Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, among other names) is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the foot washing (Maundy) and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, as described in the canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday. The name comes from the Latin word mandatum, “commandment”, which comes from Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment”. The date is always between March 19 and April 22 inclusive, but these dates fall on different days depending on whether the Gregorian calendar or Julian calendar is used liturgically. Eastern churches generally use the Julian calendar and celebrate this feast throughout the 21st century between April 1 and May 5 in the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. The liturgy held on the evening of Maundy Thursday initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus; 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 of Passover, according to the three Synoptic Gospels.
The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, which is the mother Church of the Anglican Communion, uses the name “Maundy Thursday” for this observance. The corresponding publication of the US Episcopal Church, which is another province of the Anglican Communion, also refers to the Thursday before Easter as “Maundy Thursday”. Throughout the Anglican Communion, the term “Holy Thursday” is a synonym for Ascension Day.
As of 2017, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church uses the name “Holy Thursday” in its official English-language liturgical books. The personal ordinariates in the Catholic Church, which have an Anglican patrimony, retain the traditional English term “Maundy Thursday”, however. An article in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia used the term “Maundy Thursday”, and some Catholic writers use the same term either primarily, or alternatively.
The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) uses the term “Maundy Thursday”; the Book of Worship (1992) uses the term “Holy Thursday”, and other official sources of the United Methodist Church use both “Maundy Thursday” and “Holy Thursday”.
Both names are used by other Christian denominations as well, including the Lutheran Church or portions of the Reformed Church. The Presbyterian Church uses the term “Maundy Thursday” to refer to the holy day in its official sources.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the name for the holy day is, in the Byzantine Rite, “Great and Holy Thursday” or “Holy Thursday”, and in Western Rite Orthodoxy “Maundy Thursday”, “Holy Thursday” or both. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses the term “Covenant Thursday” or “Thursday of the Covenant”.
In the Maronite Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the name is “Thursday of Mysteries”.
“Maundy Thursday” is the official name of the day in the civil legislation of England and the Philippines.
The day has also been known in English as Shere Thursday (also spelled Sheer Thursday), from the word shere (meaning “clean” or “bright”). This name might refer to the act of cleaning, or to the fact that churches would switch liturgical colors from the dark tones of Lent, or because it was customary to shear the beard on that day, or for a combination of reasons. This name has cognates throughout Scandinavia, such as Danish Skærtorsdag, Swedish Skärtorsdag, Norwegian Skjærtorsdag, Faroese Skírhósdagur and Skírisdagur, and Icelandic Skírdagur.
Derivation of the name “Maundy”
Maundy is the name of the Christian rite of footwashing, which traditionally occurs during Maundy Thursday church services. Most scholars agree that the English word maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum (also the origin of the English word “mandate”), the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”) This statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung in the Roman Rite during the Maundy (Ecclesiastical Latin: “Mandatum”) ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community. In 2016, it was announced that the Roman Missal had been revised to allow women to participate as part of the 12 in the Mandatum; previously, only males partook of the rite.
Others theorize that the English name “Maundy Thursday” arose from “maundsor baskets” or “maundy purses” of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. Thus, “maund” is connected to the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg. A source from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod likewise states that, if the name was derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term “Maundy” comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded. Other sources reject this etymology.
The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration among many Christian groups, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau (German Baptist) Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Roman Catholic traditions. The practice is also becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterianchurches, as well as in other Protestant denominations.
In the Catholic Church and in some Anglican churches, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper begins as usual, but the Gloria is accompanied by the ringing of bells, which are then silent until the Easter Vigil. After the homily the washing of feet may be performed. The Blessed Sacramentremains exposed, at least in the Catholic Mass, until the service concludes with a procession taking it to the place of reposition. The altar is later stripped bare, as are all other altars in the church except the Altar of Repose. In pre-1970 editions, the Roman Missal envisages this being done ceremonially, to the accompaniment of Psalm 21/22, a practice which continues in many Anglican churches. In other Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Church or Methodist Church, the stripping of the altar and other items on the chancel also occurs, as a preparation for the somber Good Friday service.
