Amid the bustle of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, Maundy Thursday is easy to overlook. Few calendars label it, and some churches don’t observe it at all, though it may be the oldest of the Holy Week observances. It’s worth asking why, and how, generations of Christians have revered this day.
The Middle English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning “command.” The reference is Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.“
Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, which took place the Thursday before Easter.
Alternatives Meanings of Maundy
Later tradition, however, suggests the term comes either from the Saxon word mand, which afterward became maund — a name for a basket, and subsequently for any gift or offering contained in the basket — or from the French word maund, from Old French mendier, which in turn comes from Latin mendicare, meaning “to beg.” It’s the same root from which we get “mendicant order” or those that rely on the giving of alms.
In both of these cases, they converge in the English tradition, dating back to England in 1210, of the Crown giving gifts to the poor on this date in a container called a “maund” or “maundy purse.”
Roman Catholic Celebration of Maundy Thursday
In the Roman Catholic tradition, Maundy Thursday Evening marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. A triduum is a space of three days usually accompanying a church festival or holy days that are devoted to special prayer and observance. Maundy Thursday is followed by Good Friday, Holy Saturday and concludes with evening prayers on Easter Sunday.
Protestant Practices of Maundy Thursday
Protestant churches that do observe Maundy Thursday may offer a dramatic re-enactment of the Last Supper or another special Communion service. Foot-washing services and adapted…