades to keep the rules ... often in the face of considerable pressure, may well feel the rug has been pulled from under them by this decree."
The pope raised eyebrows in 2013 shortly after his election when he washed the feet of a woman, a Muslim and other young people at a detention center near Rome, according to the Religion News Service.
"This is great news, a wonderful step forward," said Erin Hanna, co-director of the Woman's Ordination Conference, which advocates for female priesthood, according to Reuters. "This means that change is possible, doors seem to be opening in the Vatican."
Reuters noted that while some local parishes had already included women its Holy Thursday ritual, most have not strayed away from the church's rule of including only men.
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