Maundy (from Latin mandatum or mendicare), or Washing of the Feet, is a religious rite observed by various Christian denominations. John 13:1–17 mentions Jesus performing this act. Specifically, in verses 13:14–17, He instructs them:
- 14 "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."
As such, many denominations (including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholics) observe the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Moreover, for some denominations, foot-washing was an example, a pattern. Many groups throughout Church history and many modern denominations have practiced foot washing as a church ordinance including the Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, and Pentecostals.
The derivation of the word Maundy has at least two possibilities for the origin:
- 1) Through Middle English and Old French mandé, from Latin mandatum.
- 2) From the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which means “to beg” (verb) or a “small basket” (noun) held out by maunders (beggars) as they maunded (begged).
The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear. A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests or even serve the guests by washing their feet. This is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament of the Bible (e.g. Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; I Samuel 25:41; et al.), as well as other religious and historical documents. A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to allow the guest to wash his feet or have servants do it. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn.
I Samuel 25:41 is the first passage where an honored person offers to wash feet as a sign of humility. In John 12, Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus' feet presumably in gratitude for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead, and in preparation for his death and burial. The Bible records washing of the saint's feet being practised by the primitive church in I Timothy 5:10 perhaps in reference to piety, submission and/or humility. There are several names for this practice: maundy, foot washing, washing the saints' feet, pedilavium, and mandatum.
- 1 And before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that His hour hath come, that He may remove out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who are in the world—to the end He loved them. 2 And supper being come, the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas of Simon, Iscariot, that he may deliver Him up, 3 Jesus, knowing that all things the Father hath given to Him—into His hands—and that from God He came forth, and unto God He goeth, 4 doth rise from the supper, and doth lay down his garments, and having taken a towel, he girded himself; 5 afterward he putteth water into the basin, and began to wash the feet of his disciples, and to wipe with the towel with which he was being girded. 6 He cometh, therefore, unto Simon Peter, and that one saith to him, "Sir, thou—dost Thou wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "That which I do thou hast not known now, but thou shalt know after these things;" 8 Peter saith to him, "Thou mayest not wash my feet—to the age." Jesus answered him, "If I may not wash thee, thou hast no part with me." 9 Simon Peter saith to him, "Sir, not my feet only, but also the hands and the head." 10 Jesus saith to him, "He who hath been bathed hath no need, save to wash his feet, for he is clean altogether; and ye are clean, but not all;" 11 for He knew him who is delivering him up; because of this He said, "Ye are not all clean." 12 When, therefore, He washed their feet, and took His garments, having reclined at meat again, He said to them, "Do ye know what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me, 'The Teacher' and 'The Lord', and ye say well, for I am; 14 if then I did wash your feet—the Lord and the Teacher—ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye. Verily, verily, I say unto ye, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
- 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair"
It appears to have been practiced in the early centuries of post-apostolic Christianity, though the evidence is scant. For example, Tertullian (145–220) mentions the practice in his De Corona, but gives no details as to who practiced it or how it was practiced. It was practiced by the Church at Milan (ca. A.D. 380), is mentioned by the Council of Elvira (A.D. 300), and is even referenced by Augustine (ca. A.D. 400).
According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia "St. Benedict's Rule (A.D. 529) for the Benedictine Order prescribed hospitality feetwashing in addition to a communal feetwashing for humility"; a statement confirmed by the Catholic Encyclopedia. It apparently was established in the Roman church, though not in connection with baptism, by the 8th century.
There is some evidence that it was observed by the early Hussites; and the practice was a meaningful part of the 16th century radical reformation. Foot washing was often "rediscovered" or "restored" by Protestants in revivals of religion in which the participants tried to recreate the faith and practice of the apostolic era which they had abandoned or lost.
Roman Catholic practice
In Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which celebrates in a special way the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles.
Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the twelfth century, when "the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner."
From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet unconnected with the Mass. The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1–15). Some persons who have been selected – usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number – are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one's feet and dries them. In the United States it is common to have a communal observance: lay members of the congregation take turns washing one another's feet. There are some advocates of restricting this ritual to clergy or at least men. At one time, most of the European monarchs also performed the Washing of Feet in their royal courts on Maundy Thursday, a practice continued by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the King of Spain up to the beginning of the 20th century (see Royal Maundy).
