POLL: Holy Thursday Footwashing Rite

According the law of the universal Church, crystal clear in the rubrics, clarified with official statments from the Holy See, when there is a footwashing rite during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, only males may be chosen to participate (viri selecti).

On the other hand, in very many places this specific and serious requirement is ignored. 

Keeping in mind that the footwashing rite is an option in that Mass, and it may be left out for a good reason, what was the practice in your parish THIS YEAR.  

Thus, you will probably have to wait to answer this until you see it happen… and no doubt you will because you are going to go.  

I went to the Mass tonight at St. John Lateran and was seated in choro just a few scant meters from the Sovreign Pontiff.  The sermon was fabulous.

I can assure you that the Bishop of Rome washed the feet of men.  



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tony says:

    You need another option for the poll. At my parish, we wash everyone’s hands after the clerics feet are washed (4 in number). The extraordinary ministers of communion (yes, we have an army of EMC’s) wash hands and the congregation processes up like at communion. This was the pastor’s idea. It’s interesting that his liturgical whims seem to be treated like liturgical law in my parish.

  2. SMJ says:

    I was watching the Mass tonight at St. John Lateran in the TV, and I saw Marini
    saying the words of the cansecration with the Pope! I hope this is wrong…

  3. Tony: Sadly we can’t foresee every bizarre possibility. However, people might post them IF AND ONLY IF they don’t turn their comment into a wacko rant. I am interested to know what is going on, but let’s confine ourselves with recounting FACTS without editorializing too much (just too keep it safe).

  4. John Polhamus says:

    Am I going to mass tonight? What’s that Fr.? I mean, yes, er, I AM going to to mass tonight…Fr!…Sir!! (Just kidding, I’m the organist…I have to go watch the liturgicircus whether I like it or not!) Actually, apart from what is likely to happen, they put together as traditional an altar of repose as you could want, and apart from the intrusive stone table altar, the church is a picturesque little gem with plenty of Romanita. It’s just such a pity about the liturgy. I’ll let you know…but yes, Fr. Sir, I’ll be there!!

    You might be gratified to know that with eleven in Choir and one server, Chorus Breviarii San Diego last night performed it’s Seventh annual Tenebrae of Holy Thursday (’62 breviary, gregorian chant). There were about thirty in attendance, many of whom were RCIA candidates, or even non-Catholic invitees. Two sets of double cantors were used, alternating with the full group, and the responsories were sung to a simple homophonic progression, thus creating a variation in texture which was achievable by (largely) musically untrained psalmists (most of the members of CB are “Psalmisti” commissioned in the old rite formula by Bishop Cordileone at Pontifical Vespers several years ago), while being highly time efficient. The office took exactly 2h 5 min. Not bad for time.

    Ironically, we had no clergy present, as the one available option was occupied with a parish Seder meal. I always thought that the rites of the Catholic church took precedence over playing bible times with sandles and turbans, and prefering to mock-adhere to a custom of the old covenant. Strangely, for me, Jesus Christ and his divinely instituted mass is the saving meal of the New Covenant, and there is no other. Maybe I’ve been mistaken about this all along! Can anyone correct me in this?

  5. John: Polhamus: Maybe I’ve been mistaken about this all along! Can anyone correct me in this? No, they really can’t. Not here. It is not on topic. Let’s kindly stick to the issue? o{]:¬/

  6. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Alas, had Bugnini & Co. not touched the received rite of Holy Week during the mid-1950s, one would not have to worry about female foot washing on Holy Thursday or a sufficient supply of pre-consecrated hosts for Good Friday.

    I do hope that any forthcoming motu proprio would allow leverage for the pre-55 Holy Week!

  7. Wm. Ch: Don’t hold your breath. I am quite a) it is going to happen someday and b) it will be for the 1962 Missale and not another edition.

  8. Stay within the topic of the entry, folks. Don’t cause Father more work or compel him to turn off the comments option. Thanks in advance!

  9. afanco says:

    At my old parish, everyone, as in everyone present, got a foot washed and everyone washed a foot. illicit.

