All About Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)
Maundy Thursday Definition and Summary
Maundy Thursday, known officially in the Catholic Church as Holy Thursday, is the Thursday within Holy Week. Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the sacraments of Eucharist and Ordination and begins the Paschal Triduum.
Prayer: Holy Thursday Prayer
Basic Facts About Holy Thursday
Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Part of Lenten fast
Time of Year: Thursday of Holy Week
Duration: One day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Institution of the Eucharist and Ordination
Alternate Names: Maundy Thursday, Shear Thursday
Scriptural References: Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13; 1 Corinthians 11:22-34
Jesus shared His last meal with his disciples, the Last Supper, on the night before His crucifixion. The institution of the Eucharist occurred during this meal, as indicated in the Gospel excerpt below:
"While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 NRSVCE)
Since Scripture and Tradition tell us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Jesus shared the Last Supper meal with His apostles on a Thursday. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. However, John seems to hold that Jesus was crucified before the Passover meal, on the Day of Preparation. Perhaps the Last Supper was done in anticipation of the Passover Meal, or was a Kiddush or some other religious meal.
The Gospel of John does not record the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, while the synoptic gospels do. However, John's Gospel records Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Holy Thursday traditions are based on events from all four Gospels.
Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week. The name "Maundy" comes from the Latin antiphon Mandatum Novum, i.e. "a new mandate." This new mandate from Jesus is taken from John 13:34: love one another as I have loved you.
Various traditions and customs are associated with Maundy Thursday, including the reciting of the creed by Catechumens from memory, the washing of feet, reconciliation of penitents, and the consecration of holy oil (chrism). The modern Western Holy Thursday service has an option for the blessing of chrism and the washing of feet. After the Maundy Thursday evening Mass, the altars are stripped, the holy water stoups are emptied, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the church in procession to a place of reposition. Traditionally the Pange Lingua (the last two stanzas which are known as Tantum Ergo) is sung during this procession. Adoration of the sacrament for an extended period of time is then encouraged. The consecrated host is then used for Good Friday service. The alternate and uncommon name Shear Thursday comes from the ancient custom of trimming one's beard and hair that day as a sign of spiritual preparation for Easter.
A special commemoration of the Institution of the Eucharist on the Thursday of Holy Week is first attested to in the documents of the North African Council of Hippo (AD 393). References to Holy Thursday celebrations are abundant after this date. Since 1955 in the Catholic Church, the Maundy Thursday Mass is only celebrated in the evening, although in earlier times as many as three Masses a day were said. Traditionally, Maundy Thursday fell within the Lenten Season, although in post-Vatican II Catholic practice, Maundy Thursday is not liturgically a part of Lent, although it is still reckoned as part of the "forty days of Lent." In many Protestant churches, Holy Thursday is still liturgically part of Lent, since many Protestant churches do not recognize the Triduum as distinct from Lent.
Worship And Prayer Resources
Catholic Eucharist, Mass, and Communion Prayers
Traditions and Symbols
Traditions Washing of feet, trimming hair and/or beard, blessing of holy oil
Symbols Washing of feet
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the Paschal Triduum? The Paschal Triduum, often called the Easter Triduum or simply the Triduum, consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This includes the Great Easter Vigil, the high point of the Triduum. The word Triduum comes from the Latin word meaning "three days." It begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends at Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Thus the Triduum consists of three full days that begin and end in the evening. The Triduum technically is not part of Lent (at least liturgically), but Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are still reckoned as part of the traditional forty day Lenten fast. The Triduum celebrates the heart of our faith and salvation: the death and resurrection of Christ, and is thus the high point of the liturgical year. For more information, visit All About the Paschal Triduum.
2. Why Does the Church Celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist on a Thursday?
Prayer for Maundy Thursday Service
Table of Movable Major Catholic Seasons and Holidays
This page written by David Bennett.