Syro-Malabar Church to exclude women in feet-washing ceremony

Last Supper commemoration linked to establishment of the priesthood and eucharist, says Cardinal George Alencherry
Syro-Malabar Church to exclude women in feet-washing ceremony

Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church, kissing the feet of man, after he washed it, as part the Maundy Thursday ceremony. (ucanews.com file photo).

Published March 31, 2017 

The Syro-Malabar Church in India has directed its parishes not to include women in the feet-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday with the major archbishop of that Eastern Catholic church saying that Pope Francis' directive to include women apply only to the Latin rite.

Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church said in a circular that the decision of its synod is to continue with its tradition of washing the feet of 12 men or boys during Maundy Thursday. The ceremony that commemorates Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper falls April 13 this year.

Pope Francis had last year instructed the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to effect the changes in the rubric of the missal regarding the washing of the feet.

Previously, the missal said only males should participate in the foot-washing ceremony. Pope Francis however broke with that tradition when he included women in his celebration of Holy Thursday in 2013.

Last year while not including women in the ceremony, Syro-Malabar Church officials expressed an inability to any changes in the liturgy unless approved by the synod, the supreme decision making body of that church.

Cardinal Alencherry's circular, released to the press March 29, said the Vatican's Congregation for the Oriental Churches explained that the change in the Latin missal applies only to the Latin-rite church.

The circular explained that the washing of the feet ceremony is linked to the establishment of the priesthood and the eucharist in the church.

"The Syro-Malabar Church wishes to continue this practice in the present pastoral and social situation," the circular said.

The cardinal's circular has been criticized.

Reji Njallani, who leads a forum of Catholics working for the renewal of the church, said that the decision of the Syro-Malabar Church not to follow the pope's directive "is part of the church's negative approach towards women. This is not only against the pope but also Jesus Christ."

Sara Joseph an activist for women's issues described the action as anti-women. She told ucanews.com that the neglect of women by the church will erode its foundation since they are the major torch bearers of the faith.

However, Father Jimmy Poochakkat, spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, said the issue did not involve discrimination against women. The circular "clearly enunciated the church's position," he said.

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