Maundy Thursday facts for kids

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Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries) is the Christian feast, or holy day, falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.

The date is always between 19 March and 22 April inclusive, but these dates fall on different days depending on whether the Gregorian or Julian calendar is used liturgically. Eastern churches generally use the Julian calendar, and so celebrate this feast throughout the 21st century between 1 April and 5 May in the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. The liturgy held on the evening of Maundy Thursday initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ; this period includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and ends on the evening of Easter. The Mass or service of worship is normally celebrated in the evening, when Friday begins according to Jewish tradition, as the Last Supper was held on feast of Passover.

Names in English

Duccio di Buoninsegna 029
Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper, painting of Altar of Siena Cathedral in 14th century

Use of the names "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday", and the others is not evenly distributed. What is considered the normal name for the day varies according to geographical area and religious allegiance. Thus, although in England "Maundy Thursday" is the normal term, the term is rarely used in Ireland or Scotland in religious contexts. People may use one term in a religious context and another in the context of the civil calendar of the country in which they live.

The Anglican Church uses the name "Maundy Thursday" in the Book of Common Prayer, whereas it treats "Holy Thursday" as an alternative name for Ascension Day. But outside of the official texts of the liturgy, Anglicans sometimes apply the name "Holy Thursday" to the day before Good Friday.

The Roman Catholic Church, even in countries where "Maundy Thursday" is the name in civil legislation, uses the name "Holy Thursday" in its official English-language liturgical books. The Catholic Encyclopedia uses the term "Maundy Thursday", and other Catholic texts sometimes also use this term primarily, or alternatively.

The United Methodist Church uses the name "Holy Thursday" in its UM Book of Worship, but in other official sources it uses both "Maundy Thursday" and "Holy Thursday".

Both names are used by other Christian denominations as well, including the Lutheran Church or portions of the Reformed Church. The Presbyterian Church uses the term "Maundy Thursday" to refer to the holy day in its official sources.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the name for the holy day is, in the Byzantine Rite, "Great and Holy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday", and in Western Rite Orthodoxy "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday" or both. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses both the terms "Maundy Thursday" and "Covenant Thursday" for the holy day.

In the Maronite Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the name is "Thursday of Mysteries".

"Maundy Thursday" is the official name in the civil legislation of England and the Philippines.

The day has also been known in English as Shere Thursday (also spelled Sheer Thursday), from the word shere (meaning "clean" or "bright"). This name might refer to the act of cleaning, or to the fact that churches would switch liturgical colors from the dark tones of Lent, or because it was customary to shear the beard on that day, or for a combination of reasons. This name is a cognate to the word still used throughout Scandinavia, such as Swedish "Skärtorsdag", Danish "Skærtorsdag", Norwegian "Skjærtorsdag", Faroese "Skírhósdagur" and "Skírisdagur" and Icelandic "Skírdagur". Skär in Swedish is also an archaic word for wash.

Derivation of the name "Maundy"

Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung in the Roman Rite during the "Mandatum" ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

Others theorize that the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from "maundsor baskets" or "maundy purses" of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. Thus, "maund" is connected to the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg. A source from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod likewise states that, if the name was derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term "Maundy" comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded.

Services

Western Christianity

Levoca Last Supper
"The Last Supper" - museum copy of Master Paul's sculpture

Holy Thursday is notable for being the day on which the Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese. Usually held in the diocese's cathedral, in this Mass the holy oils are blessed by the bishop, consisting of the chrism, oil of the sick, and oil of catechumens. The oil of the catechumens and chrism are to be used on the coming Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil, for the baptism and confirmation of those entering the church.

The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration in many Christian churches, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptist groups, Churches of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Roman Catholic, and is becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations. In the Catholic Church and in some Anglican churches, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins as usual, but the Gloria is accompanied by the ringing of bells, which are then silent until the Easter Vigil. After the homily the washing of feet may be performed. The Blessed Sacrament remains exposed, at least in the Catholic Mass, until the service concludes with a procession taking it to the place of reposition. The altar is later stripped bare, as are all other altars in the church except the Altar of Repose. In pre-1970 editions, the Roman Missal envisages this being done ceremonially, to the accompaniment of Psalm 21/22, a practice which continues in many Anglican churches. In other Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Church or Methodist Church, the stripping of the altar and other items on the chancel also occurs, as a preparation for the somber Good Friday service.

