THURSDAY, APRIL 21: The Easter Triduum begins at sundown tonight, as one of the most complex and mysterious evenings of Christian history is commemorated—as Holy Thursday.
Two billion Christians worldwide remember a number of paramount events tonight: the Last Supper and introduction of the Eucharist; the betrayal of Jesus by Judas; Jesus’ torment in the Garden of Gethsemane; and the washing of the disciples’ feet. (Learn the Eastern Christian perspective at GoArch.)
Great joy and deep agony are woven together in this unique evening—both themes recognized at tonight’s Great and Holy Thursday—or Maundy Thursday—Mass. Following tonight’s vigil or service, the tone across Christianity turns quiet and somber until Easter.
Perhaps the most recognizable ritual of the Holy Thursday Mass is the washing of feet, during which a priest reenacts Jesus’ humble deed with his disciples. (Wikipedia has details.)
There’s even more packed into this sacred day: In Catholic and some Orthodox Churches, holy oils are blessed for the coming year on Holy Thursday; Medieval Christian converts were often baptized at the Holy Thursday service, and because of tonight’s association with baptism, it has become customary to consecrate oils on this occasion. (FishEaters has more Catholic customs.)
Depending on the Christian affiliation of a congregation, various names may be used today. Some churches still refer to this as Maundy Thursday, associated with customs such as the distribution of Maundy money in England that continues to this day. Many scholars connect Maundy Thursday with the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning “command,” recalling that Jesus empowered his followers with his commandment at the Last Supper.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.