MAUNDY THURSDAY: A Thursday of Supreme Love
Christians observe Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood. Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday before Easter, observed in commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. This year Maundy Thursday is celebrated on Thursday, 01 April 2021 on April Fools’ Day.
“The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you ” The day comes always between March 19 and April 22, inclusive, and will vary according to whether the Gregorian calendar or the Julian is used. Eastern churches generally use the Julian system.
The name is thought to be a Middle English derivation taken from a Latin anthem sung in Roman Catholic Churches on that day: “Mandatum novum do vobis” (“a new commandment I give to you”; John 13:34). In most European countries, Maundy Thursday is known as Holy Thursday; other names are Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag; common in Germany), from the early practice of giving penitents a green branch as a token for completing their Lenten penance, and Sheer Thursday (clean Thursday), which refers to the ceremonial clearing of altars on this day.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which Christians consider the institution of Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s supper or communion. It is described in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus breaks bread, saying, “This is my body,” and pours wine, saying, “This is my blood.” He then asks the disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.”.
The Last Supper is derived from Jesus’ Jewish heritage and his observance of a Jewish holiday. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, the feast of unleavened bread. Jesus and the disciples are eating unleavened bread. Passover is the Jewish festival commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, when they left so quickly there was no time for the bread to rise.
Maundy Thursday is also associated with foot-washing. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, an act described in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, as Jesus teaching them to be servants. It is the ultimate act of “servant leadership.” Jesus instructs his followers to love and to serve. Catholic churches will have a Mass in the evening, with a Eucharistic celebration that includes the washing of feet.
Maundy Thursday initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection; this period includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday and ends on the evening of Easter.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper or service of worship is normally celebrated in the evening, when Friday begins according to Jewish tradition, as the Last Supper was held on the feast Passover, according to the three Synoptic gospels.
In the early Christian church, the day was celebrated with a general communion of clergy and people. At a special mass, the bishop consecrated the chrism (holy oils) in preparation for the anointing of the neophytes at the baptism on Easter night. Now the Catholic church has Chrism mass before the Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday evening liturgy is the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist, with a general communion. During the evening liturgy, the hosts are consecrated for the communion on Good Friday (when there is no liturgy), and the ceremony of the washing of feet is performed by the celebrant, who ceremonially washes the feet of 12 people in memory of Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples. Eastern Orthodox churches also have a ceremony of foot washing and blessing of oil on this day.
In England, alms are distributed to the poor by the British sovereign in a ceremony held at a different church each year. This developed from a former practice in which the sovereign washed the feet of the poor on this day.
The following video is “Jesus always loved his own” hymn which is played while washing of feet by a priest who is the main celebrant. It is presented by Don Bosco Media, Trichy, Tamil Nadu.
Wishing you a Holy Thursday.
Fr Pratap Naik SJ