Eastern Christianity

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Orthodox icon of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles (16th century, Pskov school of iconography).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lenten character of the services is for the most part set aside. The liturgical colours are changed from the somber Lenten hues to more festive colours, white being common. On this day alone during Holy Week, the fast is relaxed to permit consumption of wine and oil.

The primary service of this day is Vespers combined with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at which is read the first Passion Gospel (John 13:31-18:1), known as the "Gospel of the Testament", and many of the normal hymns of the Divine Liturgy are substituted with the following troparion:

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss like Judas. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

When necessary to replenish the sacrament for communing the sick at a time not following a divine liturgy, an additional Lamb (Host) is consecrated on this day, intincted, covered, and left to dry until Holy Saturday when it is divided, completely dried with a candle flame, and the pieces placed in the artophorion.

In cathedrals and monasteries the ceremony of the Washing of Feet is normally performed.

When there is need to consecrate more chrism, that is performed by patriarchs and other the heads of the various autocephalous churches.

In the evening, after the Liturgy, all of the hangings and vestments are changed to black or some other Lenten colour, to signify the beginning of the Passion.

Beginning on Holy and Great Thursday, the memorial service for the dead is forbidden until after Thomas Sunday.

Local customs

  • In Greek practice, the Mystery of Unction is performed on Great Wednesday as preparation for the reception of Holy Communion on Great Thursday and Pascha, a custom that originated when Greece was under Ottoman control and parish priests, being uneducated, were not permitted to hear confession, so this sacrament, by which sins are believed to be forgiven, came to be performed.
  • In Greek tradition, a procession is made during the service of the Twelve Passion Gospels. It takes place after the reading of the fifth gospel during the singing of "Today He Who Hung". During this procession, a large cross with the body of Christ is carried throughout the church while lights are extinguished, bells are slowly tolled, and the faithful prostate themselves. The cross, with Christ's body hung upon it, is placed in front of the Royal Doors. The icon of Christ on the cross (sometimes with nails affixing it) is struck upon the hands and feet with a stone multiple times, and is then stood up in front of the church, where it is censed.
  • In some Slavic traditions, a lesser procession is made during the Twelve Passion Gospels immediately prior to the dismissal with an icon of Christ's crucifixion which is placed on the central icon stand, where it is censed by the clergy, and then venerated.

