Now that whole sad issue of the washing of the feet of women has been settled by the powers-that-be, I’m hearing from people all over the place that their “Mandatum” is being dropped from their Holy Thursday Masses.

In any event, I still want to provide a Public Service Announcement to help to clarify some issues surrounding the foot washing rite.  It’s what I do.

So, here are a few Questions which need to be Worked Through before Holy Thursday arrives.

  1. How will the stockings work?
  2. How many days before should the pedicure be obtained? I’ve already heard the opinion that it should be the day immediately before, but I know nothing of these things.  (Do any of us think that a woman chosen for priestly foot-handling won’t get a pedicure?  Will this new option, therefore, change our custom of calling Wednesday “Spy Wednesday”?  Does it take on a new meaning?)
  3. In the ancient church the newly baptized wore their albs for the Octave. Should women wear toe-less (open-toed?) shoes to indicate their new Status as lavatae?
  4. What about the “transgendered”?  Could a priest who doesn’t want to do this, but has the bishop and others breathing down his neck, get “women” who were (and really still are) men?

I am sure I am missing few points, but this is a start.

Best wishes for your Holy Thursday.

Oh… by the way… the foot-washing rite always was only an option, not obligatory, and it is still a legitimate option to wash the feet of males only, thus eliminating the need to form a committee to resolve the aforementioned.

Moderation queue is, yes, ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The mandatum rite cannot be dropped quickly enough from parochial masses. It was always, simultaneously, the slowest and the most contentious 10-15 minutes of the liturgical year.

  2. spock says:

    A fair amount of snark today. One of the priests at my Church supported the Holy Father’s decision to wash the feet of a Muslim girl. I wanted to ask if he would give her holy communion as well. Where to draw the line between welcoming people and respecting the fact that a person is not of our faith and the ramifications of that reality is a problem we have. Let alone the argument of washing the feet of women which is yet another issue. I guess we’re celebrating diversity or something.

  3. Oh Father Z, absolutely priceless… it reminds me of the dilemmas I faced as a wannabe traddy womyn-priest a few years back!

  4. Michael_Thoma says:

    Why not Institute EMFWs to pass the washing down the line? That way the priest only has to do one feet or a handful and they can do it all the way down to the last pew, so that no one is excluded. Of course, all volunteers should be psychologically evaluated to eliminate feet fetishists. And a pedi should be required in the previous weeks bulletin. AND instead of water, a bowl of hand (feet) sani.. of course apply liberally to lips for the footkiss..

  5. VexillaRegis says:

    Dr. Peters, you are right, but if you choose a person like my dear son for the foot washing, it sure wouldn’t be slow and boring at all. He happens to have very prickly feet :-)!

  6. lana says:

    OK, so I was recently reading some Catholic site somewhere reminding me that we lay people are supposed to be obedient to our pastors. [
    Not in everything.]
    I would rather die than have my feet washed. If I am asked do I HAVE to say yes? [No!] Is it OK to say some Jesuit lie like ‘I am not sure’ when approached by a priest asking whether I am going on Holy Thursday, with a mental reservation such as ‘I am not sure if I am going because if I am asked to have my feet washed I will say I am not sure and then drive hours if necessary to the next church where no one knows me and I can hide in the back and arrive 10 minutes late so no one asks me to have my feet washed….’. Or what do I do if I am approached on Holy Thursday itself?

    A distraught readerette

    [Don’t lie. Say, “No!” If he wants a longer explanation say, “Noooooooo!”]

  7. rroan says:

    Michael_Thoma, what you describe isn’t far from what is (was I hope by now) practiced at the parish at which I went through RCIA .

    At that parish, multiple washing stations were placed in front of the sanctuary at the head of each aisle, and anyone who wished could come up and wash the feet of the person who was in line in front of him. When he was done, he would in turn take a seat and have his feet washed by the next person in line!

