Maundy Thursday: The celebration of the Last Supper

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Even though Maundy Thursday is not an official holiday, it still has an important meaning: the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of Jesus’ suffering and death.

What is Maundy Thursday?
Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his arrest. On the evening of Maundy Thursday, the so-called “Triduum Sacrum” (or “Triduum Paschale”) begins, i.e. the time of the holy three days or the paschal three days. According to ancient tradition, the new day begins the evening before. For this reason, Maundy Thursday evening is also counted as part of the “Triduum Sacrum.”

Maundy Thursday is not a public holiday like Good Friday. Still, as a commemoration of the Last Supper and the associated institution of the Eucharist by Jesus himself, it has a high status in the liturgy. It is an integral part of Holy Week.

Institution of the Eucharist
According to biblical tradition, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the eve of his arrest. Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine, instructing them to do so in the future in remembrance of him. Jesus already knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him and that he would die (Mt 26:21 EU).

Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane
After the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples went to the Mount of Olives. There, Jesus prophesied to Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed in the morning. Jesus then went with three of the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (also known as Gethsemani). They were supposed to stay awake with him, but the disciples kept falling asleep while Jesus prayed to God. In great fear, he asked his heavenly Father to avert his impending fate. At the same time, however, he accepted God’s will (Mt 26:30-44).

When Jesus returned to the sleeping disciples, Judas came to the Garden of Gethsemane with armed soldiers. As a sign of who they were to arrest, Judas gave Jesus a kiss, thus fulfilling the prediction of betrayal. The soldiers arrested Jesus and brought him before the High Council for questioning (Mt 26:45-50).

Origin of the name Maundy Thursday
It is not clear where the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from, and there are several theories to explain the name:

Often mentioned, but not proven, is the derivation from the Middle High German words “gronan” or “greinen,” meaning “to weep, to wail.” It is also unclear whether the weeping refers to the imminent passion of Christ and his death on the cross or to the tears of the penitents who were welcomed back into the congregation on this day.
There is another possible derivation in connection with the penitents or the church penitential decree. The literal translation of the Latin “dies viridium” as “day of the green ones” could also be the origin of the name. On this day, the so-called “Antlasstag,” penitents’ sins were remitted, and they became living, “green” wood again (Luke 23:31).
The liturgical colors may also have given Maundy Thursday its name. Before the 16th century, there was no uniform canon of colors, and the use of liturgical colors was regulated differently by the dioceses. Liturgical vestments in green could also be worn on this day as a sign of hope and renewing life. Today, white is the liturgical color for Maundy Thursday.
According to an old custom that dates back to at least the 14th century, green vegetables and green herbs are still eaten on Maundy Thursday to give health and strength for the whole year.
Maundy Thursday customs
The events of Maundy Thursday are of central importance in the Christian faith. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was also the beginning of a new covenant between God and mankind, with Jesus as the mediator.

In the Holy Thursday service, both the Catholic and Protestant churches commemorate the institution of the Eucharist or the Last Supper in a special way. The Mass of the Last Supper is very solemn, and all the bells ring while the Gloria is sung. These then fall silent until the Gloria in the Easter Vigil.

During or after Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is transferred to a side altar. After the service, all blankets and jewelry are removed from the altar as a sign of mourning.

In many Catholic parishes, the rite of the washing of the feet is also part of the service. Following the example of Jesus and as a symbol of active charity, the feet of twelve people are usually washed by priests, bishops, and the Pope.

  • Mag. Hector Pascua/picture: canva.com
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