Signs signify; the task is to discover what.
Fortunately, where the Holy Thursday foot washing is concerned, the Holy Father is confident that he knows the significance:
‘For some time I have been reflecting on the rite of the washing of the feet, which forms part of the Liturgy of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the intention of improving the ways in which it is put into practice, so that we fully express the meaning of the gesture made by Jesus in the Upper Room, his gift of self until the end for the salvation of the world, his boundless charity.’
But there is an obvious problem. If washing the feet of both women and men best expresses Jesus’s intention, why did he himself choose only men? And come to think of it, why – if the aim was to signify ‘boundless charity’ – restrict himself to twelve? Could there be more to the matter than meets the Pontifical eye?
Many have supposed so. But alas! The rubrics have been changed. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. An alternative view is no longer on offer.