On Maundy Thursday, before the Mass of the Last Supper at St Chrysostom’s, it is a pleasure to go to the nearby Armenian Church and join in their foot washing liturgy. Sometimes described as the ‘neglected sacrament’ foot washing has special memories for me – not least of washing the feet of prisoners in Full Sutton maximum security prison where once I worked.
In the Armenian rite, as in some earlier Western rites, the foot washing is somewhat detached from the Mass of the Last Supper. Modern liturgies favour a closer unity, more in keeping with the events of the Last Supper. However, a more distinct foot washing rite has greater potential of drawing attention to the significance and profound nature of this act.
O Miracle surpassing all others; … the Creator of heavens appears this day as a servant…
Perhaps, at least from time to time, there is a place in the cycle of church worship for a more inclusive foot washing than can easily be achieved in the Mass of the Last Supper. At such a foot washing the priest could be reminded of the wide nature of service by washing the feet of a range of people – especially the marginalised -no matter what their faith, age, outlook. Pope Francis this year has encouraged this more inclusive approach as he washed prisoners’ feet at Casal del Marmo prison near Rome. His foot washing included washing and kissing the feet of a muslim woman.