Foot Washing

After the meal, Christ washed the feet of the Apostles. The Mystical Supper revealed His divine Son-ship and authority, urging his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. By washing the feet of His disciples, He manifested His perfect love and revealed His profound humility.

The scene of the foot-washing is depicted as described by the Gospels. Peter objected to having his feet washed by His Lord, Jesus replied that if He did not wash His feet then Peter had no communion with Him. Peter retorted: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” and this is how he is shown in icons of the scene, hand raised to indicate Christ should wash his head as well, only here I have in his place, a women.

Washing FeetFoot washing for men only?

According to Paschales Solemnitatis:


The proper significance of this ritual can be reviewed in the light of our contemporary society, for its valuable message. Christ came “not to be served, but to serve.” and to teach us to do the same through service and charity.


The Church’s official texts use language that indicates only men (Latin, viri) Today’s liturgy of the feet washing on Holy Thursday has recently become more complex. In 2005, Cardinal Sean O’Malley made a query to the Holy See about the matter of washing the feet of women in Boston.

After consulting the overseers of liturgical practices in Rome, it was suggested by that he was to use whatever pastoral decision he thought was best for the congregation. Cardinal O’Malley then included women in the foot-washing rite.

This sequence of events created a situation that was significantly muddier than expected. If the Cardinal O’Malley was allowed to make pastoral exceptions to the rule, it would be difficult to argue that other bishops could not do the same in their dioceses. This had the effect of creating a doubt as to what the law requires. According to the Code of Canon Law, “Laws, even invalidating and incapacitating ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt of law” (CIC 14).

SO THIS MEANS; Until the Holy See clarifies the matter, it appears that the law provides that only men are to have their feet washed in the ceremony but that the local bishop can choose to include women in his diocese if he deems it the best pastoral decision.

Mumbo Jumbo

During this years Maundy Thursday’s intimate foot washing service, 2016, the Pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 young imprisoned detainees to replicate the Bible’s account of Jesus Christ’s gesture of humility towards his 12 apostles on the night before he was crucified.

The 12 inmates included two girls, one Italian Catholic and one of Serbian Muslim origin, local prison Ombudsman Angiolo Marroni.

That was certainly a dramatic and timely gesture.

So I used this as my authorization for sacred image. I have created, written, painted, an Image of Foot Washing with Women. It is not orthodox but it does illustrate it is time to re-frame some of this historic mumbo jumbo. It is of paramount importance that we make new decisions about such simple stuff. Catholic women want to, and need to see themselves included in the Christ story, at all the events. Men need to see them there and I hope and want them there as well. It is correct in the scheme of perfect love.

I look to Pope Francis for direction and permission. It seems obvious living in our messy world, we all need our feet washed and be the foot washer for others as a gesture of perfect love and profound humility, regardless of gender.

Get the towels ladies.

13 Replies to “Foot Washing”

  1. Last Maundy Thursday I shared in a ceremony where an Anglican priest brought us up to date by washing our hands, claiming that we no longer walk in sandals through filthy streets, but our hospitals keep asking us to use their chemical cleaning materials on out hands because they are a meas of passing on infections. Women and men were involved. Do we have to do everything by rule, or can we make the point in a way that means something today?

  2. Jim I would ask your priest if, it really is true that we no longer walk through dirty streets with saddles? Look at Olepo or the dump area of Mexico City or Buenos Aires, etc. As to doing things by the rule, it is not the rule we might be questioning but the meaning and intent of the rule. We humans are in need of spiritual cleansing, inside and out. Ceremonies and rituals are to remind us who and whose we are. peace be with you

  3. I see the ritual of washing each others feet as an act of humility. Yes, we wash before we go out, but its the symbolism of doing the act that is important and I have participated in the Episcopal Church foot washings for many, many years – there was never an issue whether we were male or female. One of the most moving moments to me was at at Co-Ed Cursillo – I, being a white female, washed the feet of a black man. It brought tears to both of us. That is what the foot washing is about to me. Humility.

  4. I don’t understand Mary Jane Miller’s response; we do not live in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, or any other such place — where washing of feet would be appropriate. If one is to think of intent and meaning in the rule, then it makes sense to wash one’s hand in our culture. This has been discussed before in parishes I have served as I said it would be feet, but the medical people convinced me that hands are a more important sign. Two winters ago a physician friend of mine said that the numbers of folks appearing in the emergency room dropped significantly because the flu had news broadcasts saying the one should be washing hands to reduce flu — and folks did, and the flu cases dropped dramatically.

  5. Thank you for your comment. I too have never had an issue with being a woman at contemporary ritual foot washings. I speak and am focused on the images we have been handed down. To include Women in the images i have been working with is significant intended to shift awareness on a subtle level. Visual images where male and female are one body in Christ is a good thing, one that was not so present in early iconography. Peace be with you

  6. In 47 years of being an active Christian I have never been left out of the foot washing. Nor have I ever heard of it being only for men. It is an act of humilty and obedience to Jesus’ command to do to others as I have done for you.

    Feet over hands: Humility – most people don’t want you to look at their feet – especially men. The bunions, calluses, scales, deformities etc. Women often get pedi cures just before Maundy Thrurs. I have heard so many male clergy say when planning the Maundy Thursday litugy, “Know one is touching my feet”! Thank you, Peter. And still they will not allow the congregation to experience this deeply spititual and healing service, because; no one is going to touch their feet! What a shame.
    How does the leader of God’s flock decide that every will be deprived of Jesus’ command because they are too proud? I wouldn’t want to answer for that one when asked, “What did you do with the people I gave you?”

    Man’s rules, man’s hang-ups; man’s pride and sin. Maybe we women are blessed to be left out ater all.

  7. I must learn to write more clearly, judging from the comments people have failed to realize i am talking a visual language here and that language stems from a largely male hierarchy. all that said, I agree with your comment. I have never been left out either, But i speak of perhaps 500 years ago. Who knows how these re enactments began, i only suggest there is a stigma being lifted from women and our participation on many levels, foot washing is a symbol of that change, peace be with you in the new year,

  8. First of all, it’s a beautiful image, as always, Mary Jane. Second, the fact we’re even arguing about whether women’s feet can be washed in the tradition that supposedly finds its roots in the Way of Jesus is troubling. It really suggests how much we have missed the point of that Way of being children of G_d and far distanced from our roots our tradition has become.

    Jesus wept.

  9. So sorry , I do not see us as arguing but rather learning clarifying what we believe and see as truth. In my little article i wrote….
    ” It is of paramount importance that we all need our feet washed and be the foot washer for others as a gesture of perfect love and profound humility, regardless of gender. Catholic women want to, and need to see themselves included in the Christ story, at all the events. Men need to see them there and I hope and want them there as well. It is correct in the scheme of perfect love.”
    The icon has provoked a great discussion. We do need our feet washed repeatedly and it is humility to admit it.

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