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"Since such is the nature of man that he cannot easily without external means be raised to meditation on divine things, on that account holy Mother Church has instituted certain rites, namely that certain things be pronounced in a subdued tone (canon and words of consecration) and others in a louder tone; she has likewise made use of ceremonies such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind in accordance with apostolic teaching and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be commended, and the minds of the faithful excited by these visible signs of religion and piety to the contemplation of the most sublime matters which are hidden in this sacrifice."
— Council of Trent (Session XXII)

Reflections on the Change of the Mandatum Rite
published 25 January 2016 by Guest Author

825 Washing Feet HOLY THURSDAY HE VATICAN BOLLENTINO website has posted a letter from our Holy Father Francis to Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and a relevant decree.

In gist, the decree rules that—as requested by Holy Father—the Congregation has changed the rubrics for the Mandatum on Holy Thursday described in the Missale Romanum, from “Viri selecti (the chosen men) deducuntur a ministris…” to “Qui selecti sunt ex populo Dei (those who are chosen amongst the People of God) deducuntur a ministris…”, meaning that women can be chosen to participate in the Mandatum rite.

In view of practice, these change rubrics does not create much impact. After all, many parishes in Hong Kong, where I live, have been having women in the Mandatum rite for a long time. The only difference is that parishes in the past did so in contradiction of the rubric, and now they are approved to do so. I believe this applies to many other parishes all around the globe too.

But in view of Liturgy itself, I believe this change in rubrics to be similar to allowing female altar servers. In my view, it is a change caused by the hardening of our heart and a departure from the liturgical tradition. It does not bring any benefits to the faithful. The Mandatum rite originally represented our Lord washing the feet of the Apostles; not just any disciples, but twelve male Apostles chosen by him. Our Lady was not there; nor was Mary Magdalene. 1 The change in the Mandatum rubric, however, is weakening this message the rite was trying to convey.

The Mandatum rite itself is only optional in the Holy Thursday liturgy. The celebrant can still decide whether he would include the rite in his Holy Thursday liturgy and can safely omit the Mandatum rite for whatever reasons he thinks fit. Moreover, the celebrant can still choose, according to the tradition, twelve men to participate in the Mandatum rite. Just as female altar servers are allowed, the celebrant can still select people he deems appropriate—such as males only—to serve his Mass. The same rule applies to the Mandatum rite.

As a lay Catholic, I accept this rubric change with obedience and charity toward the Holy Father, yet at the same time I am still pondering how the guidelines in the Sacrosanctum Concilium for the Liturgical reformation is carried out:

That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (SC n.23)

We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Michael Chan, who contributes to a Hong Kong Catholic Blog. He is also a member of the Schola Cantorum of the Hong Kong Latin Mass Community.


1   At least, as far as I can tell from what is written in the Holy Gospel.