Rubric change for the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday

Pope Francis has introduced a change into the Roman Missal for the rubrics of Holy Thursday in a decree dated 6 January 2016 (but published 1/21/16). In article n. 11 of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the text “the men who have been chosen” has been changed to “those chosen from among the people of God.” This change reflects Pope Francis’ desire that those chosen would reflect “the variety and unity” of the people of God, including “men and women, young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople” (CDWDS 6 Jan. 2016).

While the significance of the rite of the Washing of the Feet in its original form was “more explicitly an imitative sign” making present the action of Jesus at the Last Supper, the new form emphasizes the command of Jesus “I have given you an example, that you should do likewise” (Jn 13:15). According to Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

“The significance does not now relate so much to the exterior imitation of what Jesus has done, rather as to the meaning of what he has accomplished which has a universal importance, namely the giving of himself “to the end” for the salvation of the human race, his charity which embraces all people and which makes all people brothers and sisters by following his example” (2016-01-21 L’Osservatore Romano).

Read the Vatican's press release here, including the text of the decree.

Read an article by Cardinal Sarah outlining the history of the rite and theology of the recent change published in L'Osservatore Romano.

Full text of the decree by the CDWDS, dated 6 January 2016:

"The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.

In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.

In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.

To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully."