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Ellen Malone wrote:

Hi, guys —

I'm a Catholic and I went to Mass on Holy Thursday night and the priest was washing the feet of (12) twelve men.

  • Why aren't women also invited?

Ellen Malone

  { Why aren't women invited to have their feet washed at Holy Thursday Mass during Holy Week? }

Paul replied:


Some parishes do wash the feet of women.

Traditionally though, parishes have washed the feet of only men because at the Last Supper, where Jesus washed his disciple's feet, they were His Twelve Apostles - all men - who were to imitate Christ's act to others as bishops and priests of Christ.



Eric replied:

Ellen —

You said:

  • Why aren't women also invited?

They are. Pope Francis made this rule some years ago.

Still, the tradition is twelve men, because, well, Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve Apostles, and they were all men.

It is also unseemly for a priest to wash the feet of women, especially if they are wearing dresses or skirts — this could open the priest up to charges of sexual harassment or at least force him into an occasion of sin.

And, as one wag had it, washing the feet of adult men is more "penitential" but , it is officially allowed now by the pope so I can only speculate why your pastor did not opt to do it.


Mike replied:

Dear Ellen,

Thanks for the question.

As I have said in previous questions, this is a pet peeve I have always had with the customs the Church practices on Holy Thursday of Holy Week. You said:

  • Why aren't women also invited?

Because as both my colleague's pointed out it was Jesus' choice to choose 12 men to be His Apostles but there is more.

The ministerial Catholic Priesthood can only be received by a man because in all seven sacraments the priest is acting in the place of The Man, Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5) When we hear the words of a priest, who is administering any of the sacraments, the voice may sound like the voice of a mere priest but Jesus is using the priest's body and voice to administer the sacraments to the faithful. This is true for all priests that have been ordained going back to the Twelve Apostles.

That said, in the Church there is not one type of priesthood but two types:

  1. The universal priesthood of all Christian believers. (Their priesthood is valid based on their valid Trinitarian Baptism), and
  2. The ministerial priesthood. Those called to serve the Lord 1000% by giving their whole body for use in administrating the seven sacraments.

Traditionally, along with the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, the Church has always celebrated the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders on Holy Thursday.

While you may hear a very good portion of the homily on the Blessed Sacrament, you rarely hear any portion of the homily on the sacrament of Holy Orders (during the Holy Thursday homily). This is something the Cardinals and bishops of the United States should be addressing because, instead of addressing the Holy Thursday homily to the institution of Holy Orders or the Priesthood, these days it is geared to a celebration of the universal priesthood of baptized believing Christians around the world and because of this poor practice:

  • They are wondering, why they are not receiving more vocations to the priesthood?
  • What other time are the faithful going to hear an encouraging homily about the priesthood?

If any Cardinal or bishop reading this wants a reference for my view, they only have to look into Pope St. John Paul II's Holy Thursday homily to priests in 1995, paragraph 7, where he makes a clear link between the ministerial priesthood and the washing of feet.

  • Pope St. John Paul II's Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday — 1995 [Vatican][EWTN]:

In the last paragraph, #7, he says:

7. In that Dogmatic Constitution, the chapter on the People of God is followed by the one on the hierarchical structure of the Church. Here reference is made to the ministerial priesthood, to which by the will of Christ only men are admitted. Today in some quarters the fact that women cannot be ordained priests is being interpreted as a form of discrimination.

  • But is this really the case?

Certainly, the question could be put in these terms if the hierarchical priesthood granted a social position of privilege characterized by the exercise of "power". But this is not the case: the ministerial priesthood, in Christ's plan, is an expression not of domination but of service! Anyone who interpreted it as "domination" would certainly be far from the intention of Christ, who in the Upper Room began the Last Supper by washing the feet of the Apostles. In this way he strongly emphasized the ministerial character of the priesthood which he instituted that very evening. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Those who are upset that both men and women's feet aren't being washed on Holy Thursday don't have a proper understanding of the sacrament of Holy Orders, probably because young Catholic teens/men have never heard a homily encouraging them to consider the priesthood.

Asking the question:

  • Why can't women become priests is like asking why can't men get pregnant?

It's not a role of power but a role of function and service. Ontologically (the study of Being), a woman cannot take the place of The Man, Christ Jesus.

I hope this addresses your question. There are similar questions in our database that I have searched out for you below:

I hope this helps,


Paul replied:

Ellen —

Like the Persons of the Holy Trinity are co-equal in nature yet differ in the order of authority, so too are man and woman equal in dignity yet distinct in the order of authority. Like the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, whom He follows and obeys, so too was woman taken from the side of man to be his helpmate.

In a nutshell, women can't be priests because the Church is the bride of Christ. A male figure being another Christ must engage the bride for it to be fruitful. The Father sent the Son, and Christ always sought to do the will of the Father.

There are various ways to look at the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. One way to distinguish this natural order, confirmed by Christ, is that a married woman should get her feet washed by her husband, who gets his washed by Christ. Grace flows from the head, to the body.

Hope this helps,


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