- The Roman Missal previously said only men and boys could participate in foot-washing ritual
- Pope Francis says including women expresses more fully Jesus' gesture at Last Supper
(CNN)Pope Francis has declared that women should be included in foot-washing ceremonies on Holy Thursday during Easter week, a move long awaited by Western women.
The Vatican announced the change Thursday, saying it will now be part of the Roman Missal, the book that guides Catholic liturgy throughout the world. It will take effect on Holy Thursday, March 24.
Previously, the Missal said that only males should participate in the foot-washing ritual, which memorializes Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet at the Last Supper.
But in a letter to the Vatican's head of worship and sacraments, the Pope said including women in the rite more fully expresses the meaning of Jesus' gesture at the Last Supper: "His giving of himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, his limitless charity."
"After careful consideration", Francis said, "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."
While some dioceses in the United States and elsewhere already allowed women to participate in the rite, many others did not, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author.
Pope Francis included women in his celebration of the Holy Thursday rite in 2013 when he washed the feet of juvenile offenders in Rome and the next year at a center for the elderly and disabled.
Those gestures, though, have disturbed some conservatives, who say the Pope is trampling on Catholic traditions or flouting church laws. Perhaps hearing the latter concern, Francis simply changed the law.