In a notable break from the 1955 norms, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome 2013. In 2016 it was announced that the Roman Missal had been revised to permit women to have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday; previously it permitted only males to do so. In 2016 Catholic priests around the world washed both women’s and men’s feet on Holy Thursday "their gesture of humility represented to many the progress of inclusion in the Catholic church."
Eastern Christian practice
Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic
The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches practice the ritual of the Washing of Feet on Holy and Great Thursday (Maundy Thursday) according to their ancient rites. The service may be performed either by a bishop, washing the feet of twelve priests; or by an Hegumen (Abbot) washing the feet of twelve members of the brotherhood of his monastery. The ceremony takes place at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
After Holy Communion, and before the dismissal, the brethren all go in procession to the place where the Washing of Feet is to take place (it may be in the center of the nave, in the narthex, or a location outside). After a psalm and some troparia (hymns) an ektenia (litany) is recited, and the bishop or abbot reads a prayer. Then the deacon reads the account in the Gospel of John, while the clergy perform the roles of Christ and his apostles as each action is chanted by the deacon. The deacon stops when the dialogue between Jesus and Peter begins. The senior-ranking clergyman among those whose feet are being washed speaks the words of Peter, and the bishop or abbot speaks the words of Jesus. Then the bishop or abbot himself concludes the reading of the Gospel, after which he says another prayer and sprinkles all of those present with the water that was used for the foot washing. The procession then returns to the church and the final dismissal is given as normal.
Foot washing rites are also observed in the Oriental Orthodox churches on Maundy Thursday.
In the Coptic Orthodox Church the service is performed by the parish priest. He blesses the water for the foot washing with the cross, just as he would for blessing holy water and he washes the feet of the entire congregation.
In the Syrian Orthodox Church, this service is performed by a bishop or priest. There will be some 12 selected men, both priests and the lay people, and the bishop or priest will wash and kiss the feet of those 12 men. It is not merely a dramatization of the past event. Further it is a prayer where the whole congregation prays to wash and cleanse them of their sins.
Foot washing is observed by numerous Protestant and proto-Protestant groups, including Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, and Pietistic groups, some Anabaptists, and several types of Southern Baptists. Foot washing rites are also practiced by many Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches, whereby foot washing is most often experienced in connection with Maundy Thursday services and, sometimes, at ordination services where the Bishop may wash the feet of those who are to be ordained. Though history shows that foot washing has at times been practiced in connection with baptism, and at times as a separate occasion, by far its most common practice has been in connection with the Lord's supper service. The Moravian Church practiced Foot Washing until 1818. There has been some revival of the practice as other liturgical churches have also rediscovered the practice.
The observance of washing the saints' feet is quite varied, but a typical service follows the partaking of unleavened bread and wine. Deacons (in many cases) place pans of water in front of pews that have been arranged for the service. The men and women participate in separate groups, men washing men's feet and women washing women's feet. Each member of the congregation takes a turn washing the feet of another member. Each foot is placed one at a time into the basin of water, is washed by cupping the hand and pouring water over the foot, and is dried with a long towel girded around the waist of the member performing the washing. Most of these services appear to be quite moving to the participants.
Among groups that do not observe foot washing as an ordinance or rite, the example of Jesus is usually held to be symbolic and didactic. Among these groups, foot washing is nevertheless sometimes literally practiced. First, some reserve it to be a practice of hospitality or a work of necessity. Secondly, some present it as a dramatic lesson acted out in front of the congregation.
Groups descending from the 1708 Schwarzenau Brethren, such as the Grace Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Dunkard Brethren regularly practice foot washing (generally called "feetwashing") as one of three ordinances that compose their Lovefeast, the others being the Eucharist and a fellowship meal. Historically related groups such as the Amish and some Mennonites also wash feet, tracing the practice to the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith. For members, this practice promotes humility towards and care for others, resulting in a higher egalitarianism among members.
Many Baptists observe the literal washing of feet as a third ordinance. The communion and foot washing service is practiced regularly by members of the Separate Baptists in Christ, General Association of Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Union Baptists, Old Regular Baptist, Christian Baptist Church of God, and Brethren in Christ. Feet washing is also practiced as a third ordinance by many Southern Baptists, General Baptists, and Independent Baptists.