  10. I am opening up the comments again with the hope that people will kindly respect what I asked above, and describe the facts of what happened in their parishes without editorializing to much. Just say what happened. People often start complaining about things and get off track.

    At the time of this writing the POLL is showing Males v Also Females to be running about even.

  11. Jordan Potter says:

    This year we followed the laws of the Church: twelve men were selected, one from each of our parish’s rosary groups. In past years, though, there have been women chosen to represent some of the twelve apostles. But I don’t think we’ve ever done any of the others kinds of abuse mentioned above.

  12. coreen herrick says:

    Our foot-washing ceremony was extremely irreverant. Some
    pre-teen and teenagers had been pre-selected. Their faces
    were not familiar so it would appear that they don’t go
    to Mass regularly but were probably from the CCD classes.
    Their behavior before, during, and after the foot-washing w
    was irreverant and distracting. Most of them made a bee-line
    for the bathroom after the ceremony.(The route to the bath
    room crosses in front of the altar)I thought that it should
    be only males participating but I was reading in the 1962
    missal this morning that the rubrics say “clerics or…from
    the people.” Can you clarify?

  13. Coreen: I was reading in the 1962 missal this morning that the rubrics say “clerics or…from the people.” Can you clarify?

    If that was for 1962, there is no question that “from the people” meant that men could be chosen from the parish who were not clergy. In no way would that permit for women, however.

  14. Diane says:

    Fr. Perrone at Assumption Grotto in Detroit has males only for the feet washing, as well.

    I have about 10 pics up from our Holy Thursday liturgy, but not of the actual foot washing as I was too far and the view was somewhat obstructed.

    I don’t know about anyone else’s parish, but mine was packed. People had to use the overflow parking lot after 6:30. It was an awesome experience for not being a holy day of obligation.

  15. Fr. John Pecoraro says:

    I washed the feet of 12 men again this year, happily I didn’t get any grief like last year. Although I’ll bet some of my parishioners think I dislike women, which is impossible, I mean my mother is a woman and everything. (grin)

  16. Denise says:

    At my parish the experience was similar to afancos.
    People came up by pairs and washed each other’s feet, or singly to have their feet washed by either a member of clergy or a participating lay person–both of whom were women.

  17. Fr Martin Fox says:

    The parochial vicar and I washed the feet of twelve men. This was the first year the two parishes I pastor had Holy Thursday Mass together, so I solicited six males from each parish.

    I did attempt to have men from various walks of life, and activities in the parish, and of different age, and we did have a teenage boy who is active in our youth group. The rubric doesn’t specify age, so I think an active teenager who is confirmed and handles himself well should be fine.

    In my two parishes, there have been a variety of practices in past years; but at one parish, the one where this Mass was celebrated, the most frequent practice was the one called for in the rubrics; at the other parish, that has not been observed for some years, but rather either the men-and-women, or the everybody gets washed (hands or feet). So my homily offered some information about the ritual and why the Missal specifies it this way.

    Now I wait to see if anyone pitches a fit about my approach, as this norm is not often followed hereabouts.

  18. swmichigancatholic says:

    I wish we could put the emphasis on the institution of the Holy Eucharist instead of foot-washing here. We all know about the foot washing and what it signifies but it gets totally out of hand. It’s become more like the handshaking and handholding that goes on.

  19. paw prints says:

    Hi Father,
    Thank you for a wonderful website. :)
    At my parish, men and women had their feet washed. Laywomen came up to dress the altar while the priests remained seated. There were no priests present in the church when Adoration concluded at midnight last night and a Eucharistic minister removed the Blessed Sacrament from the altar of repose to the sacristy.

  20. GCC Catholic says:

    Fr. Fox: That approach makes sense to me, especially your explanation of the rite to clarify it for those who might be offended by your following of the rite instead of their “norm.”

    Fr. Z, Fr. Fox, and Fr. Pecoraro: My parish was one of those that unfortunaely did not follow the given norm. Our pastor is not one to flagrantly abuse liturgical noms, but this was one that I have noticed the past couple of years. What would be an appropriate way to respond?

