Many customs have marked the Thursday of Holy Week over the centuries. Originally no Holy Communion was celebrated during the week before Easter, but by the end of the fourth century some areas were holding a celebration on Thursday and the custom spread under the name Cena Domini (the Supper of the Lord). It recalls Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. During the middle ages Christians rang bells throughout the Thursday service, then silenced all bells till Easter. The Reconciliation of Penitents was another rite associated with Maundy Thursday.
The word Maundy, which comes from the Latin mandatum (commandment), refers to Jesus’ commandment to “love one another . . . as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Foot washing, according to Jesus’ example (John 13:2-15), came to symbolize this love and service.
During the Middle Ages, kings and lords washed the feet of the twelve poorest men in their kingdoms. In England, the custom was for kings and queens to wash the feet of as many poor people as they were years old. Records show that in 1560 Queen Elizabeth “kept her maundy” by washing the feet of twenty poor women in the great hall at Westminster.
Our present service commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and restores the ceremony of footwashing as an option. These themes of Jesus serving bread and wine to his friends and washing their feet point us to our own serving ministries in the Church and in the world.
- Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
- Psalm 116:1, 10-17
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
- John 13:1-17, 31b-35 or Luke 22:14-30
“Jesus, come, my feet are dirty. You have become a servant for my sake, so fill your basin with water; come, wash my feet. I know that I am bold in saying this, but your own words have made me fearful: “If I do not wash your feet, you will have no companionship with me.” Wash my feet, then, so that I may be your companion. But what am I saying: “Wash my feet”? Peter could say these words, for all that needed washing were his feet. For the rest, he was completely clean. I must be made clean with that other washing of which you said: “I have a baptism with which I must be baptized.” Origen
To view a liturgy held at St. Catherine/Santa Catalina of Alexandria Episcopal Church on the Oregon coast following a 2nd century Eucharist, visit What the Tide Brings In by Ann Fontaine.
For a meditation about the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray following the meal he shared with is disciples, visit Suzanne Guthrie’s The Edge of Enclosure.