We pray for those who are filled with hatred, for those who turn to violence to settle conflicts. May the healing love we celebrate today effect a deep change of heart. We pray for the gift of recognizing in every human face the traces of a brother or a sister.
By the end of the fourth century it had become common to conduct the eucharist on this occasion. An evening celebration became a means of recalling the Last Supper. Through the act of foot washing, it also became an occasion for stressing the responsibility of believers to do as Jesus did.
“Maundy” derives from the Latin mandatum, “command,” a derivation from Jesus’ remark in John 13:34 that he gives his followers a “new commandment,” namely, “to love one another.”
Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Great Feast.
Exodus12:l-14 reminds us that Christians see this night in relation to the Jewish Passover. Both celebrations are rituals of community solidarity. There is also the role of the lamb whose sacrifice marks God’s people and keeps them from harm. The meaning of Jesus’ death becomes rooted in the final meal he shared with his disciples, making this the Christian form of paschal sacrifice.
Breaking bread and sharing the cup are means of entry into Jesus’ death and, by implication, into eternal life. The hallmark of discipleship is service: “the leader must become like one who serves.” The common meal and the life of service reveal a kingdom that “I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me.”
Discipleship entails taking Christ’s ministry into one’s life and into the larger world.
The nature of this ministry of service is dramatized in John 13:l-15. Here the focus of the Last Supper shifts from the meal to Jesus’ example of service. The use of cleanliness as a moral metaphor encompasses a reference to the one who will betray Jesus. Cleanliness indicates the high quality of life to which Christians are called.
Present the primary symbols of the celebration: bread, wine, ewer and basin with towels. The cross can remain in the background. Symbols are richest when they are fully celebrated, not merely displayed. Wash the feet of the assembly liberally with plenty of scented water and dry with oversized, fluffy towels. If wine is used, purchase a high quality, full-bodied red wine that is not too dry. Have the best bread bakers in the parish/congregation prepare the communion loaves.
During our most ancient celebrations, we return to music that reflects our 2,000-year heritage of faith. Chants and motets should not be discarded for the new and trendy. As we return to these celebrations each year, the majority of our texts, responses and music should be familiar. When people know what to expect, they are able to enter fully into the liturgy’s gestures, movements and rituals.
Just as good manners provide us with a code of behavior that helps us to negotiate social occasions with friends and strangers, so do our rituals allow us to immerse ourselves into our gathering and its function without wondering what we are supposed to do next.
“Holy/ Maundy Thursday,” Liturgy 11, no. 4 (1994): 31-32.