The Chrism Mass is a religious service held in Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Anglicanism.
Maundy Thursday is notable for being the day on which the Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese. The Chrism Mass is one of the most solemn and important liturgies of the liturgical year. Usually held in the diocesean cathedral, it is generally held on the morning of Maundy Thursday, but may in some dioceses take place on another day during Holy Week. It is often the largest annual gathering of clergy and faithful held in most dioceses. In some dioceses, attendance is sufficiently significant that, due to limited seating, tickets are distributed to parishes. The Mass is a celebration of the institution of the priesthood with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.” During the Mass, those present are called to renew their baptismal promises; priests/ministers and deacons also reaffirm their ministry by renewing the promises made at their ordination.
The Mass takes its name from the blessing of the holy oils used in the sacraments throughout the year, which are then given to priests to take back to their parishes. The Rite of Reception of the Oils by representatives of the diocesan parishes is a sign of each parish’s unity with the Bishop and the diocesan Church. Whenever the holy oils are used, the ministry of the bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present. The oils distributed are meant to last all year, although extra oil is also blessed during the Mass and is kept at the cathedral as a reserve if a parish runs out.
The service is a 1967 restoration of the rite recorded in the early 200s by the historian Hippolytus who writes of a ceremony taking place during the Easter Vigil at which two holy oils were blessed and one was consecrated. In the fifth century, the ceremony of the oils was transferred from the Holy Saturday Vigil to Holy Thursday during a special Mass for that purpose, distinct from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The change took place partly because of the large crowds that assembled for the Easter Vigil, but also to emphasize Christ’s institution of this ordained priesthood at Holy Thursday’s Last Supper. In the decree renewing this rite Pope Paul VI said:“The Chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the closeness of the priests with him.”
The Holy Oils are:
- Chrism – used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as for the consecration of altars and the dedication of churches.
- the oil of catechumens – also used in the sacrament of Baptism, and
- the oil of the sick – used in the rite of the Anointing of the Sick
The oil of the catechumens and chrism are used on the upcoming Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil, for the baptism and confirmation of those entering the church.
While the Oil of the Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick, are simply “blessed,” the Sacred Chrism is “consecrated,”. Holy chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam, an aromatic resin. Balsam is poured into the oil, which gives it a sweet smell intended to remind those who encounter it of the “odor of sanctity” to which those who are marked with it, are called to strive. The bishop breathes over the vessel containing the chrism, a gesture which symbolizes the Holy Spirit coming down to consecrate this oil, and recalls the actions of Jesus in John 20:22, when he breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” The priests concelebrating the Mass extend their hands toward the vessel containing the chrism and say the prayer of consecration silently as the bishop pronounces it over the chrism.
With respect to Anglicanism, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (p. 307) calls for chrism to be consecrated by the bishop. This may be done when the bishop is present in the parish for Confirmation. In many dioceses, the consecration of chrism by the bishop may be done at a service of reaffirmation of ordination vows during Holy Week. During the Chrism Eucharist, the Bishop will bless the oils used throughout the next year for baptisms and healing. In addition, the Bishop and clergy in attendance will reaffirm their Ordination Vows.
The primary service of this day is Vespers combined with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at which is read the first Passion Gospel (John 13:31–18:1), known as the “Gospel of the Testament”, and many of the normal hymns of the Divine Liturgy are substituted with the following troparion:
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss like Judas. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.
When necessary to replenish the sacrament for communing the sick at a time not following a divine liturgy, an additional Lamb (Host) is consecrated on this day, intincted, covered, and left to dry until Holy Saturday when it is divided, completely dried with a candle flame, and the pieces placed in the artophorion.
In cathedrals and monasteries the ceremony of the Washing of Feet is normally performed.
When there is need to consecrate more chrism, that is performed by patriarchs and other heads of the various autocephalous churches.
