Holy Thursday And Rite of Washing of Feet
The Book of Rituals (Rome, 1839) retains two traditions of the Maronite Church. The oldest one required the washing of the feet of the whole congregation present at the service. The more recent tradition limited the washing to twelve persons representing the Twelve Apostles.
The rite of washing of feet was originally accompanied by a group of hymns with their prayers and a soogitho ( a Hymn ordered according to the letters of the alphabet). The first prayer the soogitho are used in the present service as the beginning of the rite. During the soogitho the twelve person chosen to have their feet washed come forward and take their places at the chairs prepared for them.
The altar is covered in white. A side altar or table is prepared to receive the consecrated eucharist for the Anaphora of Signing of the Chalice. This altar (or table) is covered in white and is decorated with flowers and candles. These decorations should be kept simple.
A cross with the body of Christ on it is prepared in front of the main altar. Lighted candles are placed on each side of the cross.
A pitcher of water, a basin, and towels are placed on a table in the sanctuary.
Twelve chairs are placed in the sanctuary for those whose feet will be washed. Six chairs are arranged on each side of the sanctuary, facing each other. A thirteenth chair is provided for the celebrant. It is placed in the center at the end of the two rows of chairs closest to the congregation and faces the altar and cross.
A priest (or deacon) who is able to sing well is assigned to sing the gospel. The singing of the gospel coincides with the celebrant’s action of washing the feet.
Twelve members of the community (priests, ministers, and lay people) are assigned to represent the apostles. They may be vested in alas or may wear their ordinary clothes.
The washing of feet is done in four stages, three people each time. The washing begins with the three people on the right side of the celebrant, then the three on the left, then the last three on the right, and finally the last three on the left. The last person on the left side represents Simon Peter.
The deacon sings the appropriate text of the gospel (John 13:3-5) as the feet of each group of three are washed, then the choir sings one more verse of the Hymn when the celebrant is seated.
The dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter (John 13:6-11) concludes the singing of the gospel of John (13:12-20), followed by the closing prayer of the rite.