Maundy Thursday: Origin, Date & How to Celebrate

Updated

Nearly everyone knows about the Christian holiday of Easter. It’s a time for painted eggs, colorful gift baskets, and keeping a lookout for the Easter Bunny. Many people also know that week leading up to Easter is a religious period known as Holy Week.

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But a smaller percentage of people know that the fifth day of Holy Week is its own Christian holiday, called Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, falls on the Thursday before Easter every year. And there’s plenty to learn about this unique Christian holiday. 

Whether you’re preparing to observe Maundy Thursday, or you just want to know what it’s all about, you can learn about the holy date below. 

What is Maundy Thursday?

In the religion of Christianity, Easter marks and celebrates the occasion of Jesus’s resurrection. The week leading up to Easter Sunday commemorates other key events. 

For example, Good Friday marks the occasion of Jesus’s crucifixion and death. And the day before that, Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’s Last Supper. 

While Easter Sunday is the most joyous and momentous occasion according to the Christian holy calendar, the day known as Maundy Thursday is also important. 

History

Maundy Thursday marks the day, according to Christian theology, when Christ celebrated his last Passover dinner before death. It’s thought that, at this Last Supper, Jesus set forth a crucial commandment to his Apostles:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34)

Maundy Thursday recognizes the Last Supper that Jesus ate with the Apostles. It’s the day before Good Friday, which commemorates the date Jesus is thought to have died. It’s also just a few days before Easter Sunday, which marks the day when Jesus is thought to have risen from the dead. 

Why is it called Maundy Thursday?

The name Maundy Thursday has historical and religious roots. According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ washed the feet of his Apostles at the Last Supper. After performing the ritual, Jesus is thought to have spoken his commandment, as described above.  The Latin word for “commandment” is mandatum, which is where Maundy Thursday gets its original root. 

From mandatum, the Old French language gained the word mande, which referred to the commandment set forth by Jesus at the Last Supper. From there, the Middle English language created the word maunde, which later became the word maundy still used today. 

The Thursday before Easter has been known as Maundy Thursday since the mid-1500s. 

Where you can celebrate

Maundy Thursday is celebrated wherever there are Christian churches or communities. Many churches hold special Holy Week services, where members and guests can join in prayer. In many nations, Maundy Thursday is a public holiday. In most churches, other events—including Christian funerals—are prohibited on Maundy Thursday. 

Across the world, there are also some unique Maundy Thursday observations and celebrations. For example, the Pope traditionally marks Maundy Thursday by following Christ’s example. He washes and kisses the feet of 12 people, who are typically members of the Christian Church. The Queen, in the United Kingdom, traditionally gives out coins called Maundy Money to senior citizens. 

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When Does Maundy Thursday Take Place?

As its name suggests, Maundy Thursday always takes place on Thursday each year. This means that the exact date of the holiday changes annually, just as the date of Easter changes each year. 

Maundy Thursday is held the Thursday before Easter, during what’s known as Holy Week according to Christian tradition. Maundy Thursday is always the day before Good Friday on the Christian Calendar. 

Below are some of the upcoming dates for Maundy Thursday so you can mark your calendar. 

  • 2021: April 1
  • 2022: April 14
  • 2023: April 6
  • 2024: March 24
  • 2025: April 17

How Can You Celebrate Maundy Thursday?

Most holy holidays have special rites and rituals that help mark the occasion. And Maundy Thursday is no different. If you want to celebrate Maundy Thursday, consider taking part in some of the unique traditions described below. 

Attend mass

The main way to celebrate and observe Maundy Thursday is by attending a religious mass. On the morning of Maundy Thursday, many Catholic and Christian churches offer a Chrism Mass, which features the oils used in baptisms, holy orders, and confirmations.

Churches can also offer an evening mass on Maundy Thursday, which typically features the ritual ringing of bells. 

Eat green foods

In some German-speaking and central European nations, Maundy Thursday is called Green Thursday. This name is inspired by the tradition of eating green-colored foods on this holy day. 

The tradition may have stemmed from the medieval practice of priests wearing green vestments on Holy Thursday. It could also come from the similarity between the German words for mourn (grunen) and green (grun). 

However, the true inspiration for eating green foods on Maundy Thursday is likely the Jewish Passover tradition of eating bitter green herbs. Jesus likely consumed this type of meal at the Last Supper. 

Visit seven churches

In larger cities, where there are many Churches, some Catholics maintain a tradition of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday. If you can swing it, you can follow the tradition by visiting the altar of repose in seven different local churches. 

It’s thought that this tradition began in Rome, where a Saint visited the seven major basilicas in the city on Holy Thursday. It also represents the seven stops made on the night of Jesus’s arrest. 

Remember loved ones

Maundy Thursday is the last day Jesus lived before his death and resurrection. That makes it a good opportunity to commemorate your own loved ones that may have passed away. Take some time on Maundy Thursday to remember a family member

Wash someone’s feet

Maundy Thursday marks the day of the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ washed the feet of his Apostles. To celebrate Maundy Thursday, you can take part in this sacred rite. The Foot-Washing Ceremony is meant to inspire humility, as well as renew the cleansing offered by Christ. 

