Maundy Thursday, known officially in the Catholic Church as Holy Thursday, is the Thursday within Holy Week.  Maundy Thursday commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and Ordination, and begins the Paschal Triduum.

Holy Thursday is the day on which Christ celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, four days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Only hours after the Last Supper, Judas would betray Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, setting the stage for Christ's Crucifixion on Good Friday.

Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s): White

Type of Holiday: Part of Lenten Fast

Time of Year: Thursday of Holy Week

Duration: One Evening

Celebrates/Symbolizes: Institution of The Eucharist and Ordination

Alternate Names
: Maundy Thursday, Shear Thursday

Scriptural References

Luke 22

John 13

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

The Preparation of the Passover

 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

The Dispute about Greatness

 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

 ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

Purse, Bag, and Sword

 He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Peter Denies Jesus

 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

The Mocking and Beating of Jesus

 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.

Jesus before the Council

 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

Jesus Foretells His Betrayal

 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

The New Commandment

 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

1 Corinthians 11:22-34

What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Partaking of the Supper Unworthily

 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplinedso that we may not be condemned along with the world.

 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come. 

 

Other Reference

Matthew 26
 
Mark 14

Introduction

Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, called the Last Supper, on the night before his crucifixion.  The institution of the Holy Eucharist occurred during this meal, as indicated from the gospel excerpt below:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of 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 shall not drink again 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 RSV)

Since Scripture and Tradition tell us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Jesus shared the important Last Supper with his apostles on a Thursday.  The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal. However, John suggests 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 derived from all four gospels.

Thus Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week, commemorating the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Ordination. Holy Thursday also celebrates the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, events that took place on the night before Jesus' crucifixion.  The Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday begins the Triduum, which is the three-day celebration of the heart of the Christian faith: Christ's death and resurrection. The Paschal Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes with the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of Easter.  Thus the Triduum includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and reaches it high point at the Great Easter Vigil.  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 blessed sacrament for an extended period of time is then encouraged.  The consecrated host is then used for Good Friday Masses.  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.

History

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.

Traditions and Symbols

Games and Educational Materials

Traditions

Washing of Feet
Trimming Hair and/or Beard
Blessing of Holy Oil

 

Symbols

Washing of Feet

Lent Crossword Puzzle (html)
Lent Crossword Puzzle (pdf)
Interactive Lent Crossword Puzzle

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 which 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 our page, All About the Paschal Triduum.
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Mediation

Holy Thursday

The Eucharist: The Body of Christ?

Holy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper aka the Lord's Supper, the institution of the Holy Eucharist -- why did Jesus do what he did and say what he said?  What did he mean when he said "This is my body and this is my blood" and "Do this in Memory of Me"?

 

On Holy Thursday, the night before he died, the Lord Jesus made some startling changes in the ritual of the Passover meal.   Instead of being content with the traditional Jewish table blessing over the bread, Jesus proclaimed “take and eat for this is my body.”   Over the third cup of wine, known as the cup of blessing, he said “take and drink for this is my blood.”   Then he commanded the disciples “do this in memory of me.”

Obedient to the wishes of the saviour, we remember and reenact this solemn moment in a special way each Holy Thursday, but more frequently in every Mass.   Indeed the Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed and really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.   Have you ever met anyone who has found this Catholic doctrine to be a bit hard to take?

 If so, you shouldn’t be surprised.   When Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in John 6, his words met with less than an enthusiastic reception.  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (V 52).  “This is a hard saying who can listen to it?” (V60).  In fact so many of his disciples abandoned him over this that Jesus had to ask the twelve if they also planned to quit.  It is interesting that Jesus did not run after his disciples saying, “Don’t go – I was just speaking metaphorically!”

 How did the early Church interpret these challenging words of Jesus?  Here’s an interesting fact.  One charge the pagan Romans lodged against the Christians was cannibalism.  Why? You guessed it.  They heard that this sect regularly met to eat and drink human blood.  Did the early Christians say: “wait a minute, it’s only a symbol!”?  Not at all.  When trying to explain the Eucharist to the Roman Emperor around 155AD, St. Justin did not mince his words: "For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him . . . is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”

 Not many Christians questioned the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist till the middle ages.  In trying to explain how bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, several theologians went astray and needed to be corrected by Church authority.  Then St. Thomas Aquinas came along and offered an explanation that became classic.  In all change that we observe in this life, he teaches, appearances change, but deep down, the essence of a thing stays the same.  Example: if, in a fit of mid-life crisis, I traded my mini-van for a Ferrari, abandoned my wife and 5 kids to be beach bum, got tanned, bleached my hair blonde, spiked it, buffed up at the gym, and took a trip to the plastic surgeon, I’d look a lot different on the surface.  But for all my trouble, deep down I’d still substantially be the same ole guy as when I started.

 St. Thomas said the Eucharist is the one instance of change we encounter in this world that is exactly the opposite.  The appearances of bread and wine stay the same, but the very essence or substance of these realities, which can’t be viewed by a microscope, is totally transformed.   What was once bread and wine are now Christ’s body and blood.   A handy word was coined to describe this unique change.  Transformation of the “sub-stance”, what “stands-under” the surface, came to be called “transubstantiation.”

 What makes this happen?  The power of God’s Spirit and Word.  After praying for the Spirit to come (epiklesis), the priest, who stands in the place of Christ, repeats the words of the God-man: “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”   Sounds to me like Genesis 1: the mighty wind (read “Spirit”) whips over the surface of the water and God’s Word resounds. “Let there be light” and there was light.  It is no harder to believe in the Eucharist than to believe in Creation.

 But why did Jesus arrange for this transformation of bread and wine?  Because he intended another kind of transformation.  The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ which are, in turn, meant to transform us.  Ever hear the phrase: “you are what you eat?”  The Lord desires us to be transformed from a motley crew of imperfect individuals into the Body of Christ, come to full stature.

 Our evangelical brethren speak often of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus.  But I ask you, how much more personal and intimate can you get?  We receive the Lord’s body into our physical body that we may become him whom we receive!

 It is this astounding gift that we remember and celebrate every Holy Thursday.

by: Marcellino D'Ambrosio, PhD

 
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