Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Jesus and his Disciples Celebrate the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday
Hello My Friend and Welcome.  

Our Lenten-Easter Series continues with a discussion of Maundy Thursday. In various ages and places it has been known by a variety of names… Clean Thursday, Great Thursday, Green Thursday, Holy and Great Thursday, Holy Thursday, Red Thursday, Sharp Thursday, Sheer Thursday, Shrift Thursday, and Thursday of the Mystical Supper.  

The reference to colors may seem confusing at first. However, in the Early Church people dyed their Easter eggs on the Thursday before Easter. The only color they used was red, representing the blood of Christ. There are several explanations for calling it Green Thursday. One theory traces it back to the reconciliation of penitents which took place on this day. The penitents carried green branches as a sign of their joy. Indeed, Dies viridium, an old Latin name for the day which means “Day of the Green Ones,” came from this custom. In the symbolic code of the western European church, green represents hope and victory. The green twig in particular symbolized a long struggle crowned by victory. Until the thirteenth century priests wore green vestments on Maundy Thursday. 

Another theory suggests that it evolved from an older name, “Mourning Thursday." The two names are not far apart in German since the German word for mourning is grunen and the German word for green is grün. The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning command and refers to the passage in John 13:34 where, at the Last Supper, Jesus says to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  

Maundy Thursday also begins what is sometimes called the Triduum, or the final three days of Lent…Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  Biblically, it begins the Passion of the Christ, to borrow a term, with the narrative of the Last Supper followed by the Agony in the Garden, his arrest, initial trial and eventual crucifixion the following afternoon. 

Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciple
A number of things occurred at the Last Supper and many traditions of our day still reflect this. For instance, Maundy Thursday is the day many churches have a foot washing ceremony. In an imitation of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, a priest or deacon washes the feet of parishioners. Each year the Greek town of Patmos stages a folk play dramatizing the washing of the disciples' feet. Participants stage the play, titled Niptir, or “Washing,” in the town square.  

The second, and most important, aspect of the Last Supper was the Lord’s institution of the sacrament of Eucharist. In doing so he established the New Covenant. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. The doctrine that Jesus became the Paschal Lamb slain for our sins derives from his words and actions on Maundy Thursday.  

Many Protestant churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. Others use the occasion to have a modified Seder meal known as an Upper Room service. Members gather to eat foods Jesus and his disciples may have included in their Passover meal. They eat in silence, while listening to Bible readings. The name derives from the place where Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper, which the Bible called simply as the upper room. 

Vials of Chrism (Holy Oil) Waiting to be Blessed
In Catholic and Anglican cathedrals the holy oil, or chrism, that will be used in the coming year is blessed at a special service on Maundy Thursday. Clergy members use this oil for baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and for anointing the dying and those in ill health. This practice of blessing of holy oil on Maundy Thursday can be traced back to at least the Fifth Century. 

In the Eastern, or Orthodox Church, Maundy Thursday services commemorate the Last Supper and Jesus' command to his disciples to love one another. Since Orthodoxy follows the ancient Jewish custom of reckoning the start of each new day at sunset, their Maundy Thursday services begin on Wednesday evening. In some places Wednesday evening services are accompanied by the anointing of the sick. 

In some churches the altar is ceremonially stripped of all its cloth coverings at the end of Maundy Thursday services. This stripping leaves the church with a stark appearance. Just as Jesus was taken away by the soldiers, the altar in a sense is taken away. This prepares the Church for the mournful services that take place the following day on Good Friday. It also gives those in charge of cleaning and decorating the church an opportunity to wash everything thoroughly in preparation for Easter. In the Middle Ages the floors and walls of the church were scrubbed on Maundy Thursday, sometimes called Clean Thursday. However this most likely derived not from washing the church, but from the practice of encouraging people to bathe and clean their clothes on Maundy Thursday in preparation for Easter.  

In Catholic churches, as well as those Protestant churches that observe liturgical colors, these instructions govern the color of clerical robes and other church decorations throughout the year. Priests wear red robes at the start of Maundy Thursday services since in the liturgical color scheme red represents love and suffering. At the celebration of the Eucharist the priest changes to white robes, symbolizing joy. This switch reflects the honor given to Maundy Thursday as the birthday of the Eucharist and the joy with which Christians receive this gift from Christ. 

In another old church custom that dates back to the Eighth Century, bells were rung for the last time before Easter on Maundy Thursday. In the absence of the bells the beginning and ending of religious services and devotions were announced by the sounding of a wooden clapperboard, an ancient device used in churches before the introduction of bells in the Fifth Century. This sudden silence of the church bells puzzled children. Adults often told them the bells had flown off to Rome to visit the pope and spend the night at St. Peter’s before returning on Easter morning. French parents even hinted it was the returning bells that brought children their Easter eggs. Take that, Mr. Easter Bunny! 

Out of respect for Passion Week, there will be no post on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Be sure to check at Sowing the Seeds on Saturday. We’ll have a short post on what to do with all the Easter eggs which includes a recipe. 

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

If you reached this post via a link, click the HOME tab above to see other recent posts and visit our archives.

No comments: