What Is Maundy Thursday? 8 Facts about the Lesser-Known Christian Holiday

This week we pause to remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and for many of us, that means attending special church services.

Many—if not most—churches have Good Friday services in addition to special Easter gatherings, but some churches also meet on Maundy Thursday.

Here are eight things to know about Maundy Thursday:

  1. Maundy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26–29, Mark 14:12–25, Luke 22:15–20, John 13:1–17:26), and it’s observed on the Thursday before Easter (the day before Good Friday).
  2. It’s also sometimes called Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday.
  3. Celebrated on the Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday remembers the events of the day before Jesus’ arrest.
  4. The events of Maundy Thursday focus on the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels. However, the Gospel of John explains the day in more detail. John begins with the pericope of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20), includes two of Jesus’ “I am” statements (John 14:6, 15:5), and ends with his High Priestly Prayer (John 17). In all four Gospels, the day’s events come right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
  5. Maundy Thursday gets its name from the new commandment (Lat. mandatum) Jesus gave in John 13:34.
  6. References to Maundy Thursday appear as early as Justin Martyr’s First Apology (c. 155–157) and Hippolytus’ liturgy (second century).
  7. The day was officially recognized as a Holy Day in AD 393 by the Council of Hippo.
  8. At a typical Maundy Thursday service, attendees confess their sins to God and take communion together. Some churches also include foot-washing, stripping the church’s decor, and Tenebrae (or extinguishing candles).

Does your church celebrate Maundy Thursday? If not, do you think it should? Discuss in the comments below.

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Works Cited

Provance, Brett Scott.  Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, The IVP Pocket Reference Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 85.

Cross, F.L. and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1065.

Gregg, Larry D. “Maundy Thursday,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 874.

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Written by
Jennifer Grisham

Jennifer Grisham is a writer for Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software and other tools for churches. She previously served as director of administration at a church and managing editor and administrator for a ministry to worship leaders. Her work has been published by The Gospel Coalition, The Gospel Project, and Doxology & Theology, to name a few.

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Written by Jennifer Grisham