In Mormonism, a foot-washing ceremony was part of an early "Endowment" ritual introduced in the mid-1830s by founder Joseph Smith. In a later version of the Endowment, still performed by Mormons, the entire body is washed, including the feet, to symbolize washing off the "blood and sins" of the current generation. In 1843, Smith included a foot washing element in the faith's second anointing ceremony in which elite married couples are anointed as heavenly monarchs and priests.
The True Jesus Church includes footwashing as a scriptural sacrament based on John 13:1–11. Like the other two sacraments, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper, members of the church believe that footwashing imparts salvific grace to the recipient—in this case, to have a part with Christ (John 13:8).
Most Seventh-day Adventist congregations schedule an opportunity for foot washing preceding each quarterly (four times a year) Communion service. As with their "open" Communion, all believers in attendance, not just members or pastors, are invited to share in the washing of feet with another: men with men, women with women, and frequently, spouse with spouse. This service is alternatively called the Ordinance of Foot-Washing or the Ordinance of Humility. Its primary purpose is to renew the cleansing that only comes from Christ, but secondarily to seek and celebrate reconciliation with another member before Communion/the Lord's Supper.
A number of Jewish rabbis who disagree with the initiation custom of brit milah, or circumcision of a male baby, instead have offered brit shalom, or a multi-part naming ceremony which eschews circumcision. One portion of the ritual, Brit rechitzah, involves the washing of the baby's feet.
- Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet (Tintoretto)
- Washing of Feet and Farewell (The Last Supper in Christian Art)
- Water and religion
- Ablution in Christianity
- Peter C. Bower. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. Geneva Press. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
Maundy Thursday (or le mandé; Thursday of the Mandatum, Latin, commandment). The name is taken from the first few words sung at the ceremony of the washing of the feet, "I give you a new commandment" (John 13:34); also from the commandment of Christ that we should imitate His loving humility in the washing of the feet (John 13:14–17). The term mandatum (maundy), therefore, was applied to the rite of foot-washing on this day.
- Notes about Lent and Holy Week, Discipling Ministry — Shepherd of the Mountains, 3-12-2012
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- Historical and Informational
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- Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, by Fred H. Wight
- Mennonite Encyclopedia (Vol. 2), Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al., editors
- Historical and Theological (con)
- Footwashing by the Master and by the Saints, by Elam J. Daniels
- Manual of Church Order (ch. 6), by J. L. Dagg
- Historical and Theological (pro)
- The Washing of the Saints' Feet, by J. Matthew Pinson (Randall House, 2006, ISBN 0-89265-522-4)
- A Free Will Baptist Handbook: Heritage, Beliefs, and Ministries, by J. Matthew Pinson
- Baptist Doctrine: the Doctrine of Foot Washing, by R. L. Vaughn
- Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community, by John Christopher Thomas
- Washing the Saints' Feet shown to be an Ordinance of Christ, by Joseph Sorsby
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Feet washing.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article Washing of Feet and Hands.|
- http://www.separatebaptist.org: In the Articles of Faith, Article Eight is about the Communion and Feetwashing Service.
- Anabaptists and Footwashing – a series of articles on history and current practice among Mennonites, Grace Brethren and Church of the Brethren.
- Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online – Feetwashing
- Footwashing as an act of building community – a Brethren viewpoint
- How to conduct a foot-washing service – a liturgical viewpoint
- Footwashing as a Means of Grace (a United Methodist approach) by Gregory S. Neal
- Mennonite Confession of Faith – Article 13 – Foot Washing
- Washing of the Feet : Hidden Significance of the Gnostic story in the Fourth Gospel
- Primitive Baptist FAQ: Feet Washing
- The Ordinance of Feet Washing – a Churches of God General Conference (Winebrenner) viewpoint
- The Footwashing Ritual and the Sacrament of Holy Orders: A New Look at John 13 – a Catholic viewpoint of the import of footwashing as relates to the sacrament of Holy Orders.
- Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday Armenian Apostolic Church
- Gaining a Dose Of Humility, One Washed Foot at a Time article from The Washington Post, April 2, 2006
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