  8. de_cupertino says:

    As long as I can remember (only back to the 90s; I’m young), at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper they just invited everyone up who wanted to have their feet washed — without any restriction on sex or number of people. A long rite indeed. I’m not even sure all the ministers were clergy. I always felt a little peer pressure to join in but never succumbed. This is in California.

  9. Denis Crnkovic says:

    I am so old. You all seem so young, not remembering a time when there really weren’t any foot washings in the local parishes. When I was a little ‘un, no local parishes had this ceremony; it was tough enough just getting through the Tenebrae that week. Foot washing was one of those things that pious Austrian emperors used to do out of humility and for a few lucky souls who got gold coins out of the deal. Otherwise anything mandatum about Maundy Thursday was left to the canon over at the Episcopal high church. O, for the good old days!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. Janol says:

    I think I’d say “No, I haven’t ascended yet.”

  11. kurtmasur says:

    Oh my, what a dilemma with the mandatum, as revised by Pope Franics. Especially the issues with 1) stockings and 4) the transgendered “women”….. HA!

    But as hilarious as it sounds, I have a gut feeling these issues might turn up eventually in some parish somewhere in the world, especially the stockings…

    That said, I like Michael_Thoma’s solution of instituting EMFWs to perform the mandatum…. let’s face it, Francis’ version of the mandatum is very “Vatican II-ish”…so you might as well install EMFWs while you’re at it.

  12. Nan says:

    The proper response is “I don’t think women belong in the Sanctuary, therefore I am unable to have my feet washed.” There’s a liturgist who would self-immolate before this happened.

    [Or, say, “No!”]

  13. andia says:

    What do you mean we don’t have to listen to our priests in everything? What are we not allowed to refuse and what can we. Thanks.

    [“Shut up!”, he explained.]

  14. Neal says:

    Not to be contentious, but the Mandatum is accompanied by one of the best chants of the year, Ubi caritas. It would be a shame to skip it for that reason alone. Why not just do it right?

  15. JamesM says:

    Yet another reason to attend Mass in the EF on Holy Thursday

    [The Mandatum can be done in the EF.]

  16. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Neal: With all due respect, that might not be the best reason to continue the optional mandatum. For the OF Masses, which allow significant flexibility in choice of chants and hymns, why not just chant Ubi Caritas at a different part of the Mass (for example, offertory procession when gifts for the poor are brought up together with bread and wine). Best of both worlds: beautiful chant yet no silliness with the mandatum or contentiousness over women feeling “excluded.”

  17. Grumpy Beggar says:

    The perplexing problem of the bare foot – ladies’ feet, stockings, pedicures, nail polish, foot fetishes, the slowness and contentiousness, and ticklish feet can all be solved with , THIS

    . . . goes a lot faster and you don’t even need to take your boots off .

  18. Mike C says:


    I have a son who is now 2. I suppose he cannot be counted among “viri”, yet I think as he is baptised he can be counted among “populo Dei”, whose feet can be washed now…. I think his feet should be washed, or the Church must be “ageist”.


  19. Kathleen10 says:

    My impression of the times I did see the foot washing was it represented Christ and the apostles, an act of service and humility, (the real kind). Out of that context what meaning does it have.
    Today for Palm Sunday we had a female reader reading the parts of the crowd. We did not read the part as we always did. We were told the USCCB said we were not to read the part, and as I said, a very young female read it for us. What’s up with that?

  20. chonak says:

    Under the usual conditions, I believe the parishioner can have the pedicure up to seven days before or after the foot-washing.

  21. Today some my Knights of Columbus asked about the foot washing on Holy Thursday, and I informed them I was no longer washing feet since the Holy Father granted the permission to wash the feet of women. Somehow I don’t think the Blessed Virgin had her feet washed, and I think she was only one worthy of this grace. I too wonder about women presenting as men if I continues the male only policy. God Bless us all.

