Maundy Thursday Explained: Meaning, Celebrations, and Facts

We commemorate Maundy Thursday as the day when Jesus celebrated His final Passover with His disciples, washed their feet, and commanded them to love one another just as He loved them.

When we think of Holy Week, these two things immediately pop into our heads – the Easter holiday and Good Friday. However, there is another day worth celebrating, Maundy Thursday. Although it doesn’t gain as much attention as the days before and after it, the events of Maundy Thursday is as important. Here’s everything that’s happened on Maundy Thursday and its importance to our faith journey.

What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is the fifth day of Holy Week, preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday. It is known by many names such as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. According to scholars and ancient texts, it’s the day when Jesus had His last Passover with His disciples before His crucifixion. 

What do the words Maundy Thursday mean?

“Mandatum” is the Latin origin of the word Maundy, which means “command or commandment”. It refers to the instructions Jesus gave His followers to “Love one another as I have loved you” at the Last Supper (John 13:34). Additionally, according to Merriam-Webster, “maundy” pertains to the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday. 

What Events Happened on Maundy Thursday?

Jesus shared the Passover meal and Communion

Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples consisting of wine and unleavened bread. During their gathering, Jesus imparted several teachings to His disciples. One of those was about His upcoming crucifixion.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.” (Mark 14:22-24)

Participating in Communion is how we commemorate the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us. After breaking bread and sharing wine with His disciples, Jesus gives them a new commandment and shows them an example of how to do it.

Jesus retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane

After the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray to the Heavenly Father.

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus prays to the Father with the exact words three times. Here we see that although Jesus already knows what is about to come, He’s still apprehensive and asks if He could escape. But ultimately, Jesus affirms His willingness to set aside His desires and let God’s will be done.

Judas’ betrayal

During the Passover meal, Jesus foretells both His death and the betrayal of one of the twelve disciples. After Jesus finishes praying in Gethsemane, He is arrested by armed men led by Judas. 

“While he was still speaking, one of the Twelve, Judas arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs sent from the chief priests and the people’s elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” (Matthew 26:47-50)

What was the New Commandment Jesus Gave on Maundy Thursday?

The new commandment Jesus gave His followers was to love one another as He has loved them (John 13:34). Jesus demonstrates this kind of love by washing His disciples’ feet. Interestingly, the term ‘mandatum’ comes from the Latin words “new commandment” and is also applied to the rite of foot-washing. 

The ancient tradition of celebrating Maundy Thursday begins with prayers and confession. Along with reading the Gospel, washing one another’s feet follows right after. By participating in foot-washing, we emulate two things: humility and servanthood. Most of Jesus’ teachings are conveyed through example. Jesus washing His disciples’ feet can be interpreted as Him washing away our sins on the cross. Although Jesus didn’t have to do the act, He still did so because to Him; it’s an act of love.

Maundy Thursday Bible Verses

Mark 14:22-24

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.” 

1 John 4:7-8

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.”

Philippians 2:1-11

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Instead, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage; instead, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Who Celebrates Maundy Thursday?

Many Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches celebrate the Maundy Thursday rite. Usually, there are special masses and prayers scheduled for Maundy Thursday. Early Christians celebrated Maundy Thursday with a communion of clergy and people. During the special gathering, the bishop consecrates the holy oils for the anointing of the neophytes on Easter night. Interestingly, Eastern Orthodox churches perform foot-washing and blessing of oil up to this day during Maundy Thursday.

Why is Celebrating Maundy Thursday Important?

If you grew up in a Christian household, you know that Holy Week is an important celebration on the Christian calendar. But why is celebrating Maundy Thursday important? Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last supper with His disciples, where He washes their feet and breaks bread, and pours wine with them (Luke 22:7-20). Celebrating Maundy Thursday reminds us of Jesus’ humility and leadership by example. By washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17), He teaches them to love and serve others. 

How to Celebrate Maundy Thursday?

Attend the special mass at church

Christian and Catholic churches worldwide host special masses and prayers during Maundy Thursday. I know most of us attend the gathering on Maundy Thursday because it has already become a tradition. And while that is true, we can still use this as an opportunity to listen to the teachings with a brand new set of ears. The great thing about Jesus’ teachings is that listening to them once is not enough. To get the very essence of what He wants us to learn, we have to seek it willingly. Attending the special mass on Maundy Thursday is one perfect example.

Remind ourselves of the importance of humility

Jesus has always led His people by His actions; an example is when He washed His disciples’ feet during the Last Supper. Jesus portrays humility and servant leadership through the act of foot-washing. On the night that Judas betrayed Jesus, despite already knowing what would happen. Everything Jesus has done that night was an act of selfless love. It’s the kind of love Jesus wants us to convey towards others, regardless of what they’ve done to us. 

Apply its significance to our faith journey

As human beings, we are forgetful. So even if we’ve heard about the events and teachings of Maundy Thursday, we only remember bits and pieces. Besides reading the Bible and meditating on the Scripture, an excellent way to remember is to apply. Take the day to remind ourselves of John 13:34 and ask for forgiveness for our shortcomings. Learning to love one another as Jesus has loved us isn’t done overnight; it’s a constant effort. 

How is Maundy Thursday Celebrated Around the World?

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, locals celebrate ‘Green’ Thursday and prepare fresh, green vegetables, and spinach is the favorite. 

While in the Kerala State, India, people make unleavened Pehasa bread at home and eat them with coconut milk. 

Akin to what Americans do during Halloween, Swedish children dress up as witches and collect candy or coins doot-to-door. Interestingly, Maundy Thursday is connected to the old Swedish folklore, the day of the witches. 

Bulgarians spend Maundy Thursday cleaning their homes and painting Easter eggs in preparation for Crucifixion Friday. 

In contrast, church bells in Luxembourg are silent on Maundy Thursday until Easter to commemorate the symbolic migration to Rome for confession.

The Queen of England takes part in the ceremony of Maundy Thursday by giving coins called Maundy money to deserving senior citizens.

Most Filipinos do fasting from activities like drinking alcohol and eating meat. It is also customary in the Philippines to visit seven churches on this particular day.


Prayer for Maundy Thursday

Lord Jesus, the night You’ve shared your last meal with the disciples, instead of asking to be served, You chose to serve. Please help us learn and apply the kind of love you have continued to shower us, regardless of what we’ve done. Help us serve with gladness as You have. Remind us to be thankful for each day that we get the opportunity to serve.

As we remember Your lessons of love, humility, and servanthood, on this night, continue to teach us Your ways. Constantly remind us because we are forgetful. Help us convey immense love towards those around us, especially those who need it most. Give us the strength to keep our eyes on the goal You have given us and keep us from temptation. 

We raise all glory and praise unto You, One God, forever and ever.

Amen.

In Conclusion

Knowing everything that happened on Maundy Thursday isn’t enough if we don’t apply it to our lives. Jesus, despite already knowing what’s to come, chose to serve His disciples because that’s His kind of love. 

The main takeaway from Maundy Thursday is John 13:34, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. It’s the reason why our sins have been washed away. Why we’re a part of God’s family. It’s this selfless kind of love that Jesus wants us to convey to others so that they can feel His love as well. 

We commemorate Maundy Thursday to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us all. When we partake in communion, we do it as an act of worship and remembrance. 

Though some churches do not practice foot-washing anymore, what’s important is we learn and apply what it represents: humility and servanthood. Though Maundy Thursday is often overlooked, its significance to our faith journey is enormous.

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.