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Maundy Thursday church services include the rite of Communion.

 

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is a Christian observance in the United States. It is the day before Good Friday and takes place during Holy Week. It commemorates Jesus Christ’s last supper and the initiation of Holy Communion (the Eucharist), observed in many Christian churches.

What do people do?

Many Holy Thursday services, particularly in the Catholic churches, are held in the evenings and offer Communion (or Eucharist) to the congregation. Some priests or ministers wash parishioners’ feet in memory of the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Holy oils are blessed to symbolize that the sacraments have their source in Jesus Christ, according to Christian belief. Hymns such as the Pange Lingua, Gloria, or Ubi Caritas, are usually sung in some church services during this time of the year.

Some churches offer a pot luck supper for congregation members after the Holy Thursday service. If donations are collected from the suppers, they usually go towards charitable causes. Holy Thursday serves as a time for some Christians to donate money to the poor.  Some people also prepare a meal that includes roast lamb, bitter herbs and wine around this time of the year.

Public life

Maundy Thursday is not a public holiday in the United States so schools, government offices and businesses are open. Public transport providers run to their usual schedules.

Maundy Thursday is a public holiday in countries such as (but not exclusive to):

  • Colombia.

  • Costa Rica.

  • Denmark.

  • Guatemala.

  • Nicaragua.

  • Norway.

  • Paraguay.

  • Many regions in Spain.

  • Uruguay.

It is not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Background

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, a Christian sacrament that involves consecrating (or making holy) bread and wine. The term “Maundy” derives from the Latin word for “commandment”. The New Testament in the bible describes events that took place on Holy Thursday. These events include Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and the Last Supper before he was arrested. Many Maundy Thursday church traditions come from practices that took place in Europe for many centuries.

Maundy Thursday occurs during Holy Week and remembers when Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper, an event that is told in the Christian bible. It also commemorates the practice of ceremonial foot-washing to imitate Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper as a sign and example of humility and love. Holy Thursday also commemorates the events that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

A special Eucharist commemoration on the Thursday of Holy Week was first mentioned in the North African Council of Hippo’s documents around 393 CE. There have been many references to Maundy Thursday observances after that date. Maundy Thursday was also known as Shear, Char, Shrift, and Sharp Thursday. These names are believed to have derived from cutting or trimming hair or beards before Easter during the 14th century. This particular custom signified spiritual preparation for Easter.

Roman nobility practiced washing other people’s feet during the mid 19th century. This practice is no longer common in some Protestant churches but many Catholic and Anglican churches still celebrate this Maundy Thursday rite.

Symbols

The name “Maundy” most likely stems from the Latin word mandatum (or mandatum novum) which relates to the English words “commandment” or “a new mandate”. It refers to Jesus’ words after he washed his disciple’s feet. He instructed them with a new commandment – to love one another as he loved them.

 

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