Juana de Juanes, c 1560
Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, called the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified. The institution of the Holy Eucharist occurred during this meal, as indicated from the gospel excerpt below:
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." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 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" (Matthew 26:26-29 RSV)
Since Scripture and Tradition tell us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Jesus shared the important Last Supper with his apostles on a Thursday. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal. However, John suggests that Jesus was crucified before the Passover Meal, on the Day of Preparation. Perhaps the Last Supper was done in anticipation of the Passover Meal, or was a Kiddush or some other religious meal. The gospel of John does not record the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, while the synoptic gospels do. However, John's gospel records Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Holy Thursday traditions are derived from all four gospels (www.churchyear.net)
What is Maundy?
First off, the word Maundy is hard to decipher. There are some people who do not even know how to spell it and refer this day as Monday Thursday (I mean, really.. doesn’t that make things more confusing?).
But for those who do know how to spell it, Maundy is still something that most people do not know its significance. Maundy is from the Latin word “mandatum” which means mandate or command. The reference is John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Amid the bustle of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, Maundy Thursday is easy to overlook. Few calendars label it, and some churches don’t observe it at all, though it may be the oldest of the Holy Week observances. It’s worth asking why, and how, generations of Christians have revered this day.
Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, which took place the Thursday before Easter.
Later tradition, however, suggests the term comes either from the Saxon word mand, which afterwards became maund, a name for a basket, and subsequently for any gift or offering contained in the basket… or from the French word maund, from Old French mendier, which in turn comes from Latin mendicare, meaning “to beg.” In both of these cases they converge in the English tradition, dating back to King John in 1210, of the crown giving gifts to the poor on this date in a container called a “maund” or “maundy purse.”
During medieval times, Maundy Thursday was sometimes called Shere Thursday, shere meaning “pure” or “guilt-free.” (“Shere” also had something to do with shearing, as it was customary for medieval men to cut their hair and beards on this day.) Medieval Christians believed they could achieve purity by performing penance throughout Lent. The Catholic church recognized the achievement by formally reconciling penitents and, in some areas, giving them a green branch. New converts who had prepared their hearts, and memorized their creed, during Lent were taken through baptism at the Thursday service.
A bit of History
In the 12th century, the English Church initiated a custom of distributing money to senior citizens who had performed outstanding service to the crown. Known as "Maundy Money," these specially minted coins are handed out in red and white ceremonial purses by the reigning King or Queen. Along with the giving of alms, Kings and Queens of England would also wash the feet of the poor as a way of humbling themselves. This tradition continued until the 17th century.
In Germany, Maundy Thursday was also known as Gründonnerstag (“Green Thursday”) Green Thursday. The name was not due to the color green, but from the close association to the German word for "grief" or "weeping". Many families would eat only green vegetables, spinach in particular, as a way of humbling themselves before God. (http://www.faithclipart.com)
Since it was on this night that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, that sacred meal has often been the chief emphasis of Maundy Thursday. The Lord's Supper is celebrated and often its meaning is rehearsed. At the end of the service, the altar is stripped, in preparation for Good Friday. This symbolizes Christ's being stripped by the Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion. Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm which clearly prophesies the Messiah's death, is read while the altar is stripped.
From ancient times the Church in various places has also observed a re-enacting ceremony of footwashing, in memory of our Lord washing his disciples feet on this night (see John 13). This liturgy of footwashing came to be called mandatum
Because of the Maundy Thursday connection with baptism, it has long been a Catholic custom to consecrate the year’s supply of holy oils for baptism, anointing the sick, and Confirmation on this day. Orthodox clergy take time during the liturgy to prepare the “Amnos,” the Communion elements that will be given to the sick throughout the year.
In summary, the feast of Maundy Thursday is a somber event. Many Christians take this as a time to fast and repent before partaking the Eucharist. The washing of the feet also denotes cleaning of the soul before Good Friday service prepares the believer to better appreciate the sacrifice of Christ and later on, the rejoicing that we are saved during Easter Sunday.