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Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, which is described in the Christian bible. The day is also known as Passion Thursday, Paschal Thursday or Sheer (or Shere) Thursday. It is the day before Good Friday and occurs during Holy Week.
Stained Glass of the Last Supper

Maundy Thursday remembers Jesus Christ's institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper.

©iStockphoto.com/sedmak

What do people do?

Many Catholic and Anglican churches continue traditional Maundy Thursday rites that may include handing out special coins known as “Maundy money” to the aged and poor. Churches may also have the blessing of holy oil and feet washing as part of their Maundy Thursday service. Some churches have a tradition that involves priests washing the feet of 12 people to symbolize Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Many Maundy Thursday church services take place in the evening. Maundy Thursday is known as "Green Thursday" (Gründonnerstag) in Germany, where green vegetables and salad, including spinach salad, are served as part of the tradition. Maundy Thursday is known as skjærtorsdag in Norway and is a day off for workers and students. It is known as skärtorsdagen in Sweden and is linked to a folktale about a witches’ day.

Public life

Maundy Thursday is a public holiday in countries such as (but not exclusive to):

It is not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Background

Maundy Thursday occurs during Holy Week and remembers when Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper, an event that is told in the Christian bible. It also commemorates the practice of ceremonial foot-washing to imitate Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper as a sign and example of humility and love. Holy Thursday also commemorates the events that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

A special Eucharist commemoration on the Thursday of Holy Week was first mentioned in the North African Council of Hippo’s documents around 393 CE. There have been many references to Maundy Thursday observances after that date. Maundy Thursday was also known as Shear, Char, Shrift, and Sharp Thursday. These names are believed to have derived from cutting or trimming hair or beards before Easter during the 14th century. This particular custom signified spiritual preparation for Easter.

Roman nobility practiced washing other people’s feet during the mid 19th century. This practice is no longer common in some Protestant churches but many Catholic and Anglican churches still celebrate this Maundy Thursday rite.

Symbols

The name “Maundy” most likely stems from the Latin word mandatum (or mandatum novum) which relates to the English words “commandment” or “a new mandate”. It refers to Jesus’ words after he washed his disciple’s feet. He instructed them with a new commandment – to love one another as he loved them.

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