Thursday, April 1, 2010
Holy (Maundy) Thursday
Maundy Thursday, known officially in the Catholic Church as Holy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Ordination, and begins the Paschal Triduum. In 2010, Holy Thursday falls on April 1.
Jesus shared the final meal with his disciples, called the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified. The institution of the Holy Eucharist occurred during this meal, as indicated from the gospel excerpt below:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:26-29 RSV)
Since Scripture and Tradition tell us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Jesus shared the important Last Supper with his apostles on a Thursday. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal. However, John suggests that Jesus was crucified before the Passover Meal, on the Day of Preparation. Perhaps the Last Supper was done in anticipation of the Passover Meal, or was a Kiddush or some other religious meal. The gospel of John does not record the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, while the synoptic gospels do. However, John's gospel records Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Holy Thursday traditions are derived from all four gospels.
Thus Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week, commemorating the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Ordination. Holy Thursday also celebrates the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, events that took place on the night before Jesus' crucifixion. The Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday begins the Triduum, which is the three-day celebration of the heart of the Christian faith: Christ's death and resurrection. The Paschal Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes with the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of Easter. Thus the Triduum includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and reaches it high point at the Great Easter Vigil. The name "Maundy" comes from the Latin antiphon Mandatum Novum, i.e. "a new mandate." This new mandate from Jesus is taken from John 13:34: love one another as I have loved you.
Various traditions and customs are associated with Maundy Thursday, including the reciting of the creed by Catechumens from memory, the washing of feet, reconciliation of penitents, and the consecration of holy oil (chrism). The modern Western Holy Thursday service has an option for the blessing of chrism and the washing of feet. After the Maundy Thursday evening Mass the altars are stripped, the holy water stoups are emptied, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the church in procession to a place of reposition,. Traditionally the Pange Lingua (the last two stanzas which are known as Tantum Ergo) is sung during this procession. Adoration of the blessed sacrament for an extended period of time is then encouraged. The consecrated host is then used for Good Friday Masses. The alternate and uncommon name Shear Thursday comes from the ancient custom of trimming one's beard and hair that day as a sign of spiritual preparation for Easter.
A special commemoration of the Institution of the Eucharist on the Thursday of Holy Week is first attested to in the documents of the North African Council of Hippo (AD 393). References to Holy Thursday celebrations are abundant after this date. Since 1955 in the Catholic Church, the Maundy Thursday Mass is only celebrated in the evening, although in earlier times as many as three Masses a day were said. Traditionally, Maundy Thursday fell within the Lenten Season, although in post-Vatican II Catholic practice, Maundy Thursday is not liturgically a part of Lent, although it is still reckoned as part of the "forty days of Lent." In many Protestant churches, Holy Thursday is still liturgically part of Lent, since many Protestant churches do not recognize the Triduum as distinct from Lent.