  22. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Denis Crnkovic notes, ” Foot washing was one of those things that pious Austrian emperors used to do out of humility and for a few lucky souls who got gold coins out of the deal.” Wikipedia (“Royal Maundy”) reports “Records from 1556 show that Mary washed the feet of forty-one poor women (reflecting her age) while ‘ever on her knees’, and gave them forty-one pence each, as well as gifts of bread, fish, and clothing, donating her own gown to the woman said to be poorest of all.”

    It is recorded of St. Oswald of Worcester, Archbishop of York, that he washed the feet of twelve poor men and served them at table each day during Lent, and, on 28 February 992, died as he completed this task, while singing the Gradual Psalms.

  23. johnpeter says:

    I just want to second what rroan said. The parish I used to attend did the exact same thing. It’s in North Carolina, by the way.

  24. Jeannie_C says:

    Couple years back I told my priest he could not wash my feet. Only men to handle them being my husband and physician. End of discussion.

  25. cda_sister says:

    I, for one,was very upset at the change regarding the Mandatum and sad when I learned that it would not be part of our Holy Thursday Mass this year. I must admit I went on a bit of a rant about liberal women and their issues. For the past several years in our parish 12 young men from Confirmation class have been selected for this rite. It was such a moving part of the Holy Thursday Mass to see these boys enter the sanctuary and have Father wash their feet. Since this was the night on which Christ instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist, it was a beautiful symbol of priestly service. And one always prayed that this might be the moment that would lead one or more of these young men to discernment. I never knew the Mandatum was optional until educated by my former pastor a few weeks ago. As a result of the change by the Holy Father, our new pastor is having a morning prayer service to include the washing of the feet of some of the members of our community that are assisted by our St Vincent de Paul Society, followed by breakfast being served to them. Albeit not what I had hoped for, what better example of priestly service than caring for the poor.

  26. Volanges says:

    Kathleen10 says: Today for Palm Sunday we had a female reader reading the parts of the crowd. We did not read the part as we always did. We were told the USCCB said we were not to read the part, and as I said, a very young female read it for us. What’s up with that?

    If done in parts, rather than read through, the Passion is only supposed to be read by three persons: the narrator, the priest as Jesus and one other reader. Paschale Solemnitatis is clear on that:

    P.S. 33. The Passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three persons who take the part of Christ, the narrator and the people. The Passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers; in the latter. case, the part of Christ should be reserved to the priest.

    Sometimes you do with the readers you have available. There is no male reader in our parish who is available to read at the Saturday evening Mass.

  27. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Grumpy Beggar, LOL! And thank you for reminding me that my son (probably) belongs to my family and not the cactaceae ;-)

  28. Michael_Thoma says:

    My Syriac Tradition has the practice but only when a bishop is present. He does the washing, only for the priests, deacons and/or altar servers (male only) numbering 12 (sometimes more, bishops choice). It’s usually omitted outside the Cathedral since the bishop is usually not present.

    My sarcastic EMFWs being a reality in some Latin parishes is both disturbing, shocking, absurd and someGermanwordforlaughteroutofsadness.

  29. Joseph-Mary says:

    “Under the usual conditions, I believe the parishioner can have the pedicure up to seven days before or after the foot-washing….”

    Now that is funny!

    But for me, I shall drive to an Abbey where this option is not done. And!

  30. Ferde Rombola says:

    The pastor at my parish not only washes the feet of women (it used to be 6 men and 6 women) he has now added children to the mix; one of each gender, naturally. I suppose a dog and a cat are in the future.

    Accordingly, this coming Thursday I will not attend Mass at my parish, but will go to a more Catholic parish in the next town.

    I always considered the washing of the feet of twelve men to be an integral part of the institution of the priesthood by Our Lord at the Last Supper. That’s why, until the current Pope once again followed his preference instead of Christ’s, the rubics said, wash the feet of 12 men or eliminate the ceremony. Those were the days.

    Fr. Z’s longer answer (Noooooo) is a keeper.

  31. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Short answer: No.
    Long answer: Noooooooo.

