Christian: Begin Easter Triduum on Maundy Thursday

Illuminated Gospel image from approximately 1,000 years ago shows Jesus washing his followers’ feet. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.THURSDAY, APRIL 5: The Easter Triduum begins tonight for millions Christians—a three-day period that Catholics in particular see as running from this evening through the evening of Easter Sunday.

What is fascinating about Maundy or Holy Thursday is that Christians across the U.S. observe this day in such widely divergent ways. For many, especially in evangelical and Pentecostal churches, today is either ignored or is barely observed. For Catholics, the affiliation of close to 1 in 4 Americans, this is the start of a spiritually intense series of Easter-related customs—and today’s liturgies include such colorful services as the blessing of holy oils and the washing of feet. For mainline Protestants, this often is regarded as the evening when Jesus’ Last Supper unfolded and the institution of communion is remembered.

Although the vast majority of Americans still identify themselves as Christian—and Western Christians look to Sunday as the major celebration of Easter—the Thursday customs of Holy Week show the rich diversity of our Christian population.

For one Catholic POV, visit FishEaters. Or, for the view from Catholic leaders in the U.S., visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website on the Triduum. The bishops describe the Triduum this way: The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.


Of course, that’s not what millions of Protestants are hearing in their churches this week. For example, the focus from the United Methodist Church on Maundy Thursday (the term most Methodists hear this week) is described this way: Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday, is a service to commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper and the beginning of our sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34). Prior to breaking the bread with the disciples, Jesus washed their feet. Maundy Thursday worship services include Holy Communion and sometimes foot washing as well. An interesting Catholic-Protestant comparison is possible if you look over the worship resources recommended by the United Methodist Church for today, compared with the Catholic resources above.


Of course, with the whole world watching 2 billion Christians moving toward Easter, religion suddenly is front-page news. Newsweek magazine put an image of Jesus on the cover. At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI used his Holy Thursday message to lash out at a group of Austrian priests who are pushing for dramatic change in the church’s rules governing clergy. The Austrians want permission for men to marry—and for women to become priests, as well. The Associated Press covers Benedict’s stern rebuke.


The Washington Post offers a fascinating photo gallery of Holy Week events around the world (you’ll have to wach a short commercial and the page may load slowly, but the photos are intriguing.)

Popular columnist and radio commentator E.J. Dionne Jr. has posted a commentary that is circulating widely across the Internet, headlined: A Holy Week Entreaty on Religion in Politics. In part, Dionne writes: “Even in the Easter season, it’s hard not to notice that Christianity hasn’t been presented in its own best light during this election year because Christians have not exactly been putting forward their best selves.”


On Holy Thursday night, after Mass, many Catholics sit in Adoration. Many Protestants follow a related custom by leaving Holy Thursday services in silence—continuing their reflections as they depart. This custom recalls Jesus’s request that his disciples sit with him while he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemani. (Interesting note: Olives are still grown at this “Mount of Olives” today. Cook up an olive recipe, courtesy of AllRecipes.).

At the Garden, Jesus suffered through a night of agony, the Gospel accounts say, because he knew how he would suffer on the following day. While Jesus prayed during the long night, his Apostles—instead of staying awake—fell asleep.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email