A reader writes:
Do the rubrics for Holy Thursday allow the priest the was the feet of 6 men and 6 women? Can you point out where I might find a definitive answer? I am told that Rome says, "no" but that the U.S. Bishops have given permission for this as a "cultural adaptation".
There are two things to note about this statement:
First, it correctly states:
The rubric for Holy Thursday, under the title WASHING OF FEET, reads:
"Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one’s feet and dries them."
The term viri selecti does indeed mean "chosen men"–that is, adult males who have been selected for participation in the rite. The term vir always designates an adult male in Latin. This rubric requires twelve males because they are representing the Twelve Apostles whose feet Jesus washed.
Second, the statement goes on to say:
[T]he element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.
Taken simply as a factural description, this is true. It has become customary in many places in the U.S. to invite women to participate in the rite, and for the reasons stated.
Unfortuantely, that doesn’t make it legally permitted to do so. The Code of Canon Law requires:
Can. 846 §1. In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority [SOURCE].
Since no legislative action has been taken allowing local variation in regard to this matter, it appears that the use of women and children in the rite of footwashing is at variance with Church law.
What the statement on the USCCB’s web site appears to do is treat the matter ambiguously such that it states the law in a way that is accurate while describing a practice prevalent in the U.S. witout noting that it is at variance with the law.