In Brief

What is Maundy Thursday and how is it celebrated?

Diverse traditions are observed around the world to mark Easter milestone, and even the Queen gets involved

Today is Maundy Thursday, a key date in the Christian calendar and celebrated by believers across the world.

Often overshadowed by the significance of Easter Sunday and Good Friday, Maundy Thursday is the fifth day of Holy Week, and - like Easter - is usually observed at different times by the Western and Orthodox churches.

But what does the day stand for and how do Christians across the world commemorate it?

What is the historical significance?

In Christian tradition, Maundy Thursday, which always falls on the Thursday before Easter Sunday, is a commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the apostles in Jerusalem before he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. 

The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning command, used in the ceremony of the washing of the feet. 

According to St John’s gospel, before the Last Supper Jesus washed his followers’ feet to show his humility, saying: “A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The day also goes by other names in certain parts of the world, including Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries.

How is it celebrated?

Until 1689, the reigning monarch would wash worshippers’ feet in a symbolic ceremony at Westminster Abbey, while food and clothing would also be handed out to the poor, The Sun writes.

Nowadays, feet washing remains a tradition only in the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches, though masses are also held on the day by many Anglican churches. The Eastern Orthodox Church also marks the day with Vespers prayers and the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great.

In countries which were formerly parts of the Spanish and Danish empires, Maundy Thursday is a public holiday.

What role does the Queen play?

Queen Elizabeth II will observe Maundy Thursday by taking part in the distribution of alms at Leicester Cathedral with the Duke of Edinburgh, a tradition that dates all the way back to the Middle Ages.

All of the recipients of the “Maundy Money” will be senior citizens who have served the church and the local community.

Maundy money is made up of coins that have been specially minted for the occasion – they are legal tender and are highly collectable, the Sun adds.

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