Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries) is the Christian feast, or holy day, falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Spy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.
The date is always between 19 March and 22 April inclusive, but these dates fall on different days depending on whether the Gregorian or Julian calendar is used liturgically. Eastern churches generally use the Julian calendar, and so celebrate this feast throughout the 21st century between 1 April and 5 May in the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. The liturgy held on the evening of Maundy Thursday initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ; this period includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and ends on the evening of Easter. The mass or service of worship is normally celebrated in the evening, when Friday begins according to Jewish tradition, as the Last Supper was held on feast of Passover.
Names in English
William Blake's 1794 poem Holy Thursday, i.e. Ascension Day . Use of the names "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday", and the others is not evenly distributed. What is considered the normal name for the day varies according to geographical area and religious allegiance. Thus, while in England "Maundy Thursday" is the normal term, this term is rarely used in Ireland or Scotland in religious contexts. The same person may use one term in a religious context and another in the context of the civil calendar of the country in which he lives.
The Anglican Church of England uses the name "Thursday before Easter" in the Book of Common Prayer, and "Holy Thursday" as an alternative name for Ascension Day. But outside of the official texts of the liturgy, Anglicans sometimes apply the name "Holy Thursday" to the day before Good Friday.
The Roman Catholic Church, even in countries where "Maundy Thursday" is the name in civil legislation, uses the name "Holy Thursday" in its official English-language liturgical books.
The United Methodist Church uses the name "Holy Thursday" in its UM Book of Worship, but in other official sources it uses both "Maundy Thursday" and "Holy Thursday".
Both names are used by other Christian denominations as well, including the Lutheran Church or portions of the Reformed Church. The Presbyterian Church uses the term "Maundy Thursday" to refer to the holy day in its official sources.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the name for the holy day is, in the Byzantine Rite, "Great and Holy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday", and in Western Rite Orthodoxy "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday" or both. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses both the terms "Maundy Thursday" and "Covenant Thursday" for the holy day.
In the Maronite Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the name is "Thursday of Mysteries".
"Maundy Thursday" is the official name in the civil legislation of England and the Philippines.
The day has also been known in English as Shere Thursday (also spelled Sheer Thursday), from the word shere (meaning "clean" or "bright"). This name might refer to the act of cleaning, or to the fact that churches would switch liturgical colors from the dark tones of Lent, or because it was customary to shear the beard on that day, or for a combination of reasons. This name is a cognate to the word still used throughout Scandinavia, such as Swedish "Sk rtorsdag", Danish "Sk rtorsdag", Norwegian "Skj rtorsdag", Faroese "Sk rh sdagur" and "Sk risdagur" and Icelandic "Sk rdagur". Sk r in Swedish is also an archaic word for wash.
Derivation of the name "Maundy"
Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mand , from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the "Mandatum" ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.
Others theorize that the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from "maundsor baskets" or "maundy purses" of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. Thus, "maund" is connected to the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg. A source from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod likewise states that, if the name was derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term "Maundy" comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded.
Holy Thursday is notable for being the day on which the chrism mass is celebrated in each diocese. Usually held in the diocese's cathedral, in this mass the holy oils are blessed by the bishop, consisting of the chrism, oil of the sick, and oil of catechumens. The oil of the catechumens and chrism are to be used on the coming Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil, for the baptism and confirmation of those entering the church
"The Last Supper" - museum copy of Master Paul's sculpture The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration in many Christian Churches, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptist groups, Mennonites, and Roman Catholic Churches, and is becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins as usual, but the Gloria is accompanied by the ringing of bells, which are then silent until the Easter Vigil. After the homily the washing of feet may be performed. The service concludes with a procession taking the Blessed Sacrament to the place of reposition. The altar is later stripped bare, as are all other altars in the church except the Altar of Repose. In pre-1970 editions, the Roman Missal envisages this being done ceremonially, to the accompaniment of Psalm 21/22, a practice which continues in many Anglican churches. In other Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Church or Methodist Church, the stripping of the altar and other items on the chancel also occurs, as a preparation for the somber Good Friday service.
Orthodox icon of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles (16th century, Pskov school of iconography). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lenten character of the services is for the most part set aside, and they follow a format closer to normal. The liturgical colours are changed from the somber Lenten hues to more festive colours (red is common in the Slavic practice). The primary service of this day is Vespers combined with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. At this service is read the first Passion Gospel (), known as the "Gospel of the Testament", and many of the normal hymns of the Divine Liturgy are substituted with the following troparion:
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss like Judas. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.
In addition to the usual Preparation for Holy Communion, the Orthodox faithful will often receive the Mystery of Unction on Great Wednesday as preparation for the reception of Holy Communion on Great Thursday. It is customary to cover the Altar table with a simple, white linen cloth on this day, as a reminder of the Last Supper. On Great Thursday, the Reserved Sacrament is customarily renewed, a new Lamb (Host) being consecrated for the coming liturgical year, and the remainder from the previous year is consumed. The ceremony of the Washing of Feet will normally be performed in monasteries and cathedrals. Because of the joy of the Institution of the Eucharist, on this day alone during Holy Week wine and oil are permitted at meals. Whenever there is need to consecrate more chrysm it will be done on this day by the heads of the various autocephalous churches. In the evening, after the Liturgy, all of the hangings and vestments are changed to black or some other Lenten colour, to signify the beginning of the Passion.
Beginning on Holy and Great Thursday, the celebration of the Lity (memorial service) is forbidden until Thomas Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).
