Pope changes church rule for gen­der-friendly pre-Easter rite


Pope Fran­cis has changed church reg­u­la­tions to cor­re­spond to his rule-break­ing cel­e­bra­tion of the Easter Week rit­ual of wash­ing the feet of men and women, Chris­tians and not, in a sign of uni­ver­sal ser­vice.

Vat­i­can rules for the Holy Thurs­day rite had long called for only men to par­tic­i­pate, and popes past and many priests tra­di­tion­ally per­formed the rit­ual on 12 Catholic men, re­call­ing Je­sus’ 12 apos­tles.

Shortly af­ter he was elected, Fran­cis raised con­ser­va­tive eye­brows by per­form­ing the rite on men and women, Chris­tians as well as Mus­lims, at a Ro­man ju- ve­nile de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Rome.

He has con­tin­ued to in­clude men and women, young and old, sick and healthy and peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths, trav­el­ling each year to en­counter them to show his will­ing­ness to serve.

It was a tra­di­tion he be­gan as arch­bishop in Buenos Aires.

On Thurs­day, the Vat­i­can pub­lished a de­cree from the Vat­i­can’s liturgy of­fice in­tro­duc­ing an “in­no­va­tion” to the church’s rules that cor­re­sponds to Fran­cis’ way of do­ing things.

The de­cree said the rite can now be per­formed on any­one “cho­sen from among the peo­ple of God.”

It spec­i­fies that the group can in­clude “men and women, and hope­fully young and old, healthy and sick, cler­i­cal, con­se­crated and lay.”

Priests must make sure that those par­tic­i­pat­ing are in­structed be­fore­hand as to the sig­nif­i­cance of the ges­ture.

While the phrase “peo­ple of God,” gen­er­ally refers to bap­tized Chris­tians, the de­cree also said “both the cho­sen faith­ful and oth­ers” should be in­structed by the priest, sug­gest­ing the rite could be open to non-Catholics as well.

In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing let­ter, dated Dec. 20 but re­leased Thurs­day, Fran­cis wrote that he wanted to change the cur­rent rules “to fully ex­press the sig­nif­i­cance of Je­sus’ ges­ture, his giv­ing of him­self to the end for the sal­va­tion of the world and his un­end­ing char­ity.”

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