An excerpt from the Irish Times article.
On Holy Thursday in Catholic churches throughout the world the ritual of the washing of the feet will be enacted, in memory of Jesus’s example of loving intimate service and in fulfilment of His command to his disciples to do the same.
This year a change in the rules at the request of Pope Francis means that women may officially be among those whose feet can be washed. The priests, however, will remain males.
When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he took on not just a servant’s role but a female servant’s role, for it was mostly women and girls who performed this task: servants for their masters and important guests, wives for their husbands.
Significantly, the only other person in the Gospels who washes feet is a woman, who washes Jesus’s own feet (Luke 7), and in Paul’s letter to Timothy (5:10) it is specified that “the widows must wash the feet of the saints”.
When Jesus washed His followers’ feet He subverted not just the master/servant power relationship but also the male/female relationship. Jesus made Himself a servant girl, a female slave, a wife. He transgressed the strict rules delineating gender roles.
When He removed his outer vestment, Jesus stripped Himself of His male privileges of power and superiority. He wrapped a towel around His waist, as females did. No wonder Peter first objected so vehemently!
It is therefore deeply ironic that the official liturgy remains so wedded to a strict sexist, patriarchal division of gender roles as does the theology and organisation of the institutional church. Because of their gender women remain excluded from governance, decision making and all the ordained ministries.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Women’s Ordination Worldwide (Wow). This international movement was founded in Gmunden (Austria) in July 1996 at the first European women’s ecumenical synod “Women For Change in the 21st century”. Wow works for women’s access to all the ordained ministries, with a focus on the Roman Catholic Church.
Two years after Pope John Paul II’s authoritarian attempt at silencing debate by papal edict in 1994 there was a sense that this had to be resisted as a matter of conscience.
Wow’s first international conference was held in Dublin in 2001, hosted by Brothers and Sisters in Christ – Basic (now part of We Are Church Ireland).
Several of the speakers were threatened with excommunication and/or dismissal from their religious orders. The speaker from the World Council of Churches was forced to withdraw. Opening the conference, Nobel peace prize winner from Belfast, Mairéad Corrigan Maguire, said: “I believe this kind of attempt to control by the Vatican is an abuse of power. It is dehumanising, demoralising, and is a form of spiritual abuse.”…
This Holy Thursday in some Catholic communities there will be mutual washing of feet, with all being served and serving, men, women, lay, ordained. When Jesus washed Peter’s feet He told him: “You do not understand now what I am doing, but later you will understand (John 13:7).”
If we understand now that Jesus calls us to forsake patriarchal structures of domination, we will let go of all that excludes women from symbolising the Christ who became one with them in loving service.