Today Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve detainees in a youth detention center. Two of them were female.
What are we to make of the Holy Father disregarding the rubrics which call for “selected men” to have their feet washed, and what does his washing feet of females say about the link between the foot washing and the apostolic ministry?
Jimmy Akin points out that the church documents don’t actually link the foot washing with the apostolic ministry, although that is one level of symbolism. Instead it states that the foot washing is primarily a sign of service.
Clearly, the Holy Father wishes to emphasize this symbolic aspect of foot washing more than the link with the apostolic ministry. At the heart of the symbolism of foot washing are the Lord’s words, “I have not come to be served, but to serve.” and “The greatest among you must be the slave of the least.” By taking a step to the lowest of the low in society and washing their feet he is emphasizing the heart of the ceremony–at the expense of the other rich symbolism of Holy Thursday.
On the other hand, by taking a radical step and washing the feet of poor young prisoners–women as well as men–he not only reminds us of the radical nature of the symbol, but also the unexpected and sometimes upsetting example of the Lord himself–who upset some religious traditions in order to make a point.
In the gospel Jesus repeatedly flouted some strict rules for a greater good, and so upset the religious legalists. Did the Pope break the rubrics? At the end of the day the rubrics are there to serve the gospel–not the gospel to serve the rubrics.