- John 13:31–18:1
- John 18:1–29
- Matthew 26:57–75
- John 18:28–19:16
- Matthew 27:3–32
- Mark 15:16–32
- Matthew 27:33–54
- Luke 23:32–49
- John 19:19–37
- Mark 15:43–47
- John 19:38–42
- Matthew 27:62–66
Beginning on Holy and Great Thursday, the memorial service for the dead is forbidden until after Thomas Sunday.
- In Greek practice, the Mystery of Unction is performed on Great Wednesday as preparation for the reception of Holy Communion on Great Thursday and Pascha, a custom that originated when Greece was under Ottoman control and parish priests, being uneducated, were not permitted to hear confession, so this sacrament, by which sins are believed to be forgiven, came to be performed.
- In Greek tradition, a procession is made during the service of the Twelve Passion Gospels. It takes place after the reading of the fifth gospel during the singing of “Today He Who Hung”. During this procession, a large cross with the body of Christ is carried throughout the church while lights are extinguished, bells are slowly tolled, and the faithful prostrate themselves. The cross, with Christ’s body hung upon it, is placed in front of the Royal Doors. The icon of Christ on the cross (sometimes with nails affixing it) is struck upon the hands and feet with a stone multiple times, and is then stood up in front of the church, where it is censed.
- In some Slavic traditions, a lesser procession is made after the Twelve Passion Gospels immediately prior to the dismissal with an icon of Christ’s crucifixion which is placed on the central icon stand, where it is censed by the clergy, and then venerated.
Customs and names from around the world
- If statues and crucifixes have been covered during Passion Time (the last 2 weeks of Lent, at least in the 1962 Catholic missal), the crucifix covers are allowed to be white instead of purple for Holy Thursday.
- Maundy Thursday celebrations in the United Kingdom (also called Royal Maundy) today involve the Monarch offering “alms” to deserving senior citizens, one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign’s age. These coins, known as Maundy money or Royal Maundy, are distributed in red and white purses, and is a custom dating back to King Edward I. The red purse contains regular currency and is given in place of food and clothing; the white purse has money in the amount of one penny for each year of the Sovereign’s age. Since 1822, rather than ordinary money, the Sovereign gives out Maundy coins, which are specially minted 1, 2, 3 and 4 penny pieces, and are legal tender. The service at which this takes place rotates around English and Welsh churches, though in 2008 it took place for the first time in Northern Ireland at Armagh Cathedral. Until the death of King James II, the Monarch would also wash the feet of the selected poor people. There is an old sketch, done from life, of Queen Elizabeth I washing people’s feet on Maundy Thursday.
- The popular German name Gründonnerstag means either “mourning Thursday” or “green Thursday”.
- In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the day is called Zelený čtvrtek or Zelený štvrtok respectively, again meaning “Green Thursday”. It is because the typical meals of this day were made of fresh, green vegetables etc. From that day there is no usage of the church bells until Holy Saturday, here called “White Saturday”, because “they have flown to Rome” (a euphemism), in some regions they are replaced by groups of children walking round their village (or around the church) and making noise with wooden rattles. This is to announce to the people approaching beginning of the liturgy and call the people to the church.
- The tradition of silent bells is found also in Luxembourg: the bells fall silent until Easter, because “they have flown to Rome for Confession”, so children take to the streets, calling people to church with melancholy wooden rattling.
- In the Netherlands and Belgium, the day is called Witte Donderdag (White Thursday) referring to the liturgical colour of the day.
- In Malta, Holy Thursday is known as Ħamis ix-Xirka (Communion Thursday) and the tradition of visiting seven churches (see below) is called is-seba’ visti or is-Sepulkri.
- In Welsh, Maundy Thursday is Dydd Iau Cablyd.
- In Sweden Maundy Thursday (skärtorsdagen) is connected to old folklore as the day of the witches. Young children often dress up as witches and knock on doors getting coins or candy for easter eggs.
