Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 17, 2000
What is Maundy Thursday?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
I've noticed the day before Good Friday is called Maundy Thursday by some Protestants but we call it Holy Thursday. What is the difference?
The oldest and official name is Thursday of the Lord's Supper in memory of the institution of the Holy Eucharist the evening before Jesus' death as described in the three synoptic Gospels. Because Catholics emphasize Christ's real presence in the bread and wine, we call this day holy.
Maundy is from mandatum, or commandment, which comes from Jesus' words "A new commandment I give you . . . (John 13:34) after Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper described only in the Gospel of John. Therefore, both names are acceptable because both events are commemorated on this day.
Holy Thursday begins the triduum which from the fourth century celebrated the paschal mystery.
Initially, the triduum began on Good Friday because Holy Thursday was a day of preparation for the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. On this day, sinners were absolved from their sins and re-accepted into the community. Later Holy Thursday was included as part of the triduum because Good Friday was counted from sunset.
Initially, the commemoration of the institution of the Lord's Supper was observed in Jerusalem in the evening at the place and about the hour that Jesus' Last Supper took place. This practice gradually spread to other churches. Although for centuries, we lost the practice of celebrating in the evening, it was restored in 1955.
This Mass is celebrated with joyful overtones: Where available bells are rung though they had been silent during Lent, their silence symbolizing the suffering of Jesus, a practice originating in the ninth century. The Gloria, not sung since Ash Wednesday, returns for this day.
The empty tabernacle is a significant reminder of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and vividly demonstrates that we receive the bread consecrated at this Mass. All these symbolic gestures are powerful reminders of the sacredness of this holy evening. It is evident that remembering the institution of the Holy Eucharist is the heart of this holy day.
The washing of the feet ceremony originated as early as the fifth century in some churches, in the late seventh century in Spain and France and the 12th in Rome. In imitation of Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples, the presider washes the feet of parishioners, or sometimes of selected poor people, while appropriate hymns are sung. This ceremony, lost to us for centuries, was revived also in the liturgical renewal of 1955.
At the end of this joyful liturgy, the atmosphere changes to one of reflection and hushed sadness. The tabernacle is empty, the altar is stripped and left bare. The consecrated bread has been carried in procession with incense and song to an altar of repose where it remains until it is received in Communion on Good Friday, the only day in the year when Mass is not celebrated.
In the 10th century, there was a custom of placing the Blessed Sacrament in a symbolic tomb during the three days when Jesus' earthly body was in the tomb. This began 40 hours of prayer until the Easter celebration. This custom disappeared some time later.
While he suffered his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his disciples who fell asleep: "Could you not watch one hour with me?" We respond to that challenge and spend some time until midnight in quiet waiting and watching with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.