    Complication 1: My pastor has a degree in Canon Law, so I would think he knows the norm (though I could be wrong).
    Complication 2: As of earlier in the week, I’m now a seminarian for the diocese, and so I don’t want to do anything to be considered a “troublemaker.” I’d like to think this would not ever be an issue, but I realize it could be.

  21. Geoffrey says:

    At our parish, the Washing of the Feet was open to all… anyone who wanted to could take part… men, women, and children. The celebrant and concelebrant I think washed a total of 3 feet, then had theirs washed, and then just supervised everyone else. I’ve NEVER seen the rubrics followed in regards to the Washing of the Feet.

  22. Patrick says:

    At my church it was married couples who had their feet washed. I did not know this was wrong. How sad that no one followed what is proper.

  23. Lydia says:

    At our parish (the one we’re registered at), two men and two women wash the feet of everyone in the congregation. At the parish we attended, there was no washing of the feet.

  24. Andrew W says:

    We had 12 men chosen this year. Apparently, in years past, women were also chosen. This is my first year at this parish, so I wouldn’t know. I was even selected to have my foot washed this year! All of us selected sat in the front row, with our spouses and children. I sat next to another man’s wife who told me she had been selected in previous years.

  25. Thomas says:

    All men, with a little twist. The priest called for the MEN (emphatic and unmistakeable) to come forward, but one woman came up anyhow, and tried to direct where everyone was to sit, pointing and ordering about, despite the chairs having already been placed. I felt a little sorry for her as she went back to her pew with a red face. This is a very feminized parish, which I rarely visit, The older, and I think retired, priest wasn’t putting up with shenanigans!

  26. Mark Johnson says:

    My parish had a mix of men and women. Father Z, do you recommend writing our parishs priests when this happens? Any other suggestions for “doing something about it”, or do we just have to bear it as part of our respective crosses?

    Love and appreciate your website.

  27. Mark: The only thing I can recommend is writing a very kind note to the pastor asking him to explain the Church’s position on this. Keep a copy and, after consulting the pastor, feel free to ask the same question of the diocesan bishop, sending the copy of the pastor’s response. Be kind. Don’t lecture. Don’t try to teach. Don’t accuse. Just kindly, on one side of one sheet of paper ask for the explanation.

  28. Brian says:

    At my parish we had one odd Mass. It was a dual English/Spanish mixed Mass with powerpoint.

    For the foot washing, there were chairs in the isles by the pews. The first crew sat in the chairs and our priest washed the feet. Then the washed person got up and another sat down to be washed by the previous washed person. And so on until everyone who would sit down had their feet washed.

    Do we get the creativity award? :(

  29. Don Juan says:

    Unfortunately, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, the feet of men and women were washed. One of the men whose feet were washed was a concelebrating priest.

    However, the Mass was not all bad–lots of Latin hymns were sung throughout. Latin, seemingly, is becoming more and more in vogue at Notre Dame. During Lent, the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei were sung in Latin every day.

  30. Sean says:

    12 men back at my (new rite) home parish. Met the new priest too. I think he detected the whiff of the old rite upon me and not in a bad way.

  31. JustDave says:

    Our parish here in southern Minnesota set up four foot washing stations and invited anyone who wanted their foot washed to come forward. The idea being that once your foot (one foot) was washed then you would wash the next person’s foot. There were two people at each station to pass out a towel and empty the foot basin after each person. The station was set up right next to my pew and well, it was gross…sorry.

    The Mass was celebrated by our parocial vicar and he washed the foot of the first twelve people, and then took a seat. He is a young priest (6 years a priest) and you would see the tension on his face. He clearly was unhappy.

  32. If you are lucky enough to have a pastor who is also a fourth degree Knight of Columbus, try this. Have the pastor pick 12 fourth degree Knights all dressed in tuxedo and baldric and have them get their feet washed. No women in the Knights of Columbus…..Fr. McGivney knew what he was doing.

