Parishes to include women in washing of feet on Maundy Thursday; community divided

Inclusive is the buzz word this Holy week, as parishes across Mumbai are going to include women in the washing of the apostles’ feet, scene from the Bible to be re-enacted in churches on Maundy Thursday.

Inclusive is the buzz word this Holy week, as parishes across Mumbai are going to include women in the washing of the apostles’ feet, scene from the Bible to be re-enacted in churches on Maundy Thursday.

A man looks at the Instagram account of Pope Francis (Franciscus). The Pope is expanding his presence on social media with an Instagram account. The pontiff, who has more than 26 million followers on his Twitter account, launched his own account on Instagram on March 19, 2016. The Pope’s account uses @Franciscus, his name in Latin. Pic/AFP
A man looks at the Instagram account of Pope Francis (Franciscus). The Pope is expanding his presence on social media with an Instagram account. The pontiff, who has more than 26 million followers on his Twitter account, launched his own account on Instagram on March 19, 2016. The Pope’s account uses @Franciscus, his name in Latin. Pic/AFP

Several parishes are including women in washing of the feet, though some parishes did do so earlier, it was very few and far between. This time though it is the first time that so many parishes are going to practice this.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias
Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay said through a circular which went to city parishes, “On the first Maundy Thursday service after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis washed the feet of several inmates, at one of Rome’s prisons. There was great wonderment because among those whose feet he washed were some girls, and some not belonging to the Catholic faith.”

Tereza Noronha, Sylvia Fernandes and Theresa Barretto
Tereza Noronha, Sylvia Fernandes and Theresa Barretto

Although the Vatican spokesman Fr Frederico Lombardi said that this was not to be taken as changing the Discipline of the Church, but that the Holy Father was sending a message.

In the first point, Gracias’ circular also printed in ‘The Examiner’ which is the official Catholic news service, and, considered the mouthpiece of the community says, “The previous document prescribed that the feet of 12 men be washed. Now this is changed to ‘people of God.’ Hence, the prescription to wash only the feet of men no longer holds. Women too could be part of the group whose feet are washed.”

Crompton Texeira (69) lector at Our Lady of Egypt, Kalina, says, “The Church keeps pace with the changing times. This is a welcome practice. Just like the sun shines on everyone, God is of and for everyone. God is for man, woman, rich and poor. He has no favourites.”

Just like change everywhere though, this one too faces some resistance. Judith Monteiro, secretary, Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) says, “I appeal to the Holy Father not to change significant incidents relating to Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Christ’s chosen apostles, even at the Last Supper were 12 men, no more, no less. Peter his apostle was the first Pope. Today, it is women apostles, what next, a female Pope?” asks Judith in an anguished tone.

It is anguish to ecstasy though for Fr Warner D’Souza from the St Jude Church at Malad (E). “About time!” says Fr Warner who will wash the feet of six men and six women on Thursday. “When I told a lady in the church I will be washing her feet this Thursday, her immediate reaction was “No! Absolutely not,” which, incidentally, the very reaction Jesus got from Peter, when he washed his feet before the Last Supper,” said Fr Warner. He continues, “This is not a gender issue alone, and putting it in a gender-only perspective is very narrow. This is about equality and doing good unto people.”

Tereza Noronha, (86) Malad resident who is going to get her feet washed, says, “I am so glad that I am going to be part of the revised decree. I have witnessed so much change in the world in my 86 years, especially pertaining to gender equality. I am happy that I get to witness and be part of this change and experience it in my lifetime. I felt God has chosen me and is blessing my family and me in this year of mercy. God Bless Pope Francis.”

Fr Michael Goveas, Rector, Cathedral of the Holy Name in Colaba, says, “There is no problem with washing the feet of women. We are going to wash the feet of six men and six women from different backgrounds,”
he said.

The Malad church will see washing the feet of Theresa Barretto (65) who is a widow. “Fr Warner told me I would be representing all widows. I feel so blessed and honoured. Women are being represented so much better in the Church now, I am humbled that I will be a part of this new tradition,” says Barretto. Sylvia Fernandes (29) will represent youth on Maundy Thursday, Fr Warner will wash her feet, leaving her humbled. “This is such a blessing. I am completely zapped at these big steps towards women’s equality,” she said.

Yet, whenever tradition is tweaked, there is uneasiness and some unhappiness. The Syro-Malabar Catholics, who follow the Eastern tradition, are unhappy with the proposed change. “We have been following a certain tradition for centuries now, and this change is completely unnecessary. Cardinal George Alencherry, the Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, had asked for clarification on this matter from the Vatican, and received a response, saying Eastern churches don’t need to follow the decree,” said a Kalyan priest.

Mumbai’s Adv. Arthur D’Mello, who heads a group called, ‘Catholics for the Preservation of the Faith’ says, “The Pope is at liberty to change liturgy. Yet, he cannot change scripture and tradition. Tradition says that there were 12 apostles whose feet were washed and these were all men. If this is what happened then, we have to stick to that.”

Dolphy D’Souza, former president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS) said that change was “long overdue.” He added, “This decree is about gender parity, cutting across communities and patriarchy. The Pope broke the gender barrier, and we ought to as well,” he finished emphatically.

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1 Comments

  • Arcanjo25-Mar-2016

    Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (PA)who is The Vatican liturgy chief reportedly said that priests should act according to their own consciencePriest are not obliged to wash the feet of women during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments

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