If you have 12 family members or close friends, consider inviting them over for a Maundy Thursday foot-washing ritual. According to Christian tradition, it’s customary to wash the feet of 12 people, just as Jesus washed his 12 Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. 

Give to the less fortunate

Another ancient tradition related to Maundy Thursday is the distribution of Maundy Money. Traditionally, Maundy Money was a special type of coin that was minted for the occasion and given to a few select elderly citizens. Kings would hand out Maundy Money instead of performing the traditional foot-washing ceremony, beginning in around the 18th century. 

As mentioned above, the Queen of the United Kingdom continues to the Maundy Money tradition to this day by doling out donations to senior citizens. But you don’t have to have special Maundy Money to participate in this tradition.

You can continue the tradition of Maundy Money by giving to the less fortunate. Consider making a donation of money to your favorite charity, or donate food to your local shelter. 

Grab some almonds

In addition to green foods and bitter leafy herbs, you can add some sweetness to your dinner table with Jordan almonds. Most people recognize these colorful snacks as popular wedding favors. But they also have historical and religious meaning. Jordan almonds are thought to represent purity—especially when they’re white in color. 

Jordan almonds, also known as “confetti” are traditionally eaten on Maundy Thursday in Latin Countries, but you can consume the tasty snack wherever you are in the world to celebrate the holy day.

Common Maundy Thursday Prayers

It’s common to recite prayers on Maundy Thursday as part of this holy day of remembrance. Take a look at some examples of some prayers you might hear around Maundy Thursday. 

Opening Prayer

If you attend a service on Maundy Thursday, the congregation might open with an “opening prayer,” typically spoken in unison.  

Here’s how an opening prayer might sound: 

O Lord our God, tonight we gather to remember our Savior Jesus and his sacrifice of love for us.  

We pause to remember his last meal with his closest friends and disciples. We pause to remember the betrayal he would suffer. We pause to remember the pain that would be his to bear.  

We gather to bear witness to our savior. We gather to grow in our faith and be renewed once again by the story of mystery, story of the resurrection. Send your spirit to be with us this night till Easter morning. In Christ, we pray.  

Amen.  

Prayer of Confession

Confession is another common part of Maundy Thursday and the rest of this holy week. A prayer of confession often follows the opening prayer in the order of service, and it’s typically spoken in unison. 

Here’s an example of the prayer of confession: 

We confess tonight that we are like those who crucified our Lord.  

We are like those who denied Jesus — refusing to claim him as Lord of our whole life.  

We are like those who have mocked him — forgetting his power in this world.  

We are like those who made him a crown of thorns — diminishing his authority in our lives.  

We are like those who hung him on a cross — choosing the allure of violence and fear rather than justice and peace.  

We are like those who turned away their gaze — afraid to enter into the suffering of this world.  

Forgive us. Have mercy upon us.  

On these days of emptiness and death before the resurrection, we begin tonight to offer our confessions to you in silence…

[Moment of silence.]

Words of Assurance

Next often comes a prayer known as “words of assurance.” This example of such a prayer is from Psalm 116: 

The Lord has heard our voices and our supplications. God has loosed our bonds. Know that when we fall short, God hears our prayers and frees us for lives of gratitude and service. In Christ, we are forgiven. Let the whole church say amen.

Amen.

Offering Prayer

Another type of prayer spoken on Holy Thursday is an “offering prayer.” Here’s an example of a common offering prayer from Psalm 116, John 13: 

We offer these gifts, O God,
with joy and thanks.
May they strengthen your church
for acts of love and service,
in Jesus’ name. 
Amen.

Common Maundy Thursday Scriptures or Bible Verses

In addition to prayer, a Maundy Thursday service includes readings from the Bible and scripture. 

The selection of these readers is up to the leader of the service, but here are some relevant verses they might choose.   

John 13:1, 12–17

This verse mentions washing one another’s feet as Jesus is thought to have done, as discussed above:

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

John 4:7-8

This selection speaks of the vital connection between God and love: 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

These verses are about the night that Jesus was betrayed, the Last Supper, which is the event commemorated by Maundy Thursday. It refers to the practice known as the Holy Communion:  

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Matthew 26:26-29

This selection speaks of the Last Supper, too, but has a slightly different message. It’s another common selection to read before the Holy Communion: 

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

What’s the Meaning of Maundy Thursday?

The underlying meaning of the Easter holiday has been largely lost over time. But for Christians who celebrate Maundy Thursday, the meaning of Holy Week is key. In addition to Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, and Good Friday, Maundy Thursday is one of the key days of Holy Week. 

If you’re celebrating Maundy Thursday this year, take a moment to consider the historic and religious meaning of the holiday. Even if you don’t practice Christianity, there’s always value in understanding religious holidays and death in different cultures. And if you have any friends who are Christian, you’ll be better able to support them in their Maundy Thursday celebrations and observations. 


Sources:
  1. “Maundy Thursday.” Online Etymology Dictionary. etymonline.com.
  2. “What Is Maundy Thursday?” Christianity.com. christianity.com.
  3. Miller, Jennifer. “Traditions of Holy Thursday.” 23 March 2016. catholicculture.org.
  4. “Maundy Thursday.” Fish Eaters. fisheaters.com.
  5. “Maundy Thursday Scriptures.” Bible Study Tools, 21 March 2021. biblestudytools.com.

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