  33. nab says:

    Our pastor washed the feet of his three deacons and associate pastor. It was wonderful.

  34. Hank_F_M says:

    Instead of the Parish I went to Mass at Marytown. Since the roof in the main chapel fell down (see photo in link) the mass was in the conference center. Things were cramped and maybe skipping a right no could see would have been better, but the feet of twelve men were washed.

    The Parish I’m sure had men and women. The Cardinal is on record for following the rubrics, but the Parish, like most, follows the unofficial guidance of the worship office.

  35. If I’m not mistaken “viri” unambiguously means “men” not “males”, so that means not “boys” but adult men only, right?

  36. CT says:

    At the Cathedral here, 12 seminarians had their feet washed by the Archbishop. After washing their feet, he kissed their feet. Very moving.

  37. chloesmom says:

    At our parish, those who had their feet washed were boys and girls from this year’s Confirmation class — nine people in all. This is sadly typical of our pastor’s attitude. I’ve actually heard him say that when communications from Rome arrive, “we close our eyes.” His exact words… And don’t even get me started on the music, although we did the Pange Lingua and the Gloria in Latin (I’m the organist, and retiring this year bec. I’ve been there a long time, but primarily because I this kind of stuff is really getting to me). As for the Altar of Repose, the Blessed Sacrament was not exposed, but the Tabernacle doors were left open. Even then, many people walked by without even looking at the tabernacle. We need a homily on the Real Presence at the very least. We may say we believe in It, but we sure don’t act that way. Lord have mercy on us.

  38. Br. Pius says:

    I thought you might find this interesting, it is the Diocese of Phoenix’s justification for the washing of feet of women and children. It is technically true, but terribly misleading. While the Bishops certainly approved the norm, it was never granted a recognitio from Rome. I would expect better of Bishop Olmsted.


    In 1996, the U.S. bishops proposed a modification that would allow for the washing of women’s and children’s feet during the Holy Thursday service. This proposal received the necessary support of more than two-thirds of the U.S. bishops. Recognizing the support of the USCCB and in keeping with the tradition of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Olmsted allows for the washing of women’s and children’s feet in the Diocese of Phoenix.

  39. Boeciana says:

    Sigh. Ladies as well as chaps in my parish. After I’d been through the annual awkward conversation: ‘Do you want to have your foot washed?’ ‘No, I’m a girl.’ (Stony look from female parishioner who takes it as personal criticism)…)

  40. Fr. David says:

    I washed the feet of twelve high school men.
    The religion teacher, for the 11th and 12th Grades, wants to make this an annual tradition, in having Junior and Senior boys for the feet-washing on Holy Thursday.

  41. Jordan Potter says:

    “If I’m not mistaken ‘viri’ unambiguously means ‘men’ not “males”, so that means not ‘boys’ but adult men only, right?”

    Yes, that’s my understanding, for whatever that’s worth. The footwashing reenacts Christ’s washing the feet of His priests, to teach them and everyone else that the ministerial priesthood is about service and humility, not personal power and privilege. Since it has to do with the priesthood, when we wash the feet of women and children, we are in effect saying that we think women and children should be allowed to receive Holy Orders.

  42. Fabrizio says:


    no, vir means “male” in relation to sex. That’s its meaning, and as such it is used by the LEGAL documents for specific issues that need to be unmistakably clear (take legislation on acolytes). “Viri selecti” refers to “chosen males” with reference to the ontological prerequisite of malesness which is the first element to make the conformation to Christ possible. Christ was a male

    (Lewis & Short, orate pro nobis!!) ;-))

  43. PETER says:


    GOT THEIR FEET WASHED BY FR. UBEL—–I THOUGHT 12 MEN WERE REQUIRED. ‘SPLAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. Peter: First, kindly do not SHOUT at me on my blog.

    The word vir in Latin means “a male”, without regard to age. Also, the number of viri selected for the washing of feet is not specified in the rubrics. Twelve is ideal, because that was the number of the Apostles. However, the number is not specified.

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