Why Maundy Thursday is an Important Part of Holy Week

Holy Thursday is a celebration of The Last Supper Jesus had with his Apostles before his death on the Cross. Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain narratives of this event in their Gospels. The Gospel of John gives a different account where Jesus washes the feet of his Apostles. During the Mass on Holy Thursday the priest washes the feet of parishoners as a sign of service.

Holy Thursday

This liturgical feast is one of my favorite in the entire church calendar. The institution of the Eucharist takes places on Holy Thursday. I also find the washing of feet as a profound gesture of love and service. Finally, the conclusion of the Mass sets up the stage for Good Friday― Jesus’ Death on the Cross.

Source and Summit

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1324, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Imagine climbing up a mountain and reaching the peak after many days (or weeks). Reaching Holy Thursday is sort of like getting to the top of a spiritual mountain after climbing and learning about the teachings of the Church.

Eucharist quote as source and summit

Those in RCIA might find a special appreciation for Holy Thursday as they have been slowly trekking through the teachings of the Church. The peak is the Eucharist― the gift of Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Beginning of the Priesthood

Another important theme in the Holy Thursday Mass is service and the role of the priests. Traditionally, the Church refers to Holy Thursday as Maundy Thursday. This word maundy refers to a foot washing ceremony for the poor. To read the full text click here: The Washing of the Disciples Feet.

Jesus washing Peters feet

Peter refused Jesus’ act of service at first. Jesus told him that unless Peter allowed him to clean his feet he didn’t have a place with him. While it may seem strange to our 21st century mind, washing feet of another in ancient Jewish culture was a symbol of humility and love. Walking was the primary mode of travel and people didn’t have socks or shoes to protect their feet only sandals. Jesus lowered himself as he knelt with a bowl of water to wash his Apostles soles (more importantly this was a sign he intended to cleanse their souls too).

Maundy Thursday

Jesus anointed the Apostles with the sacred office of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Pope Francis reminds us of this truth when he declared in a Holy Thursday homily in 2019, “We [priests] anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart. When we anoint other, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and affection of our people”.

Eucharist is Food to Sustain Us

Besides modeling servant leadership to his Apostles, Jesus specifically directed  the Twelve (or Eleven) to celebrate the breaking of the bread again and again.  In Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus says,

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Early Church Tradition interpreted Jesus giving us his literal Body and Blood under the guise of bread and wine. Centuries later Saint Thomas Aquinas clarified the theology with his term transubstantiation. A close reading of John 6 will show Jesus had many opportunities to clarify whether or not he was speaking literally or figuratively. For more information on the Bread of Life Discourse read my article 3 Reasons Why Critically Reading John 6 Will Convert Protestants.

Eucharist meme

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He gives us strengthen and resolve to fend off the temptations of the Enemy. Saint Maria Faustina wrote, “Jesus, source of my life, sanctify me.  O my strength, fortify me.  My commander, fight for me.” Her words point the Eucharist sustains us.

Maundy Thursday and Unity in the Body of Christ

Reception of Holy Communion fosters greater unity in the Body of Christ too. Paragraph 1419 of the Catechism states, “Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.”

Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. The priest or deacon washing the feet of the laity recalls Christ’ act of service to Peter and the other Apostles. On this Maundy Thursday may be ponder the gift of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. May be in a special way also pray for the Holy Spirit to guide all the clergy to serve with Christ-like love.

Reflection Questions

How will you serve the Body of Christ this year?

What can you do to show gratitude for Jesus giving us the Eucharist?

How can you support your local priest(s) in their ministry?

Related Links

Everything You Need to Know about the Sacred Triduum

The significance of Holy Thursday

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A Letter to the Laity on what Actually Happens at Mass in 2019 (and well always!)

To the Curious, Doubting, Lukewarm, or Unbelieving Catholic Laity,

When we attend Mass, we are entering a holy place in which a miracle takes place.  Not only are we present when the basic elements of bread and wine are transubstantiated to the body and blood of Christ, but those at Mass are transported in a mystical way to a heavenly banquet.  Though the reception of communion happens a few prayers after the Canon is complete, it is vital from a theological and catechetical perspective.  With Christ present with his church, the Bridegroom has come for His bride.

After commingling of the body and blood the Priest tells those present to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is the praise of the angels and those in Heaven as seen in Revelation 19.  In Revelation 19:9 and Angel told St. John. “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (NRSV).

At this point in Mass the priest is passing on this wedding announcement from Heaven.  Like a groom at a wedding, our Lord calls to us and wants to have an intimate relationship with his bride.  He does this by giving himself, his own body and blood, as a way to show his eternal commitment to us.  Like a bride we process down towards our groom to be united with him.

In the Eucharist we are united with Christ not only spiritually, but physically.  Being united with the flesh of Christ is the most personal thing we will be able to experience (Augustine 469).

The Old Testament book of Song of Songs has very vivid imagery between a man and wife symbolizes the love that Christ has for His church.  One passage that is particularly relevant to the Wedding Supper of the lamb is Song of Songs 1:2 which states, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (NRSV)!  This is exactly what St. Ambrose says happens during the reception of the Eucharist (Ambrose 354).

The second person of the blessed Trinity has forgiven us of our sin and unites himself with us with his very body.  The Wedding Supper of the Lamb is a taste of the heavenly worship that we will experience in eternity and unites us with the church suffering and church triumphant in heavenly praise.

Next time you are at Mass take that extra moment to thank Christ for the very gift of himself.  Take the time to realize that we are worshiping the King of the universe alongside those who have gone before us in the faith.

There is much more happening at Mass than meets the eye.  It is a place where a true miracle happens, ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  Let us not merely go through the notions, but truly understand what is happening.

Do you want to transform the church?  It begins with understanding what is happening at Mass and who we are receiving in the Holy Eucharist.  I leave you with the following quote from St. Ambrose for further meditation:

Perhaps you will say “I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the body of Christ?”

And this is the point that remains for us to prove. What evidence shall we make use of?  Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

God bless you all!

Your brother in Christ,

William


About our guest blogger:

William is a convert to the Catholic faith.  Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary.  William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults.  Check out his website/blog at williamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!

Notes:

Augustine of Hippo. “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.

Ambrose of Milan. “Two Books Concerning Repentance.” St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth. Vol. 10. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series.

 

 

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