Customs and names from around the world
- The Maundy Thursday celebrations in the United Kingdom today involve the Monarch (since 1952, Queen Elizabeth II) offering "alms" to deserving senior citizens (one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign's age). These coins, known as Maundy money or Royal Maundy, are distributed in red and white purses. This custom dates back to King Edward I. The red purse contains regular currency and is given in place of food and clothing. The white purse contains currency in the amount of one penny for each year of the Sovereign's age. Since 1822, rather than ordinary money, the Sovereign gives out Maundy coins, which are specially minted 1, 2, 3 and 4 penny pieces, and are legal tender. The service at which this takes place rotates around English and Welsh churches, though in 2008 it took place for the first time in Northern Ireland at Armagh Cathedral. Until the death of King James II, the Monarch would also wash the feet of the selected poor people. There is an old sketch, done from life, of Queen Elizabeth I washing people's feet on Maundy Thursday.
- The popular German name Gr ndonnerstag means either "mourning Thursday" or "green Thursday". Other names are Hoher, Heiliger, and Wei er Donnerstag (High, Holy and White Thursday, with "white" referring to the liturgical colour associated with Maundy Thursday).
- In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the day is called Zelen tvrtek or Zelen tvrtok respectively, again meaning "Green Thursday". Because the church bells fall silent until Holy Saturday, here called "White Saturday", because "they have flown to Rome", in some regions they are replaced by groups of children walking round their village and making noise with wooden rattles. People come out of the door and give them money.
- The tradition of silent bells is found also in Luxembourg: the bells fall silent until Easter, because "they have flown to Rome for Confession", so children take to the streets, calling people to church with melancholy wooden rattling.
Christus, by the Lutheran Lucas Cranach the Elder. This woodcut of is from Passionary of the Christ and Antichrist.
- In Malta, Holy Thursday is known as amis ix-Xirka (Communion Thursday) and the tradition of visiting seven churches (see below) is called is-seba' visti or is-Sepulkri.
- In Welsh, Maundy Thursday is Dydd Iau Cablyd.
- In Denmark Maundy Thursday (sk rtorsdag) is a public holiday.
- In Norway Maundy Thursday (skj rtorsdag) is a public holiday.
- In Sweden Maundy Thursday (sk rtorsdagen) is connected to old folklore as the day of the witches. Young children often dress up as witches and knock on doors getting coins or candy for easter eggs.
- In Bulgaria Maundy Thursday is called Veliki Chetvurtuk (Great Thursday), and is traditionally the day when people color their easter eggs and perform other household chores geared toward preparing for Razpeti Petuk (Crucifixion Friday), Velika Subota (Great Saturday) and Velikden (Easter Day).
- In Kerala, a state in south India where Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis are in high population, this day is observed with great reverence. This day is called as Pesaha, a Malayalam word derived from the Aramaic or Hebrew word for Passover - Pasha or Pesah - commemorating the last supper of Jesus Christ during Passover in Jerusalem. This is also a state wide declared public holiday by the Government of Kerala. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam after the church service is observed by the entire Nasrani people till this day. Special long services followed by Holy Qurbana are conducted during the Pesaha eve or at mid-night till morning in the Syrian Christian churches. The Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis are living all over the world including United States. They also celebrate this day as 'Pesaha Yasashchya' (Maundy Thursday) by having Holy Communion services in the parishes by following the liturgy of the respective denomiations from Kerala.
- In the Philippines, most business establishments cease operations from Holy Thursday to Black Saturday. Most malls, however, only cease their operations on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and only opens on Black Saturday. Terrestrial television and radio stations either go completely off-air during that period or operate limited hours where they broadcast special shows, usually themed for the Holy Week, which is not on their usual schedule. (Cable channels usually continue their normal broadcasts.) Newspapers usually have no issues during those days.
- If statues and crucifixes have been covered during Passion Time (the last 2 weeks of Lent, at least in the 1962 Roman Catholic missal), the crucifix covers are allowed to be white instead of purple for Holy Thursday.
Maundy Thursday is a public holiday in several countries: Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Spain (most regions), Colombia, Paraguay and the Philippines.
Visiting seven churches
(See Seven Churches Visitation)
- The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome.
- In the Philippines, this tradition is called Visita Iglesia (Spanish: Church Visit), where people visit one, seven, or fourteen churches and pray the Stations of the Cross , with the stations divided amongst the churches. A common practise until the 1970s was to recite all fourteen stations in each church rather than a fraction of it.
- In several countries in Latin America it is also a tradition to visit seven churches on the night of Holy Thursday.
- In the [Philippines] the practice of visiting churches developed when the seven churches of Intramuros, Manila were still standing (except of course the Manila Cathedral which was repaired and San Agustin Church which were not bombed or destroyed during the Battle of Manila during World War II and still standing until today). The visitation of churches is rather an urban tradition (Traditions practiced within the city or urban places) not a rural tradition since it is only in urban setting where you can find churches which are near to each other. Originally, the practice is to visit churches on Holy Thursday to visit the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of Repose. Since there are no set of prayers,people opted to pray the Stations of the Cross (which in other churches chose to cover their 14 images with purple cloth and int other churches opted to display the 14 stations outside of the church to give way and accommodate people who have the devotion to pray the Way of the Cross [fqq].
- The practice of visiting fourteen churches on Holy Thursday developed lately when (1)the development of roads which made the transfer from one church to another easily (2) the growing numbers of vehicles and means of transportation (3)the lighting system which lighted the way and roads from one church to another (4)and the desire of the people to pray one station of the stations of the cross in each church thus making it 14 churches. Sadly speaking, the practice developed which deviates from the original practice of spending time with the Blessed Sacrament in prayer and reflection.
References and footnotes
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