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Holy Thursday


HOLY THURSDAY begins the Triduum, which from the 4th century celebrated the Paschal Mystery. Originally these three days began on Good Friday. It was natural, however, to include Holy Thursday because Good Friday was reckoned from sunset on the previous evening. The oldest and still official name of the day is Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. it commemorates the historical gospel events surrounding the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Maundy Thursday, another popular title in English-speaking countries, comes from the solemn ritual of washing of feet in imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper. The title is a corruption of mandatum¬†(Latin, ‘commandment’) from the words Jesus sung as the washing begins: “A new commandment, I give you…” (John 13:34).

Originally Holy Thursday was a practical preparation of the three-day celebration of the Paschal Mystery rather that a part of it. On this day repentant sinners were absolved and re-incorporated into the parish community so that they could participate in the paschal festivities. New oils needed to be consecrated for use at baptisms and confirmations at the Easter Vigil.

The Observance of the Lord’s Supper in Jerusalem at the traditional place and approximate hour eventually influenced the universal church to imitate the tradition. Remembering the institution of the Holy Eucharist is the heart of Holy Thursday observance. Parish liturgies, since 1955, take place in the evening with joyful overtones. Bells ting and festive colors are used for vestments and decorations. The Glory to God, not sung since Ash Wednesday, returns for this brief moment. The Tabernacle is empty so that all might receive communion from bread consecrated at this Mass. The Tradition of avoiding the joyful sound of bells during the rest of the Triduum began int he 9th century in the Carolingian kingdom. It symbolized the humiliation and suffering of Jesus. In place of bells, wooden noisemakers called clappers were used.



The Holy Thursday ritual has included a ceremonial washing of feet by the presiding celebrant. This ritual imitates Jesus’ Last Supper action of humility and service. Appropriate songs are sung during this symbolic washing. Twelve participants are chosen from the parish at large or from those in parish leadership positions. Some parishes deliberately choose these “twelve apostles” from the very poor or “rejected” citizens to emphasize the theme of service. In the early church this ritual was common during the year as an act of charity and was even considered a sacrament.