Christians everywhere celebrate Holy Thursday or Mandy Thursday, as it is often known, each year just before Easter. This important feast commemorates the Last Supper as described in the Gospels. If you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you might know quite a bit about Holy Thursday. If, on the other hand, you’re brand new to Christianity, you may wish you knew more about the feast’s history and traditions. Here, we’ll take a look at the history of Maundy Thursday, plus we’ll talk about the way today’s Christians typically celebrate this holy day.
What is Maundy Thursday?
As the Anglican Church of England calls this holy day, Maundy Thursday is simply the Thursday before Easter. Most scholars conclude that the word “Maundy” comes from a combination of a word derived through old French, English, and Latin including mande and mandatum. You’ll find the root word “mandatum” in the Latin text describing a statement Jesus made at the Last Supper: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos,” which translates to a statement in English which you might be familiar with: “A new commandment I give to you: Love One Another, as I have loved you.” It is from the words of this, the Great Commandment, that we get the word “Maundy.”
The ceremonies Christians practice on Holy Thursday are inspire by events that took place during that Last Supper, when Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with his disciples. The washing of feet, for instance, is one practice many Christians still engage in, and it has been popular since about the fourth century. In the early days, clergy would simply wash one another’s feet, or an abbot would wash the feet of the monks he led. Today, many Christians wash one another’s feet on Maundy Thursday. Sometimes, church leaders will wash the feet of twelve men who represent disciples. Other celebrations involve entire congregations.
The second ceremony that takes place in most churches on Maundy Thursday has been taking place since the very beginning of Christianity – that is the celebration of the Eucharist, which commemorates Jesus’s words commanding the disciples to take bread and wine in memory of his sacrifice. Though Catholics and many other faithful people celebrate the Eucharist at almost every gathering, some Protestant denominations celebrate it rarely, with Maundy Thursday being one day communion is taken. We’ll cover various Christian beliefs surrounding the Holy Eucharist or Communion in another entry, since these beliefs vary widely from one denomination to the next.
Baptisms for new believers often take place on Mandy Thursday, and confessions or reconciliation services often take place on this day as well. In some communities, members of various churches gather to celebrate Maundy Thursday together, with a large ceremonial foot washing, bible readings, and music. At the conclusion of this celebration, the church is often darkened in preparation for Good Friday, and many people plan to return the following day to commemorate the day of Jesus’ passion and death.
No matter how you celebrate, you’ll find that some common threads tie Christians from various denominations to one another, and you may come to a greater appreciation of the fact that Jesus was once a man who ate, drank, and participated in daily life just as we do. As you come to understand more about Maundy Thursday, work to grow in your faith and consider sharing it with others,