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Why is the Foot Washing Not a Sacrament?

QUESTION:  Given that the washing of the feet (Holy Thursday) was instituted by Jesus and employs the elements of water and ritual, can you give a good theological reason why it is not considered as a sacrament?

ANSWER:  Actually, there were ancient authorities who thought it might be, but the difficulty was as to what it signified.  St. Augustine made a connection with baptism (and yet there was already a formula for that sacrament).  Most authorities and the Church associated it with ordination to the priesthood.  Indeed, it plays something of this role in the (spiritualized) Gospel of John.  There too the apostles adopted the laying on of hands upon the head of a man as the manner in which he was called to holy orders.  Today, the foot washing increasingly refers to our commission as servants or disciples.  That is already sufficiently signified in our baptism and confirmation.  So I guess the short answer is that the sacraments are not capricious.  There was no need for an eighth sacrament.  However, once a year it does function as a “sacramental” that emphasizes both the importance of the priesthood and our call to live out our Christianity with humility and charity.

4 Responses

  1. […] arbiters of all things sacrament doesn’t include it. Why is that? Father Joe, who writes at Blogger Priest replied in 2014, pointing out that the sacraments have to have particular meaning and this raises […]

    FATHER JOE: The Church determined the number of the sacraments. The ritual of the foot-washing is sometimes associated with the priesthood and as with St. Augustine, associated with baptism. Some ancient authorities thought it might be a sacrament but the Church has determined that it is not a sacrament but is still a sacramental.

  2. […] A Catholic Priest answers the question, “Why is Foot Washing Not a Sacrament?“ […]

  3. And to bring it home once more: it is not a Sacrament and Canon Law consists of regulations and not definitions on matters of faith and morals attributed to the direct action of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium of the Church.

  4. Pope Francis washed the feet of a woman, yet I heard the washing was restricted to men because when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, it was considered ordination.

    FATHER JOE: The law of the Church does restrict the washing of the feet to men; but, the Pope is the principal lawgiver and can abrogate these rules. The Holy Father is associating it with humility, service and a desire to raise up human dignity. Traditionally it was associated with the ordination of priests and bishops. But women cannot be ordained. This last feature is immutable.

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