Thomas MacDonald writes well here about the foot washing to take place at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday.
What he doesn’t mention is that the rubrics at the Mass call for men to have their feet washed. I wonder how many parishes have “creative” priests who use this as an opportunity to be “inclusive”. I’ve already had one person ask my advice on Facebook on how to respond to his priest who wants his seven year old daughter to be one of the people having their feet washed.
We should get this straight. The tradition and the rubrics mandate that men are to have their feet washed. Not little girls, not women, not boys. Men. Why is this? Because the foot washing ceremony is not only an example of Christ being the lowest servant of all, as Tom’s article makes clear, but it is also a consolidation of the apostolic ministry.
How often have you heard this one? “Jesus never ordained priests and bishops–the whole masculine hierarchy thing is a man made invention.” Not so. The Church teaches that the Last Supper was not only the institution of the Holy Eucharist, but also the ordination of the first presbyters of the church. Our Lord establishes the Eucharist and says to the twelve, “Do this in memory of me.” As the Passover is re-configured into the Eucharist, so the twelve tribes of Israel are re-configued into the apostolic ministry. Furthermore, when we read the text closely we see that the whole passage which we call ‘the high priestly prayer of Christ’ not only establishes Christ as the great High Priest, but we also see how he is sharing every aspect of his priestly ministry with his apostles.
Twelve men are chosen to bear the authority of Christ on earth and at the Last Supper he passes on his authority and ministry on to them. This is why in John’s gospel, at the Last Supper, Christ’s long discourse has as it’s theme “As the Father has sent me, so I have sent you.” (Jn.18.18) The entire long discourse is his delegation of authority and ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. The fact of the matter is, that despite the Lord’s mother being the holiest of people, and despite the fact that he had many holy women in his entourage, Jesus chose twelve men to be his apostles.
The foot washing therefore has a strong resonance with the establishment of the apostolic ministry. As Christ has served them, they are to serve the rest of the church and the world. The twelve men who have their feet washed therefore represent the twelve apostles as well as representing the whole people of God. As Christ has become the slave of all, so the apostles too are to be “the servants of the servants of God.”
Washing the feet of little girls–sweet though it may be–does not have quite the same symbolic power.