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Maundy Thursday Meaning and Significance: A Helpful Guide

In the Catholic Church, Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday) kicks off the most holy liturgical season of the year – the Holy Triduum. This day is extremely important to Catholics because Christ instituted two very important Sacraments on Holy Thursday: the priesthood (Holy Orders) and the Eucharist. There is so much about Maundy Thursday to talk about so let’s dive right in!

painting of the Last Supper

What happened on Maundy Thursday?

Scripture tells us that Holy Thursday (also called “Maundy Thursday”) is the night of The Last Supper. Many miraculous, holy, and beautiful events happened on Maundy Thursday, including:

  1. The Last Supper
  2. The washing of the Apostle’s feet
  3. The explanation of the Greatest Commandment
  4. The Institution of the Eucharist
  5. The Institution of the Priesthood
  6. Judas’s betrayal
  7. The beginning of Our Lord’s Passion in the Garden of Gethsemane

Maundy Thursday Meaning

Holy Thursday is often also called “Maundy Thursday,” but why?

The word “maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum which means “commandment.” We can understand why this word is used when we discuss what happened on Holy Thursday. Let’s take a look at Sacred Scripture…

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    The Last Supper Scripture

    You can read the entire passage of the foot washing and the events that follow in John 13 here.

    The passage begins with Jesus preparing to wash the disciples’ feet. Then, “Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.'” John 13: 8
    In this passage, Jesus is modeling how He wants us to treat others. He is humbling Himself by physically lowering Himself and completing a task (washing feet) that is usually done by servants. He is calling the disciples (and us!) to humble ourselves and serve others.
    The passage continues by describing Judas’s betrayal. 
    Finally, we come to The New Commandment which states: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” John 13: 34

    This is the reason that Holy Thursday is also called Maundy Thursday – it is the night that Jesus gave us The Greatest Commandment.

    We can read another account of the night of Holy Thursday in Mark 14. During the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-26), Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

    Jesus washing Peter's feet on Maundy Thursday

    The Garden of Gethsemane

    After the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane.

    He asks Peter, James, and John to stay awake with Him and pray.

    However, they fall asleep.

    These three Apostles may have fallen asleep, but we can use the opportunity of Holy Thursday and EVERY Thursday night to keep watch with Jesus in the Garden of Olives. 

    This is one of my favorite books on the topic of keeping watch with Christ, and I highly recommend it for all families!

    Priest holding the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus

    Holy Thursday Mass - The Mass of the Lord's Supper

    The Mass of the Lord’s Supper kicks off the Holy Triduum. If you have the chance to attend this Mass as a family you won’t be sorry! 

    The priests’ vestments will be white to signify the holy occasion. Again, this Mass is to celebrate and commemorate the first Mass that Christ celebrated at the Last Supper when He instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders and the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    This is also the very last Mass that will be celebrated until the Easter Vigil on the night of Holy Saturday. 

    The Sacred Hosts will be removed from the tabernacle and the sanctuary candle will be extinguished. This is to honor Christ’s agony in the garden and pay homage tomorrow on Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross.

    But before that…

    The Altar of Repose

    At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the priest(s) will lead a procession out of the sanctuary where Mass is being held, and the entire congregation will follow. 

    Usually a beautiful hymn will be sung as the Eucharist is transferred to its new resting place for the next few days (until the Easter Vigil).

    A monstrance will be left at the Altar of Repose so that we can keep watch with Jesus for as long as possible. 

    Again, if you can stay for Holy Thursday adoration with your family it is so worth it!


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      St. Philip Neri Visits 7 Churches

      The night doesn’t need to end there! 

      In the 1500s, St. Philip Neri took groups of the faithful to the 7 basilicas in Rome to keep watch like the disciples in Gethsemane and meditate on scripture. 

      Map out 7 churches in your area to visit on Holy Thursday night. It will be an extremely memorable way to enter into the Holy Triduum!

      If this sounds like too much for your tiny Catholics, read on to have a beautiful Maundy Thursday with little ones.

      Maundy Thursday Crafts and Activities for Littles

      Here are some of my favorite activities and crafts to do with children on Holy Thursday:

      Keep your little ones quiet and engaged in the Mass

      Download these FREE Toddler Mass cards, print, and bring them to Mass for your toddler to enjoy!

      Get the FREE Toddler Mass Cards as well as lots of tips for teaching the Catholic faith to children by subscribing below.

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        Last Supper Meal Ideas for Maundy Thursday

        If you have little who aren’t quite ready to venture to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper followed by a late night visit to 7 churches, you can still celebrate this holy night at home.

        You can start by preparing a Last Supper meal similar to what Jesus and his Apostle’s ate. It would have been a Passover Seder.

        The menu can be kept simple, and is inspired by the Exodus scripture passage which describes the Passover ritual:

        “They will consume its meat that same night, eating it roasted with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” Exodus 12:8

        • Unleavened bread – similar to the bread Jesus would have eaten at His Last Supper which he transformed into the Eucharist
        • Grapes or grape juice – to symbolize the wine which Christ transformed into His Precious Blood
        • Lamb – to remind us of the Passover lamb (the Old Covenant) and Christ – the Paschal Lamb (The New Covenant)
        • Bitter Herbs – salad or any steamed green vegetable (such as spinach, kale or broccoli)
        Since this is an important and joyful Feast Day in the Catholic Church, you could also plan a simple dessert to celebrate and show that it is different from the penitential days of Lent. 
        unleavened bread and grapes for Maundy Thursday

        Catholic Foot Washing Ceremony at Home for Maundy Thursday

        Re-enacting the foot washing from Holy Thursday is a favorite in our home. 

        Here is how to enjoy an at home foot washing step-by-step:

        1. Set up a large bucket or basin filled with warm water and some soap. Mix around the soap to get it sudsy. Be sure to put the container on top of a large towel.
        2. Have some wash cloths on hand. 
        3. Read from John 13 as you take turns washing each other’s feet!
        You can either have all family members take turns washing each other’s feet, or put everyone’s names in a bowl and have each person choose one other person’s feet to wash. 
        Be sure to emphasize the humility that Jesus demonstrated when He washed His disciples feet, and how we should mimic Him!


        child washing father's feet for Maundy Thursday

        The Agony in the Garden - The First Sorrowful Mystery for an At Home Holy Hour

        Holy Thursday ends with Jesus’s visit to the Garden of Gethsemane where he asks James, Peter, and John to keep watch with Him.

        As we know, they fall asleep.

        This is followed by Jesus’s arrest.

        After dinner and before bed time, have an at home holy hour with your family! Light a blessed candle and read to them from scripture (Mark 14:32-42).

        Explain to your children that we can console Jesus by praying with Him and keeping watch, especially on nights when we cannot sleep. The beautiful book Awake with Christ has meditations for children to enter into during your at home holy hours.

        You can also pray the Luminous or Sorrowful Mysteries. The Institution of the Eucharist is the 5th Luminous Mystery, and The Agony in the Garden is the first Sorrowful Mystery.

        Find my helpful Rosary posts below:

        How do you pray the Rosary?

        Tips for Praying the Rosary with Children

        Have a beautiful and blessed Maundy Thursday!

        I hope this gave you information and inspiration to celebrate Maundy Thursday with your family! Please let me know how you celebrate in the comments below!

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