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All you ever wanted to know about Maundy Thursday

All you ever wanted to know about Maundy Thursday

When is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday.

Where does the name come from?

The New Testament was written in Greek and then in Latin long before it god to English. In John’s Gospel, in Chapter 13, Jesus says to his disciples that he is giving them a “new commandment”. The word in the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, is Mandatum. It is where the English word Mandate comes from.

What is the Commandment

Jesus commands us to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Read it here

Are there special services?

Yes. There is a special service (Liturgy) which we only use on Maundy Thursday

What is different about it?

There are three big things, footwashing, stripping the altar and the Watch of the Passion.

What is foot washing?

First people can reenact Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet by washing each other's feet. Different Churches do this in different ways. In some places everyone can join in and in others people are chosen beforehand. It is really important to say that, even in a Church where anyone can join in, noone has to join in. If you don’t fancy the idea just stay in your seat. If someone invites you, just say, “No thanks”.

What is stripping the Altar?

The second thing which happens which is different is that after the Communion is over the church is stripped bare. That means  all the candles, decorations, fabrics and furniture which moves is moved. This is done with different degrees of ceremony in different churches. There might be some songs, or psalms but the church is left bare and people often leave in the dark. 

What is the Watch of the Passion?

Only one candle is left burning in the church, next to a container with bread which is saved from the Communion. We believe that Jesus is really present in the bread (although we don’t go so far as to claim we know exactly how). This means that during the night, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can sit in Church or watch online remembering  Jesus' presence on this holy night. Some Churches build amazing gardens for people to “watch” in. Some churches are open all night, some have lock ins, some stream. This is called the “Watch of the Passion”

Why is the colour white used for Maundy Thursday in some places?

This is purely down to interpretation. Up until now, Holy Week has been using red coloured hangings and vestments (clergy robes). There is a choice to stay with red. The change to white is used when we want to remember the party atmosphere of the Last Supper. We remember Jesus giving bread and wine for the first time as body and blood. We know what was going to happen next but, at the time, his followers were probably just having fun and hanging out, a party. The mood changes suddenly when the feasting ends and we are moved to the outside. It is night as Jesus and his followers head to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Isn’t this a lot of stuff for one day?

Yes, it is a whole lot of stuff.  That is why different Churches choose to celebrate it in different ways and emphasise different things. Andglican and Roman Catholic Churches have set liturgies but, even within those, there are different ways to do things. 

What if I don’t understand what is happening?

Holy Week is not really about understanding everything  - it is about experiencing this journey which Jesus makes and letting that journey become part of who we are. Each year is different. Some years some parts of the story will resonate, other years another part will speak loud and clear. Even those years when we feel very far from the story teach us - sometimes they just remind us of how much we value closeness with God. You can get very emotional in Holy Week or not feel any emotion at all. Think of emotion as one of many things which are in our spiritual toolbox.

It is important to remember that all our Church season and festivals are intended to provide a framework in which we can worship. Simply "getting it all right" and showing up to everything is not really what it is about. We are invited to deeper relationship by God. That is what matters. We have to stop, and look, and listen and be really honest about ourselves.

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