What Is the Meaning of Maundy Thursday?

Definition and origin of the term

The Last Supper by Hans Leonhard Schäufelein (1511).
The Last Supper by Hans Leonhard Schäufelein (1511). anagoria/Public Domain

Maundy Thursday is a common and popular name for Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means "commandment."

On Maundy Thursday, the Catholic Church commemorates Christ's Last Supper, at which He instituted the Eucharist, the Mass, and the priesthood. Since 1969, Maundy Thursday has marked the end of the liturgical season of Lent in the Catholic Church (though not of the Lenten fast).

When Is Maundy Thursday?

You can find the date of Maundy Thursday in this and future years in When Is Holy Thursday?

Pronunciation: ˈmôndē ˈθərzˌdā

Common Misspellings: Maunday Thursday, Monday Thursday

Example: "On Maundy Thursday, our priest washes the feet of 12 men at the Mass of the Lord's Supper."

The Origin of the Term

Near the end of the Last Supper, after Judas had departed, Christ said to His disciples, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 13:34). In Latin, the word for commandment is mandatum. The Latin term became the Middle English word Maundy by way of the Old French mande.

Related Terms

The name Maundy Thursday is today more common among Protestants than among Catholics, who tend to use Holy Thursday, while Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to Maundy Thursday as Great and Holy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Easter Triduum, the final three days of the 40 days of Lent before Easter.

Holy Thursday is the high point of Holy Week or Passiontide.

Maundy Thursday Traditions

The Catholic Church lives out Christ's commandment to love one another in a number of ways through her traditions on Maundy Thursday. The best known is the washing of the feet of laymen by their priest during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which recalls Christ's own washing of the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-11).

Maundy Thursday was also the day on which those who needed to be reconciled to the Church in order to receive Holy Communion on Easter Sunday would be absolved from their sins. And as early as the fifth century, it became the custom for the bishop to consecrate the holy oil or chrism for all of the churches of his diocese. This chrism is used in baptisms and confirmations throughout the year, but especially at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, when those who are converting to Catholicism are welcomed into the Church.

Maundy Thursday in Other Countries and Cultures

As with the rest of Lent and the Easter season, the traditions surrounding Maundy Thursday vary from country to country and culture to culture. Learn more about the traditions of Holy Week and Easter in Mexico, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Lithuania.

Learn More About Maundy Thursday

The Days of the Easter Triduum