- In Bulgaria Maundy Thursday is called Veliki Chetvurtuk (Great Thursday), and is traditionally the day when people color their easter eggs and perform other household chores geared toward preparing for Razpeti Petuk (Crucifixion Friday), Velika Subota (Great Saturday) and Velikden (Easter Day).
- In Kerala State in India, the day is called as Pesaha(പെസഹ), a Malayalam word derived from the Aramaic or Hebrew word for Passover. It is a statewide public holiday declared by the Government of Kerala, given the high number of Saint Thomas Christians or India’s Nasranis in the state. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam is customary after special longer Holy Qurbana, which are conducted on the or at midnight till morning in Syrian Christian churches. On the evening before Good Friday the Pesaha bread is made at home. It is made with unleavened flour and they use a sweet drink made up of coconut milk and jaggery along with this bread (can be compared to Charoset). On the Pesaha night the bread is baked or steamed in a new vessel, immediately after rice flour is mixed with water and they pierce it many times with handle of the spoon to let out the steam so that the bread will not rise (this custom is called “juthante kannu kuthal” in the Malayalam language meaning piercing the bread according to the custom of Jews). This bread is cut by the head of the family and shared among the family members after prayers. In some families, a creamy dip made up of jaggery and coconut milk is used along with the Peasha bread. If the family is in mourning following a death, Pesaha bread is not made at their home, but some of the Syrian Christian neighbours share their bread with them. This custom may have its origin in their probable Jewish ancestry since many other Jewish customs like separating the sexes at church, praying with veil in their heads (women), naming conventions in line with the Jewish customs, kiss of peace (kaikasthoori) in their Holy Quorbono (mass), presentation of their babies on the 40th day after birth in the church and ceremonial bath of the dead bodies. Unlike other Christians, in their weddings the bride stands on the right side of the groom resembling the Jewish custom and during the wedding a veil is given to the bride. The Saint Thomas Christians diaspora also celebrate this day by having Holy Communion services in the parishes according to their respective liturgies. The tradition of washing feet by priests is practised in every parish commemorating Jesus washing the feet of his disciples symbolizing humbleness.
- In the Philippines, the day is officially known as Huwebes Santo or “Maundy Thursday” (the term “Holy Thursday” is rarely used). Most businesses are closed during the Easter Triduum, with shopping malls opening on Black Saturday. Terrestrial television and radio stations either go completely off-air during the Triduum or operate on shorter hours with special programming; cable channels usually retain their normal programming. Newspapers do not publish on Good Friday and Black Saturday.
Seven Churches Visitation
The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome. and occurs among the faithful in countries around the world.
In India, the custom is to visit fourteen churches, one per Station of the Cross. Traditionally, this is performed on Maundy Thursday evening but is more often done on the morning of Good Friday or on any day of Lent. Usually, whole families would participate, customarily fasting for the duration of the rite. It is also undertaken by parish devotional groups.
In the Philippines, the tradition is called Visita Iglesia (Spanish, “church visit”), where people visit churches to pray, usually reciting the Stations of the Cross. The Stations are often distributed amongst one, seven, or fourteen churches; the custom until the 1970s was to pray all fourteen in each church. It is a chiefly urban custom, as churches are located closer to each other in cities, and supposedly because it originates in visiting the seven churches of Intramuros that stood until the 1945 Bombing of Manila. The original purpose of the ritual was to venerate the Blessed Sacrament in the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday night, but since no prayers were prescribed (apart from those for the Pope), the Stations of the Cross were recited. Some Filipino liturgists[who?], however, have sought to revive the original vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, and have composed prayers to guide contemporary worshippers.
In Singapore, the visiting of churches occurs shortly after the evening Mass of the Last Supper. Prayers at each church consist of seven repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri. Due to the new trend of late Mass times (sometimes 7 or 8 pm) to allow for more churchgoers, eight churches are the maximum number visited (even in the city area, where these are closer to each other than in outer residential areas) before these close at midnight. A festive atmosphere exists, with the sale of drinks, hot cross buns and other local snacks like the traditional kueh ko chee. Observant Catholics have a ‘Last Supper’ meal in anticipation of the next day’s fast.