Customs and names from around the world

  • The Maundy Thursday celebrations in the United Kingdom (also called Royal Maundy) today involve the Monarch (since 1952, Queen Elizabeth II) offering "alms" to deserving senior citizens (one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign's age). These coins, known as Maundy money or Royal Maundy, are distributed in red and white purses. This custom dates back to King Edward I. The red purse contains regular currency and is given in place of food and clothing. The white purse contains currency in the amount of one penny for each year of the Sovereign's age. Since 1822, rather than ordinary money, the Sovereign gives out Maundy coins, which are specially minted 1, 2, 3 and 4 penny pieces, and are legal tender. The service at which this takes place rotates around English and Welsh churches, though in 2008 it took place for the first time in Northern Ireland at Armagh Cathedral. Until the death of King James II, the Monarch would also wash the feet of the selected poor people. There is an old sketch, done from life, of Queen Elizabeth I washing people's feet on Maundy Thursday.
  • The popular German name Gründonnerstag means either "mourning Thursday" or "green Thursday". Other names are Hoher, Heiliger, and Weißer Donnerstag (High, Holy and White Thursday, with "white" referring to the liturgical colour associated with Maundy Thursday).
  • In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the day is called Zelený čtvrtek or Zelený štvrtok respectively, again meaning "Green Thursday". Because the church bells fall silent until Holy Saturday, here called "White Saturday", because "they have flown to Rome", in some regions they are replaced by groups of children walking round their village and making noise with wooden rattles. People come out of the door and give them money.
  • The tradition of silent bells is found also in Luxembourg: the bells fall silent until Easter, because "they have flown to Rome for Confession", so children take to the streets, calling people to church with melancholy wooden rattling.
Bishop Sebouh - Washing of Feet
Bishop Sebouh Chouldjian (Armenian Apostolic Church) washing the feet of children during the Washing of Feet ceremony.
  • In Malta, Holy Thursday is known as Ħamis ix-Xirka (Communion Thursday) and the tradition of visiting seven churches (see below) is called is-seba' visti or is-Sepulkri.
  • In Welsh, Maundy Thursday is Dydd Iau Cablyd.
  • In Denmark Maundy Thursday (skærtorsdag) is a public holiday.
  • In Norway Maundy Thursday (skjærtorsdag) is a public holiday.
  • In Sweden Maundy Thursday (skärtorsdagen) is connected to old folklore as the day of the witches. Young children often dress up as witches and knock on doors getting coins or candy for easter eggs.
  • In Bulgaria Maundy Thursday is called Veliki Chetvurtuk (Great Thursday), and is traditionally the day when people color their easter eggs and perform other household chores geared toward preparing for Razpeti Petuk (Crucifixion Friday), Velika Subota (Great Saturday) and Velikden (Easter Day).
  • In Kerala, a state in south India where Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis are in high population, this day is observed with great reverence. This day is called as Pesaha, a Malayalam word derived from the Aramaic or Hebrew word for Passover - Pasha or Pesah - commemorating the last supper of Jesus Christ during Passover in Jerusalem. This is also a state wide declared public holiday by the Government of Kerala. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam after the church service is observed by the entire Nasrani people till this day. Special long services followed by Holy Qurbana are conducted during the Pesaha eve or at mid-night till morning in the Syrian Christian churches. The Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis are living all over the world including United States. They also celebrate this day as 'Pesaha Yasashchya' (Maundy Thursday) by having Holy Communion services in the parishes by following the liturgy of the respective denomiations from Kerala.
  • In the Philippines, the day is officially known as Huwebes Santo or "Maundy Thursday" (the term "Holy Thursday" is rarely used). Most businesses are closed during the Easter Triduum, with shopping malls opening on Black Saturday. Terrestrial television and radio stations either go completely off-air during the Triduum or operate on shorter hours with special programming; cable channels usually retain their normal programming. Newspapers do not publish on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
  • If statues and crucifixes have been covered during Passion Time (the last 2 weeks of Lent, at least in the 1962 Catholic missal), the crucifix covers are allowed to be white instead of purple for Holy Thursday.

Public holiday

Maundy Thursday is a public holiday in Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and The Philippines.

Seven Churches Visitation

ChristWashingFeet
Christus, by the Lutheran Lucas Cranach the Elder. This woodcut of John 13:14-17 is from Passionary of the Christ and Antichrist.

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome.

  • In the Philippines the tradition is called Visita Iglesia (Spanish, "church visit"), where people visit one, seven, or fourteen churches to pray, usually reciting the Stations of the Cross. Today, the Stations are commonly divided amongst the churches, but until the 1970s the practise was to recite all fourteen in each church. It is a chiefly urban custom since churches being close to each other occur mainly in cities, and supposedly developed in the Spanish Era when the seven churches of Intramuros, Manila were still standing. The original intent of the custom was to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday evening, but since no specific prayers aside from those for the Pope are prescribed for the visit, the Stations of the Cross were used instead. Some Filipino liturgists, however, have sought to revive the original vigil with the Blessed Sacrament, composing prayers to guide the faithful.
  • In several countries in Latin America, it is also a tradition to visit seven churches on the night of Holy Thursday.
  • In Singapore, the visiting of churches occurs shortly after the evening Mass of the Last Supper. Prayers at every church consist of seven repetitions each of the Lord's Prayer, Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri. Due to the new trend of late Mass times (sometimes 7 or 8 pm - to allow for more people to make to church), it would not be possible to go beyond eight churches (even in the city area where they are not as spread out as in the outer residential areas) before they shut at Midnight. A festive atmosphere exists, with the sale of drinks, hot cross buns and other local snacks especially kueh ko chee, which is traditional for Maundy Thursday. Observant Catholic families have a 'Last Supper' meal, in anticipation of the fast the next day.
  • In India, the custom is to visit fourteen churches, one per Station of the Cross. This is traditionally performed on Maundy Thursday evening, but the pilgrimage is more often performed on the morning of Good Friday or on any day of Lent. Usually, whole families would participate, customarily fasting for the duration of the rite, but nowadays it is also undertaken by parish devotional groups.9

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