Pope Francis makes changes to footwashing, but . . .

Photo courtesy JVO27


Pope Francis approved a formal change to the Roman Catholic practice of footwashing:

January 21, 2016

Pope Francis has decreed that from now on, the people chosen for the washing of the feet in the liturgy of Holy Thursday may be selected from all the People of God, and not only men and boys.

In a letter, dated 20 December and published today, to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Holy Father informed the cardinal that he had, for some time, reflected on the “rite of the washing of the feet contained in the Liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini, with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus’ gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity”.

“After careful consideration”, he continued, “I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the Washing of the Feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the Pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen”.

The change applies to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Since being elected Pope, Francis has visited prisons to wash the feet of women inmates as well as men on Holy Thursday. He has also washed the feet of Muslims.  http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-changes-rules-for-washing-of-the-feet-on-holy-thursday/#ixzz3xzKLRoVt

So, Pope Francis made a change, but is the new practice the truly biblical footwashing practice?

To address this, we first need to look at what Jesus taught about it:

And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded (John 13:2-5).

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you … 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-15,17).

23… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:23-24)

Almost no Protestant group follows what Jesus taught–even though their leaders should know better. Footwashing is not an annual ceremony performed by most who claim to be Protestant (though some have done it).

History shows that even the Greco-Romans observed at least a version of footwashing.

However, notice the following statements about it:

Christ’s command to wash one another’s feet must have been understood from the beginning in a literal sense (Thurston, H. (1912). Washing of Feet and Hands. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 14, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15557b.htm)

The history of feetwashing is tantalizingly elusive…There are passing references to this rite in the first centuries. Continued for many years in the Eastern Church, feet washing eventually fell out of favour in the West. But it was carried out long enough to be introduced among the earliest Celtic Christians…in the Stowe Missal. The Celt’s adherence to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures seems to have led him to follow the procedures of the upper room exactly. For in that service Christ washed the feet of his disciples before he distributed the bread and the wine to his followers (Hardinge, Leslie. The Celtic Church in Britain. Teach Services, Brushton (NY) 2000, pp. 111,116).

As to the feet-washing, since the Lord recommended this because of its being an example of that humility which He came to teach, as He Himself afterwards explained, the question has arisen at what time it is best, by literal performance of this work, to give public instruction in the important duty which it illustrates, and this time [of Lent] was suggested in order that the lesson taught by it might make a deeper and more serious impression…Some, however, in order to connect its observance with the more sacred associations of this solemn season (Augustine. Letter (Epistola) 55, From Augustine to Januarius, Verse 33. A.D. 400).

Cyprian of Carthage in the mid-3rd century wrote:

Let them imitate the Lord, who at the very time of His passion was not more proud, but more humble. For then He washed His disciples’ feet, saying, “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (Cyprian.  The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 5, Chapter 2. In Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume V).

In the early centuries there was no Roman Catholic pontifex maximus.  Regular lay members washed each other’s feet.  While females were involved, they apparently washed other female’s feet.  And that is the practice that is observed in groups in the 21st century like the Continuing Church of God.

The Catholic saint and bishop Ambrose of Milan (4th century) seemed to have elevated its status:

Accordingly, learn how it is a sacrament and a means of sanctification: Unless I wash thy feet, thou wilt have no part with me. This I say, not to find fault with others, but to recommend my own usage (Ambrose of Milan. “On the mysteries”: and the treatise, On the sacraments.  Translated by Tom Thompson.  Edied by James Herbert Strawley.  Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919. Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized, Jul 2, 2009, p. 99)

Around the early 6th century, Caesarius of Arles in a sermon (103.4) taught:

As often as the Paschal feast comes…Let them…wash the feet of their guests (Cited in Thomas JC. Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, p. 145).

So, it was still observed by at least some lay people in the 6th century.  Lay people were doing the washing, not just clergy.

Furthermore, notice the following from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

This theory, which was first put forward by Sir W. Palmer in his “Origines Liturgicae”, which was once very popular among Anglicans. According to it the Gallican Rite was referred to an original brought to Lyons from Ephesus by St. Pothinus and St. Irenæus, who had received it through St. Polycarp from St. John the Divine. The idea originated partly in a statement in the eighth century tract in Cott. manuscript Nero A. II in the British Museum, which refers the Gallican Divine Office (Cursus Gallorum) to such an origin, and partly in a statement of Coleman at the Synod of Whitby (664) respecting the Johannine origin of the Celtic Easter…

The Feet Washing. The form here is similar to that in the Gallicanum, the Bobbio, and the Stowe: “Ego te lavo pedes. Sicut D.N.J.C. fecit discipulis suis, tu facias hospitibus et peregrenis ut habeas vitam aeternam”. This ceremony is only found in Gaul, Spain, and Ireland. At the Council of Elvira in 305 an order was made that it should be performed by clerks and not by priests. This limitation, of which the wording is quite clear, has been unaccountably interpreted to mean that it was then forbidden altogether (Jenner H. Transcribed by Geoffrey K. Mondello, Ph.D. The Gallican Rite. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

So, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna learned the practice from the Apostle John and passed it on. So, history teaches this carried on for some time in the British Isles. It needs to be understood that the “Celtic Easter” refers to the fact that many Celts kept Passover on the biblical date. However, by the time the “Gallican Rites” are recorded, foot-washing is mainly done at the time of baptism.