  32. Sandy says:

    All the foot washing turmoil is bad, but really makes me sad about Holy Thursday is that the priests I hear speak almost always omit what is to me, the key point of the day. That is, that Jesus instituted the priesthood and gave us the Holy Eucharist. Priests seem embarrassed to draw attention to the fact that they are “special”, and can do what no lay person can do. As another commenter said, I long for the old days! God bless you, Father Z, and the holy priests who come to your site!

  33. MarkJ says:

    I do not like the foot washing as a part of the Holy Thursday Mass, and no matter whose feet are being washed, I find it to be an uncomfortable and awkward part of Mass each Holy Thursday, which detracts from the Institution of the Eucharist and the Institution of the Priesthood.

  34. cl00bie says:

    If it’s okay with the CDW, it’s okay with me. I have been asked to do things liturgically in my parish that I’ve been uncomfortable with, and my response is: “If it’s okay with Fr. X, the orthodox director of liturgy in the diocese, it’s okay with me”. The usual response is: “You don’t need to call him”.

    If there are things being done liturgically that are either mandated or allowed by the one holy catholic and apostolic church, I’ll do it. And if I don’t like it and do it anyway, I get to practice obedience. I also get the additional patience practice.

  35. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    I wonder if the (medieval) pontifical and episcopal and the ‘Royal Maundy’ and Holy Roman Imperial practices by giving more context prevented any detracting or even distracting from the Institution of the Eucharist and the Institution of the Priesthood?

  36. Cafea Fruor says:

    I admit, I haven’t been to Holy Thursday evening Mass in probably ten years, with the exception of one year. I always go to the Chrism Mass at my diocese’s cathedral, and then I spend the evening in reflection at home. The one exception year was the year I spent the spring in a Carthusian monastery – they simply don’t have foot washing in their rite (Carthusians have their own Carthusian Rite), so the only foot-washing done was the prioress washing the feet of the nuns during their chapter, and nowhere near Mass, it was pretty darned clear there was nary a bit of confusion about the roles of women and priests. (Of course, there was some Gospel-reading and stole wearing done by one of the choir nuns, but that was during chapter and is totally legit, as the Carthusians have long maintained the consecration of virgins, and a Carthusian nun who is a consecrated virgin reads the Gospel for the community whenever there is no priest, i.e. during chapter (because the monks never enter the Sisters’ cloister except in certain cases, like when a Sister is dying and needs anointing). cf. http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2012/10/more-interesting-snippets-from.html#.VvAqnNIrK9I. Incidentally, I think that was the ONLY time I ever heard someone wearing a rose stole NOT make any defensive note about its being rose and not pink…

  37. Nan says:

    No, it’s better to keep my responses consistent. I’ve been asked why I’m neither reader nor EMHC. It’s truly a moot point because the loaner Bishop is unlikely to make waves and the liturgist is unlikely to suggest it.

    Yesterday I went to a parish that has been fine otherwise but was horrified that the altar servers were also EMHCs, readers and they, together with the priest read for Palm Sunday, with the rest of us reading the crowds lines.

    My parish instituted all make altar servers a few years ago and I haven’t seen a woman altar server since. So it was a bit jarring, ASD was hert participation in the Palm Sunday reading.

  38. acricketchirps says:

    We in the schola like the mandatum. We get to sing some lovely not-too-difficult chant and the congregation is bored by what’s happening up front for a change instead of being bored by an some interminable gradual or tract coming from behind.
    Foot washing? Wouldn’t do it.

  39. Elizabeth M says:

    Want to stop the laity from participating in things they shouldn’t? Start at home especially & in school. Stop mimicking foot washings with the whole family as participants. Stop holding Seder-type meals on Holy Thursday. What else is one to think after having grown up with these activities happening at home, with little or no in depth teaching about what the Church is REALLY doing, and then as an adult demanding all can participate. Little Sally is going to grow up having her feet washed by her mom, brothers, sisters and that formation will stay clearer in her mind that anything handed down from a local Bishop.

