Touring battlefields ahead of a formal commemoration of the November 11, 1918, armistice that ended the war, Macron said Petain was worthy of the honor for his leading role in the World War I victory.
Macron - who's on the road in Eastern and Northern France to commemorate the centenary of the WWI armistice - called Petain a "great soldier" during WWI when asked by reporters why he's being included in a Saturday commemoration of France's "Marshals". He is despised for his complicity in the Holocaust. "I would urge President Macron not to offer excuse or defense for the Nazis and their supporters - in the past, present, or future".
The French presidency later said that only the five top military chiefs who are interred in the Invalides will be individually honored and have their names cited in the ceremony -not including Petain.
Mr Macron will not attend the military ceremony.
The 40-year-old French president, sliding in polls, is gaining a reputation for making awkward or shocking statements. In September, he told a young out-of-work gardener that he need only "cross the street" to find a job. Yet, that would change dramatically two decades later when Petain collaborated with Nazi Germany.
His administration, based in the unoccupied part of the country known as Vichy France, collaborated with Nazi Germany and its deportation and extermination of the Jews.
France's leading Jewish organisation, CRIF, issued a searing criticism of Mr Macron's stance.
"The only thing we will remember about Ptain is that he was the embodiment of the national shame of the French people during his trial in 1945", CRIF's statement read. "It judges the enormous and unworthy responsibility of a marshal who deliberately used his name and prestige as a cover for treason and the collaboration and deportation of thousands of Jews in France". "Petain signed the (law on) the status of Jews that meant Jews were excluded from public functions, education and forced to wear the Jewish star".
Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the hard-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, wrote on Twitter: "Marshal Joffre was the military victor of the 1914-18 war. Macron, this time, you've gone to far". Petain was a traitor and an anti-Semite.
Kalifat said it was "an insult" that a French president could honor Petain on "the same level as the other generals".
Yet the marshal has always been considered an excellent tactician during the Great War, not least for halting the German advance at Verdun in 1916.
"The marshals whose honour has not been tarnished, and only those, will be honoured by the republic", spokesman Benjamin Griveaux posted on Facebook late Wednesday. He quoted Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces in the Second World War and the nation's universal hero, as saying of Petain in 1966 that "the glory he earned in Verdun. can be neither contested nor go unrecognised by the nation".