What is “Maundy Thursday?”

Today is Maundy Thursday. It’s a funny-sounding name, and most Americans aren’t familiar with it. Even those who have heard the phrase don’t know what it means or from where it comes.

When I was a kid I thought people were saying “Monday Thursday” with a thick Texas Accent! 😂😂😂

What Is Maundy Thursday?

“Maundy” Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, marked by special observances during Holy Week in many Christian traditions. The Council of Hippo established “Great and Holy Thursday” as an official celebration of the Church in 393 AD. 

Why is it called “Maundy” Thursday?

First, it’s not called that by everyone, everywhere. In the Ancient Church, it was simply known as “Great and Holy Thursday.” But it became known as Maundy Thursday in the west. The name is taken from the Latin words mandatum novum (Jn 13:34), “a new command,” and recall Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. It also marks Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper following the act of foot washing. 

Foot Washing

Christ firmly established the model for Christian leadership when he washed the feet of his disciples. The world will know us (Christians) by our love. Maundy Thursday is an opportunity to search ourselves and ask whether we are in obedience to this command.

Holy Communion

On Maundy Thursday, Christ established the most important sacrament in Christianity, namely holy communion or The Eucharist, as it is known in the ancient Church.

At the “Last Supper” in the Upper Room, Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the traditional Passover meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take and eat it; this is my body.'” (Matthew 26:26-28).

We equate food with life because it sustains our earthly existence. But Jesus had told us that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:48). In Holy Communion, Jesus takes the distinctively unique human food – bread and wine – and becomes our gift of life. In communion, the Author of life shatters the limitations of our createdness. Christ acts so that “we might become sharers of divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Communion is Holy because it goes beyond a simple memorial service. The believer’s new life in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) is renewed, refocused, and re-energized by partaking in the Lord’s supper. The very word “communion” should tell us much of what happens during the ceremony. Through “communion,” the Church remembers and enacts the redemptive event of the Cross sacramentally and participates in its saving grace. This is not to say that communion is a mechanism or requirement for salvation. Instead, the Eucharist allows the Christian to experience over and over the mystery of salvation and to be united intimately to the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Eucharist, we receive and partake of the resurrected Christ. We share in His sacrificed, risen, and deified Body, “for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.”

But Wait… There’s More

So much happened on Maundy Thursday. Not only did Christ institute the Lord’s Supper, but He also agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, demonstrating His humanity in yet a new way. And then He endured his betrayal and the beginning of his beatings and the mockery of his first trial at the hands of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. 

How Do We Celebrate

Holy Thursday has been celebrated in many ways over the centuries. In the Ancient (Orthodox) Church, they hold several special services. The main service of the day is the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil that is conducted on Holy Thursday morning. The Scripture Readings for the Liturgy are: Exodus 19:10-18; Job 38:1-21, 42:1-5; Isaiah 50:4-11; I Corinthians 11:23-32; and Matthew 26:2-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-45; Matthew 26:40-27:2. In the Roman Catholic Church, Maundy Thursday is marked by numerous practices, including the stripping of altars and the emptying of holy-water fonts. Church leaders—bishops and abbots—wash feet. In St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope also observes the practice. Many Protestant congregations administer Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday as a part of their Holy Week observances. Some Baptist groups practice foot washing and serve the Lord’s Supper on that day.

I encourage you to adopt your own Maundy Thursday practice for yourself or your family. Certainly, Communion and Foot Washing would be simple practices to implement. 

I leave you with a prayer that has been prayed by Christians on Holy Thursday for nearly 1600 years:

“Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.”

Amen!

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