Is Holy Thursday a Day of Obligation?

Washing of the Feet, painting of Altar of Siena Cathedral in 14th century
The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH./Public Domain

Although Holy Thursday is a sacred day for Catholics, when the faithful are encouraged to attend Mass, it is not one of the six Holy Days of Obligation. On this day, Christians commemorate Christ's Last Supper with His disciples.  Holy Thursday, sometimes called ​Maundy Thursday, is observed the day before Good Friday, and occasionally is confused with the Solemnity of the Ascension, which also is known as Holy Thursday.

What is Holy Thursday?

The week prior to Easter Sunday is one of the holiest in Christianity, celebrating Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the events leading up to His arrest and crucifixion. Starting with Palm Sunday, each day of Holy Week marks a significant event in Christ's last days. Depending on the year, Holy Thursday falls between March 19 and April 22. For Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, Holy Thursday falls between April 1 and May 5.

For the devout, Holy Thursday is a day to commemorate the Maundy, when Jesus washed the feet of his followers prior to the Last Supper, announced that Judas would betray Him, celebrated the first Mass, and created the institution of the priesthood. It was during the Last Supper that Christ also commanded His disciples to love one another.

Religious observations and rituals that would eventually become Holy Thursday were first recorded in the third and fourth centuries.

Today, Catholics, as well as Methodists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, celebrate Holy Thursday with the Mass of the Lord's Supper. During this special Mass held in the evening, the faithful are called upon to remember Christ's actions and to celebrate the institutions He created. Parish priests lead by example, washing the feet of the faithful.

In Catholic churches, altars are stripped bare. During Mass, the Holy Sacrament remains exposed until the conclusion, when it is placed on an altar of repose in preparation for Good Friday celebrations.

Holy Days of Obligation

Holy Thursday is not one of the six Holy Days of Obligation, although some people may confuse it with the Solemnity of the Ascension, which is also known by some as Holy Thursday. This Holy Day of Observation also is related to Easter, but it comes at the end of this special time, on the 40th day after the Resurrection.

For practicing Catholics around the world, observing Holy Days of Obligation is part of their Sunday Duty, the first of the Precepts of the Church. Depending on your faith, the number of holy days per year varies. In the United States, New Year's Day is one of six Holy Days of Obligation that are observed: 

  • Jan. 1: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • 40 days after of Easter: Solemnity of the Ascension
  • Aug. 15: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Nov. 1: Solemnity of All Saints
  • Dec. 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
  • Dec. 25: Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
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Richert, Scott P. "Is Holy Thursday a Day of Obligation?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 26, 2018, thoughtco.com/holy-thursday-holy-day-of-obligation-542431. Richert, Scott P. (2018, March 26). Is Holy Thursday a Day of Obligation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/holy-thursday-holy-day-of-obligation-542431 Richert, Scott P. "Is Holy Thursday a Day of Obligation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/holy-thursday-holy-day-of-obligation-542431 (accessed June 18, 2018).