The Holy Triduum is the holiest time in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church and it begins with Holy Thursday. So what is this particular day about and why do we, as Christians, celebrate it? In this article, let’s learn more about this holy day and what happens on it in the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church observes Holy Thursday with a special mass called “Chrism Mass”, which is attended by as many diocese priests as possible in observance of Christ’s institution of the priesthood. Holy Thursday services also often include foot washing, commemorating Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet.
Now, let’s go over these rituals and practices done during Holy Thursday in more detail below. But before that, you should first understand the meaning behind Holy Thursday.
What is the Meaning Behind Holy Thursday?
Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday is one of the most religious and important days for Catholics, which is why it’s a part of the Holy Week. It marks Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, a vital event in the history of Christianity as it immediately precedes Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest, and subsequent crucifixion.
This day is also significant in the Catholic Church as it is when Jesus instituted the priesthood and held the first mass, and thus, established the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is also when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper is described in Matthew 26: 26-29, which states: “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.”
As for Christ’s establishment of the special priesthood for his disciples and his act of washing their feet, Scripture describes this as the following: “When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13: 12-15)
Furthermore, it was during the Last Supper that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for Passover, becoming the sacrificial lamb. In the words of John, he is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) It was also during this time that Jesus had his final meal with his disciples, and when he predicted that one of them would betray him. John describes this in his Gospel, saying: “When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21)
Lastly, Holy Thursday honors the time when Jesus gave us a new commandment, which was: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.” In English, this means: “That you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Notice the use of the Latin word “Mandatum”, which translates to “mandate” or “maundy” in English. It is for this reason that Holy Thursday is also sometimes called Maundy Thursday.
So what does this all mean? Well, Holy Thursday reflects the Paschal mystery and Jesus’ Passover Feast. It’s a day that commemorates many of the pivotal moments in Jesus Christ’s life, which formed a lot of the principal rituals and practices in the Catholic Church.
What is Done During Holy Thursday?
There are a lot of things done during Holy Thursday, including the following:
- The Church usually holds a special mass called “Chrism Mass”, which is celebrated by the Bishop and attended by as many priests of the diocese as possible. During this mass, the bishop consecrates the sacred Chrism and blesses other oils, which are used in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The Chrism Mass commemorates Christ’s institution of the Priesthood.
- In the evening, the Church celebrates the mass of the Lord’s Supper where the priest often washes the feet of some members of the congregation or the bishop washing the feet of 12 priests. This is done to remember Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his apostles, who were the first priests. It represents Jesus Christ’s service and charity, who came to serve and not to be served.
- At Holy Thursday mass, there’s a ritual reenactment of the Lord’s Supper. While this is celebrated at every mass as part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it’s especially observed on Holy Thursday.
- The Tabernacle will be emptied and the altar will be stripped.
- After this day, the Church will not celebrate any more mass until Easter Vigil when the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated and proclaimed.
Is Holy Thursday a Day of Fasting?
Traditionally, Holy Thursday is not a day of fasting. The focus of this holy day is to remember Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his apostles before his death and suffering. However, you may choose to still fast on this day as part of your Lenten discipline – along with prayer and almsgiving.
That said, according to the Code of Canon Law (#1251): “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”