Some Waldenses in the late Middle Ages also observed feetwashing:

The Waldenses who are acknowledged to have come the closest to the purity of the faith and practice of the doctrines of Christ, held feet washing as an ordinance of the church. (St John HA. Our Banquet to Nourish Pure Thought Life. Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 97)

Some called Waldenesians were part of the Church of God (see also the article on The Thyatira Church Era).

And although the Roman Catholic pontiff (and sometimes Roman bishops) performs this ceremony once, I am unaware of any others within Roman Catholicism that perform this ceremony–and when it is done, it is done as a memorial and is done on the annual night that the Romans feel was the night of Jesus’ last Passover.

This brings up two questions:

1) Since Jesus commanded His disciples to do this, why do Protestant leaders generally not teach or do this?

2) If the Roman Church recognizes that this is an annual event done on Passover (which they call Maundy Thursday), why do they and others observe the other steps of their version of the Passover (which they now generally refer to as communion) every week or even every day?

An answer proposed to the first question, given by the late Church of God leader Herbert W. Armstrong, was:

Many today do not want to humiliate themselves by washing the feet of their church brethren. Some argue that Jesus commanded only the disciples to wash one another’s feet. But they will admit it was a command to them. Very well; turn to Matthew 28:19, 20:

“Go ye therefore,” Jesus said to these same disciples, “and teach all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” So they were to teach US to observe all things whatsoever He commanded them. Surely God is no respecter of persons (Armstrong HW. How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper? 1974).

I have no clear answer to the second question about why Rome does one part of the Jesus’ last Passover annually, but other portions weekly (or more often). Yet, I suspect that the heretic Justin Martyr probably had something to do with Rome’s acceptance of a weekly Sunday “Passover” (as he is the first one to clearly refer to a Sunday worship service which included a “eucharist” ceremony), but I also suspect that he did not care for the idea of foot-washing.

It has been reported that around 1654, footwashing was observed by one or more Sabbath-keepers in England, such as Dr. Peter Chamberlen, and decades later in the early 1700s by John Maulden and those of like mind (Ball B. Seventh Day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800, 2nd edition. James Clark & Co., 2009, pp. 79,81,89).

It may also be of interest to note that some Sabbatarians engaged in footwashing and in 1750 wrote:

And now, dear brethren, we shall use the freedom to acquaint you with one thing, and do heartily desire to recommend it to your serious and Christian consideration, and that is about the duty to wash one another’s feet…1750 (Cited in Randolph C.F. A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia, 1905. Reprint 2005. Heritage Books, Westminster (MD), pp. 15-16).

Furthermore, this practice was also followed in Virginia and other churches in West Virginia (ibid, p. 15). Here is one comment about it:

Clark says: “Some of these [western Virginia] churches, believe in the washing of one another’s feet, at appointed times” (ibid, p. 15).

It should be noted that the “foot washing” ceremony that Jesus instituted is observed annually by baptized members of the real Church of God.

We in the Continuing Church of God keep with what Jesus taught and the original apostles practiced and thus do footwashing each year.

(Footwashing is also the major subject of an available online sermon video John 13-15: Footwashing and the Words of Jesus.)

Although Pope Francis made a change, he still has not made a change back to the original practice where lay members and clergy wash feet annual in accordance with Jesus’ instructions and the early apostolic traditions.

Some items of possibly related interest may include:

Passover and the Early Church Did the early Christians observe Passover? What did Jesus and Paul teach? Why did Jesus die for our sins? There is also a detailed YouTube video available titled History of the Christian Passover.
Keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread How should Christians keep Passover, especially if they are by themselves. Why does the Church of God not require lambs for Passover? How does one keep the Days of Unleavened Bread? For a step-by-step video for Christians to keep it, check out CCOG Passover Service. Here is a link to a related article in the Spanish language: Guardando la Pascua y los Días de los Panes sin Levadura.
Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days.
Hebrew Calendar This writing helps explain why we in the Continuing Church of God use the calendar that we do and answers such questions as “Did Jesus Observe the Postponements?”
Melito’s Homily on the Passover This is one of the earliest Christian writings about the Passover. This also includes what Apollinaris wrote on the Passover as well. Here is a related sermon, also titled Melito’s Homily on the Passover.
Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants How the real Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background. As far as some changes affecting Protestantism, watch the video Charismatic Kenneth Copeland and Anglican Tony Palmer: Protestants Beware! [Português: Esperança do salvação: Como a igreja do deus difere da maioria de protestantes]
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Holy Day Calendar This is a listing of the biblical holy days through 2024, with their Roman calendar dates. They are really hard to observe if you do not know when they occur 🙂 In the Spanish/Español/Castellano language: Calendario de los Días Santos. In Mandarin Chinese: 何日是神的圣日? 这里是一份神的圣日日历从2013年至2024年。.
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.

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