What is Holy Thursday?
Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday is the day during the Holy Week that commemorates the creation of the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday usually lands between March 19 and April 22nd of every year. It is the fifth day of Holy Week and is succeeded by Good Friday.
Holy Thursday is observed by several Christian denominations and is known as the Thursday of Mysteries, Sheer Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Green Thursday Covenant Thursday, and Maundy Thursday. Each iteration of the name has a special meaning attached to it.
For instance, Sheer Thursday (Clean Thursday) emphasizes the fact that on this day not only are the souls of sinners cleansed through absolution but it also symbolizes that day people put extra attention on cleaning themselves in preparation for Easter.
Maundy Thursday or the Thursday of Mandatum is influenced by the first words that are sung at the Holy Thursday ceremony of the washing of the feet, “A new commandment I give you.”
The word ‘Mandatum’ is a Latin word that means commandment. The Holy Day is known as Holy Thursday or Great Thursday because on this day Christians celebrate the sacred events of Christ’s Passion.
Holy Thursday Meaning
Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper which is considered as the Institution of Holy Eucharist, also known as the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper. Many Christian denominations consider the Eucharist the central act of worship.
According to the Gospel of Luke, this rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper when he gave his twelve Apostles bread and wine during a Passover meal and commanded them to do the same in his memory.
Jesus Christ referred to the Bread as His body and the cup of wine as “the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many.” The Catholic Church believes that the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ when its consecrated.
Jesus Christ was of Jewish heritage and the Last Supper is him observing the Jewish tradition of Passover Seder.
The Jewish festival of Passover commemorates the exodus of Jews from Egypt. There was no time for the bread to rise because they had to leave so quickly. Therefore, Jesus and his disciples ate unleavened bread.
In the Catholic Church, most Holy Thursday celebrations include the washing of the feet along with the Eucharistic celebration. The Bishop will wash the feet of twelve priests just like Jesus washed the feet of his twelve disciples.
He did so to teach his disciples how to be servants. During the Last Supper, Jesus Christ refuses to eat no more until the Kingdom of God is restored and also foretells his death.
Read more: Ash Wednesday
What is the significance of Holy Thursday Mass?
In the Catholic Church, except for Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, the most important, significant, and profound day is Holy Thursday as it celebrates the institutions of the Eucharist and the sacrament of the Priesthood.
On this day, during the Last Supper, Jesus Christ offered Himself as the Passover sacrifice and ordered each ordained priest to follow the same exact sacrifice.
During the Last Supper, Christ also bade farewell to his followers and prophesizes that one of his 12 apostles will end up betraying him by alerting the Roman Soldiers. On the morning of Holy Thursday, Bishops and priests come together to celebrate the institution of the priesthood.
At the Holy Thursday Mass, just like Jesus Christ washed the feet of his twelve Apostles, the bishop washes the feet of twelve priests. He also blesses the Oil of Chrism which will be used for the anointing of the sick, confirmations, and baptisms.
After sundown, the Holy Thursday liturgy takes place. This marks the end of the Lent and the beginning of the Triduum, which consists of the three holiest days in the Catholic Church.
This period starts on the evening of Holy Thursday, reaches its highest point during Easter Vigil, and concludes with the evening prayers on Easter Sunday.
Holy Thursday is a significant day because it stresses the importance Jesus Christ put on the humility of service, cleansing with water, the sacrifice of Christ’s Body, and the Eucharist.
How is Holy Thursday celebrated?
In the early days of the Christian Church, Holy Thursday was celebrated with a general communion of clergy and people. During the mass, the Bishop would consecrate the holy oils in order to prepare for the anointing of the neophytes at the baptism on Easter Night.
In Western Christianity, the service includes the commemoration of the Last Supper. On this day, devout Christians celebrate the sacrament of the Holy Communion. Feet washing is practiced amongst several Christian denominations.
In Catholic Churches, the Chrism Mass is also celebrated in each diocese. During the Chrism Mass, those in attendance are asked to renew their baptismal promises, and the priests present are also called to reaffirm their ministry by renewing the promises they made at their ordination.
