Maundy Thursday Meaning, History, and Customs

Maundy Thursday is celebrated on the Thursday of Holy Week in the Christian calendar. For those who observe this day, they are recalling the moment when Jesus established the sacrament of the Eucharist or communion. There are some churches that also take this day to commemorate the ordination of priests and pastors. It is also the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.

These are the three days of Easter – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which mark the end of Lent and are the three days of preparation for the Easter holiday. In this article, we are going to focus on Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday.

General Facts About Maundy Thursday

Date Type Alternative names National holiday
Thursday before Easter Religious Passion Thursday, Pascal Thursday, Holy Thursday, Shear Thursday, Sharp Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, White Thursday, Green Thursday, Great Thursday, Thursday of Mysteries It is a national holiday in the following nations:
Argentina, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, US Virgin Islands, Kerala state in India

What Is Maundy Thursday?

Most scholars believe the word maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning mandate or commandment. Christians celebrate the Eucharist or communion in memory of the works of Jesus during various times throughout the year, but especially on Holy Thursday.

As Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples, he told them that they must continue to break bread and share a cup of wine when they gathered together. By giving them this mandate, he instituted the rite of the Eucharist. Jesus humbly washed the disciple’s feet and instructed them to do the same in the future. He gave them the commandment to serve each other.

The History of Maundy Thursday

The first recorded mention of any type of recognition of Holy Thursday is found in a document of the North African Council of Hippo, AD 393. It is not known if or how Christians marked Holy Thursday prior to AD 393. Following this date, there are many mentions of the observance of Holy Thursday.

Between the 12th and 17th centuries, the church in England established a tradition of giving specially minted coins to some of its elderly citizens. Those who had lived lives of great service to their country were honored. The King or Queen of England personally handed them their Maundy Money in a unique red and white purse.

Catholic churches will celebrate a Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday. The priests will gather with the bishop in a sign of unity in the diocese. In this Mass, the bishop will bless the oils that will be used for three separate purposes throughout the year to come.
The priests of Germany were ordered by St. Boniface in 730 AD to use only oil that had been blessed by a bishop to anoint the sick. The three oils he blesses today are the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm, and the holy chrism.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples that night. He was their leader, their holy teacher. Even so, he humbled himself before each one of them to do the work of a servant. This is why some pastors and priests have a ceremony to wash the feet of some of their congregants. They choose to be the humble servant of their church, their community, and their God. By doing so, they set a standard for their congregation to strive towards, living lives that reflect the kindness and humility of Christ.

Maundy Thursday Customs

There are some churches in America that offer a potluck supper for their congregation after the Maundy Thursday service. In keeping with the tradition of the Passover, other churches will conduct a complete or partial Passover Seder. The churches that collect donations for these meals will often give that money to charity.

Foot-washing ceremonies are offered around the world in both Protestant and Catholic churches. Priests and pastors may wash the feet of 12 people in the way Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples. By doing so, these church leaders show their humility and desire to serve.

People in Bulgaria traditionally color Easter eggs on Great Thursday. This is the day for them to complete household chores to prepare for the Triduum and Easter Sunday.

In the Scandinavian nations, Holy Thursday has been connected with folklore about witches. Their young children may dress as witches and knock on the doors of their neighbors to receive candy and coins.

Summing Up

The significance of this day has often been in the shadow of Good Friday and Easter Sunday celebrations. It is an important day of remembrance for Christians nonetheless. Holy Thursday is a day to recall the Last Supper when Jesus established the institution of the Eucharist. It is a day for Christians to gather and celebrate by following his example.

It is also a day for the servants of Christ to show their decision to serve and live sacrificial lives. Church leaders illustrate this by washing feet and offering “Maundy Money” to the needy. Christians who follow this example are following this mandate of Christ.