  40. Imrahil says:

    As for the “women in the Sanctuary” thing, the Mandatum takes place not in, but in front of, the Sanctuary.

    [Apart from the fact that while there was once a very sensible rule that women may not stand in for clergy (“altar serving”) just as little as be clergy, there was no rule, nor ever has been, specifically against the local physical presence specifically of women in the Sanctuary.]

  41. Grumpy Beggar says:

    VexillaRegis says:

    “Dear Grumpy Beggar, LOL! And thank you for reminding me that my son (probably) belongs to my family and not the cactaceae ;-)”

    Hi VexillaRegis . Thanks for the feedback. Fr. Z got me as well with the –

    [. . . Say, “No!” If he wants a longer explanation say, “Noooooooo!”]

    so I wanted to try and leave a little something for the funnybone on the table too . . . a well placed smile can do wonders for the morale while we deal with difficult situations. BTW, your response reminded me of another ticklish one:

    I saw a single-frame cartoon in a newspaper some years back where a baby porcupine had inadvertently backed into a cactus and seemed to be stuck there . . .while trying in vain to turn its head around, the baby porcupine calls out, “Is that you mom ?”

    Kidding aside, our Blessed Lord’s washing of the Apostles’ feet is rich in varied symbolism. But we really should ask ourselves why he washed their feet in such close proximity and anticipation of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist- He washed the feet of His priests-to-be.

    Father John Hardon, S.J., in His Modern Catholic Dictionary says our Blessed Lord” washed the feet of his disciples to teach them humility as a condition for the practice of charity.”

    Apparently the act of humility was a great one : A Jewish host would never wash the feet of a guest – neither would a Jewish slave, but this type of task was only fit for gentile slaves . . . which might help explain why St. Peter objected so strongly at the outset before submitting.

    There are several more in-depth interpretations in the article at Patheos entitled Understanding the Washing of the Feet , including an insight from Pope Benedict XVI and, a favorite of mine from Venerable Fulton Sheen:

    “The scene was a summary of His Incarnation. Rising up from the Heavenly Banquet in intimate union of nature with the Father, He laid aside the garments of His glory, wrapped about His Divinity the towel of human nature which He took from Mary; poured the laver of regeneration which is His Blood shed on the Cross to redeem men, and began washing the souls of His disciples and followers through the merits of His death, Resurrection and Ascension.”

    For me personally, the priests who perform the washing of the feet in the mandatum rite do not stike me half as much as following Christ’s example as those priests who make themselves available to us in the Sacrament of Confession do ; where the real washing gets down to the real dirt and where the priest consistently gives of humself, that we may have etrnal life. It was because he was doing precisely this (hearing Confessions) that the Cure of Ars caused a vinegrower from Macon who had gone to Ars to see the Cure to,exclaim upon his return home : ” I have seen God in a man.”

    God bless Fr. Z and all our fellow combox partakers.

  42. Healingrose1202 says:

    We always had several pairs of volunteers sign up prior to Holy Thursday to wash each other’s feet in the aisles at specific intervals among the congregation. The priest also had someone assigned to him who he switched with for washing of each of their feet. My mother and I signed up one year to wash each other’s feet. I find that the whole process very distracting, and the significance seems to always get lost.

  43. Nan says:

    Imrahil, my now former parish does the foot washing in the Sanctuary. I don’t believe that women belong there without good reason; I object to the presence of the choir when it’s in the Sanctuary. There’s a perfectly good choir loft, which is where they belong.

    Fr. Z, I do amend my response to “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Archbishop Hebda washed the feet of four men and four women. The liturgy guide tipped me off as it referred to washing the feet of the faithful. I was sorely tempted to leave. I don’t have to go back.

    The lovely liturgist had nothing to do with it. He was elsewhere and if he washed feet, I assume they all belonged to men.

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