What Does 'Maundy Thursday' Mean? Find Out More About This Important Day During Holy Week

While many people are shocked by how quickly Easter is approaching, others have been preparing for it ever since Ash Wednesday kicked off the Lenten season. There was also Palm Sunday that just kicked off Holy Week this past Sunday. And before Easter weekend officially begins with Good Friday and Holy Saturday, there's another holy day of observance: Maundy Thursday.

While it's known by a few other names (more on that below), Maundy Thursday is a celebration that consists of Christians commemorating this holy day during Jesus Christ's final week leading up to his crucifixion.

Find out more about how churches observe this special day, what "maundy" actually means, and how the date of the observance differs between those who use the Western versus Eastern liturgical calendar.

Related: What Is the Meaning of Good Friday?

What Is Maundy Thursday?

This holy day commemorates the actions Jesus took on the day before his crucifixion, as recorded in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. During the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus took a cloth and stooped down to wash the feet of his followers. Later that evening, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he asked Peter, James and John to join him in praying, eventually leaving them behind to go pray on his own. "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Matthew 26:42 (NRSV)

Churches who gather for a Maundy Thursday service might pray, conduct a foot washing service, read scripture, commemorate and participate in Communion, and have a time of singing. Some churches offer a morning service where consecration of the holy oils used throughout the year takes place. 

When is Lent?

When Is Maundy Thursday in 2024?

Toward the end of Holy Week, the week commemorating Jesus's last days on earth, Christians observe Maundy Thursday. It's in the final days of the Lenten season, and along with Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, form the Easter Triuudum.

According to the United Conference of Catholic Bishops' website: "Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ's Paschal Mystery."

In 2024, Maundy Thursday services will be held on the evening of March 28, 2024 for those using the Western liturgical calendar.

The Orthodox and others using the Eastern liturgical calendar will observe Maundy Thursday on May 2, 2024. 

Related: What Is Orthodox Easter?

Why Is It Called Maundy Thursday?

The word "maundy" shares roots with the Latin word, "mandatum," which is "commandment." It's a reference to the New Commandment Jesus gave to his followers at the Last Supper. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." John 13:34 (NRSV)

The word "mandatum" is also the first word sung in the liturgical ceremony for Maundy Thursday. Our English word, "mandate," comes from this word as well. 

Related: What Is Palm Sunday and Why Do We Celebrate It? Inside the Origins, Traditions and Meaning of Palm Sunday

What Are Other Names for Maundy Thursday?

Other names for Maundy Thursday include:

  • "Holy Thursday" (Catholic and Methodist)

  • "Green Thursday" (Germany)

  • "Covenant Thursday" (Coptic)

  • "Great and Holy Thursday" (Eastern Orthodox)

  • "Thursday of Mysteries" (Syriac Orthodox)

Related: What Is Ash Wednesday?

What Is the History of Maundy Thursday?

Along with the other days of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday has a rich history dating back to the days of the early church. It has held its title, Maundy Thursday, since the 1500s.

In particular, the practice of foot washing was well established by the 5th century. According to a Newsweek article, "Until 1689, it was customary for the king or queen to wash worshipers' feet in London's Westminster Abbey, in addition to handing out food and clothing in charity."

Related: What Are the 7 'I Am' Statements of Jesus?

Is Maundy Thursday Only a Catholic Thing?

Although not all churches hold specific services, Maundy Thursday is a holy day for all Christians. Those churches that closely observe the liturgical calendar (ie. Methodist, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox) will gather on Maundy Thursday. It's quite common for all Christians to at least read about the actions Jesus took on each day of his last week on earth, including the events that transpired on Thursday.

Is Maundy Thursday in the Bible?

As mentioned, the Latin term that shares roots with "maundy" is "commandment," which we do find in scripture. We read accounts of the actions Jesus took on the Thursday before his crucifixion in all four gospels. While the observances among our churches vary, the events of Maundy Thursday—the final Passover meal, the washing of feet, the time of prayer and arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane—are all scriptural.

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