- Gail Ramshaw (2004). Three Day Feast: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Augsburg Books. Retrieved 11 April2009.
In the liturgies of the Three Days, the service for Maundy Thursday includes both, telling the story of Jesus’ last supper and enacting the footwashing.
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Holy Week, or Passion Week, the week which immediately precedes Easter, and is devoted especially to commemorate the passion of our Lord. The Days more especially solemnized during it are Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
- Peter C. Bower. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. Geneva Press. Retrieved 11 April 2009.
All of Holy Week points toward the passion-the death and resurrection of Christ. The week’s three final days (from sunset Thursday through sunset on Easter) complete the commemoration of Christ’s passion. These three days are called the Triduum.
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On the Thursday, which is known as Maundy Thursday, Christians remember the Last Supper which Jesus had with his disciples. It was the Jewish Feast of the Passover, and the meal which they had together was the traditional Seder meal, eaten that evening by the Jews everywhere.
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Holy Thursday or Ascension Day. Festum Ascensionis. Le Jeudi Saint d’ Ascension.
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Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday. This, as the name sufficiently implies, is the anniversary of Christ’s Ascension.
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The season of Lent prepares the Church for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the sacred Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
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Holy Thursday is thus sometimes called Maundy Thursday because it was on this day that Christ gave us the new commandment—the new mandate—to love one another as he loves us.
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These days (approximately three 24-hour periods) begin on Maundy Thursday evening and conclude on Easter evening. On Maundy Thursday we hear the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and his act of service and love in washing their feet.
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Maundy Thursday is the day immediately preceding Good Friday. It was also known as Shere Thursday, probably from a custom of the priests, who on this day are said to have shaved themselves and trimmed their hair, which had been allowed to grow during the preceding six weeks. An old chronicle says ‘people would this day shere theyr hedes, and clypp theyr berdes, and so make them honest against Easter Day.’
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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.
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This service, also called a Chrism Mass, is held during Holy Week and presided over by a synodical bishop. At this unique liturgy, the blessing of oil is coupled with a renewal of vows for rostered leaders. The traditional day for this service is Maundy Thursday (when some traditions believe the first ordinations took place).
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- “Reception of the Holy Oils”, USCCB
- “Chrism Mass celebrates priesthood, allows for blessing of oils”,the Brownsville Herald, April 12, 2017
- Labbe, Mark. “Sacred Oils Prepared for chrism Mass”, The Boston Pilot, April 7, 2017
- “Chrism Mass”, Catholic Review, Archdiocese of Baltimore, March 27, 2008Archived 13 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine
- “Chrism Mass 2017”, St. James Cathedral, Seattle, April 6, 2017
- The Royal MintArchived 28 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- The word is of medieval origin and may refer to the possible use of green vestments on this day in some regions, or to a custom of eating green salad or pancakes (cf. Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm). The name could also derive from Old High Germangrīnan (“mourn” or “wail”, cf. Engl. groan), referring to the death of Jesus or the penitents‘ return to the eucharist on this day in older times (K. Küppers, “Gründonnerstag”, In Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. IV,, DTV, Munich, 2003).
- Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, 1958
- Sunish George J Alumkalnal, (2013). “Pesaha celebration of Nasranis: a sociocultural analysis.” Journal of Indo Judaic studies13, pp. 57–71
- “Maundy Thursday”. officeholidays.com. Retrieved 13 April2017.
- except in the regions of Catalonia and Valencia
- “Planning your trip_www.visitdenmark.com”. VisitDenmark. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- “Hill, William. “Join the 7-church visits”, Diocese of Pittsburgh, April 11, 2014″. Archived from the original on 21 May 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- Of the seven, only Manila Cathedral and San Agustín Churchremain in situ following the Second World War.
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