According to Pope Paul VI, “The Chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the closeness of the priests with him.” The mass gets its name from the oils that are consecrated, one of them being Chrism. The other two oils are the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick.
Once the Holy Thursday Mass is concluded, people are also invited to continue the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. This symbolizes the apostles being invited by Jesus Christ to stay up during His agony in the garden before his betrayal. Mass is not conducted again in the Church until the Easter Vigil celebrations and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the Philippines, the period of Easter Triduum, which begins with Holy Thursday is known as ‘Huwebes Santo.’ During this period, most businesses are closed, except for shopping malls which are open on Black Saturday.
Television and radio stations are either completely shut off or operated for shorter hours featuring special programming. Even newspapers are not published on Good Friday and Black Saturday.
Maundy Thursday is known as ‘Pesaha’ in the Indian state of Kerala. The word ‘Pesaha’ is derived from the Syriac word ‘Peshai’ which means Passover. Holy Thursday is considered a public holiday.
Members of the Christian community celebrate the day by preparing the Pesaha bread at home itself. Holy Communion services are also offered by the parishes to their respective liturgies.
In Bulgaria, Holy Thursday is spent preparing for the festivities of Good Friday, Great Saturday, and Easter Sunday. On the other hand in Sweden, the holiday is associated with folklore according to which the day belongs to witches. Therefore, young kids spend the day in witch costumes and go door to door looking for coins and candy.
Read more: The Mysteries of the Rosary
Is Holy Thursday a Holy Day of Obligation?
In the Roman Catholic Church, Holy Days of Obligation are those days on which Catholics must avoid doing unnecessary work and attend mass.
While all Sundays are sanctified like Holy Days of Obligation, however, the term Holy Days refer to religious feast days that must be observed in the same manner as Sundays.
Depending on the Christian Denomination you belong to, the number of Holy days of Obligation differs. For instance, Eastern Orthodox Churches have a greater number of Feasts than the Western Orthodox Church. Denominations such as Lutherans, Protestants, and Anglicans also celebrate several Roman Catholic Feats.
In the United States of America, people celebrate six Holy Days of Obligations. These are the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Solemnity of the Ascension, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Solemnity of All Saints, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Catholicism, Holy Thursday is not considered to be one of the Holy Days of Obligation. However, devout Christians are still encouraged to attend mass as this day commemorates Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples.
This day is celebrated to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. It is not considered a Holy Day of Obligation because it is celebrated once per day.
Therefore, it is considered unreasonable to require Catholics not to work for the rest of the time.
Significance of washing feet
The act of washing feet carries a very deep spiritual meaning. According to John 13:1-17, Jesus Washes the Feet of the Disciples. Let’s now understand the story.
During the Last Supper, Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
Simon Peter was scandalized and says he will never let Jesus wash his feet. But Jesus says if he doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, he will have no part with him.
Then, Peter asks Jesus to wash his hands as well as his head also. Jesus answered that Peter is already clean so just his feet needs to be washed. After washing their feet, Jesus asks every disciple to wash each other’s feet just as he washed theirs.
This act of washing the disciple’s feet by Jesus shows the faithful how to love others. Jesus who is The Lord and Teacher washes the feet of all disciples including Judas. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him but still chose to wash his feet.
While going to the Church and attending Holy Thursday Mass is very important to observe the festival, however, you can also take part in other fun activities with your children to teach them about the historic origins of their faith.
For instance, you and your children can recreate a special Holy Thursday meal that stresses the Christian elements of the traditional Passover meal. Although this isn’t a re-enactment, it will help your kids get a better understanding of that time along with the roots of their religion.
Cleaning your body and your surroundings is a very important aspect of Maundy Thursday. Some believe that this custom is related to the Jewish custom of house cleaning in preparation for the Passover feast. Involve your kids in this yearly tradition by encouraging them to clean their rooms and help them understand the importance of this tradition.
If you are unable to attend the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass because you have little kids, then you can light candles around your house and say a few special prayers before turning in.
We hope our article was able to illuminate some fascinating aspects of the Holy Thursday, along with its meaning, whether it is considered a Holy Day of Obligation, and its significance.
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