Maundy Thursday, often called Holy Thursday or Great Thursday is the celebration of Christ's final hours, and always falls on the Thursday prior to Easter. In many Christian traditions, especially in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, Maundy Thursday is the last Eucharistic celebration and full mass until the Easter Vigil. Maundy Thursday could be viewed as the beginning of the summation of Lent, which ends with the celebration of Easter.
There’s some debate about the name “Maundy.” Some argue it comes from the Latin word Mandatum, the beginning of the Latin phrase Christ speaks of the new commandment in John 13:34, “love one another as I have loved you.“ Others feel Maundy is derived from the Latin mendicare, which means to beg. It is often tradition to give gifts of money to the poor on Maundy Thursday. In fact, in England, the king or queen gives Maundy purses to worthy but impoverished elderly people. In the US, it is more common to refer to Maundy Thursday as Holy Thursday.
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For some sects of Christianity, very important church services take place on Maundy Thursday, usually in the evening hours. These generally serve three purposes: to commemorate the Last Supper of Christ before his crucifixion, to include a reading from this passage in scripture, and they also acknowledge the betrayal of Christ by Judas. Many readings also include Christ’s suffering at Gethsemane.
Many Christian sects also celebrate Maundy Thursday by participating in a ritual foot washing, in duplication of Christ washing the feet of his apostles. Not all who attend such services have to have their feet washed. This is usually voluntary and may be performed by priests or designated laypersons. The goal in using priests or ministers for this task is to show that Christ is born and sacrificed in service to man, and that priests must perform this same Christlike function in their work.
Though this was once uncommon, many Protestant denomination churches also conduct foot washing ceremonies. More commonly the Roman Catholic, Armenian, Mennonite, and Methodist churches have been associated with this ritual. Some Baptist churches conduct foot washing ceremonies on a more regular basis than simply on Maundy Thursday.
In Catholic Churches, some Maundy Thursday masses will also include the Stations of the Cross, though this may again be repeated on Good Friday. The Eucharist is consecrated and usually placed in a chapel or side altar, since no Eucharist is given until Easter services, unless someone is being administered the Sacrament for the Sick or Dying. Many Christians also choose Maundy Thursday to conduct a Passover Seder, since the Last Supper is typically thought to have occurred during Passover. This occasionally coincides with the Jewish Passover dates for the year, though this is not always the case.