Maundy Thursday Provides a Lesson in Humility

by Susan Leem, associate producer and Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Maundy Thursday in HyerabadA Christian worshipper at the St. Alphonsus Church in Hyderabad during a Maundy Thursday service. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

The Thursday of Holy Week (the week before Easter) has special meaning for Christians. Often referred to as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday (from the Latin mandatum which means "command or instruction"), it is not a “holy day of obligation” for Roman Catholics but often includes a church service commemorating the Last Supper, the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was crucified.

One version of the Last SupperThe Last Supper (1574-1575) depicted by Italian painter Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

The events recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verses 19-20 — in which Jesus shares bread and wine with his disciplines — are said to be the liturgical basis for practicing communion. Many churches offer the Eucharist at a special mass on this day.

Pope Benedict XVIPope Benedict XVI holds the Eucharist in celebration of the Chrismal Mass of Maundy Thursday in St.Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Some Roman Catholic priests will perform a rite of foot-washing to commemorate and reflect on Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his twelve disciples. The Gospel of John (13: 1-7) describes this act as a service to others despite your social position, a willingness to be closer to your neighbor. Though normally the task of a servant, Jesus performs this task as the host, despite the protest of his disciples. In doing so he invites them into an intimate fellowship with him, and modeling the behavior he wishes to teach to all humanity:

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

Foot washingPhoto by Catholic Church (England and Wales)/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0

Washing of feetReverend Thumma Bala (right), an Indian Catholic bishop of the Archdioecese of Hyderabad, washes the feet of a parishioner during Maundy Thursday service. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

Washing of the feetDeacon Buruk Kidane (right) has his feet and hands washed by Reverend Gebrekiros at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matt McClain/Getty Images)

Washing of feetCardinal Roger Mahony washes the feet of 12 people, following the example of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 apostles, during the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In England, a Royal Maundy Service is held on Holy Thursday. During the service, the king or queen gives Maundy money to his or her subjects — one coin for each man and woman equal of the royal’s years of birth.

Queen Elizabeth II Gives Maundy MoneyQueen Elizabeth II (right) distributes the Maundy money to 86 men and 86 women during the Royal Maundy Service at York Minster in York, northern England on April 5, 2012. (Photo by Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty Images)

In Jerusalem, processions of all sorts take place in the Old City on Holy Thursday.

Kawases Lead Holy Thursday Procession in the Old CityKawases in traditional Ottoman outfits lead a procession of Roman Catholic clergymen along Jerusalem’s Old City streets during Holy Thursday on April 5, 2012. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Roman Catholic Clergy During a Holy Thursday Procession in the Old CityRoman Catholic clergymen walk along Jerusalem’ Old City streets during a Holy Thursday procession on April 5, 2012. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Holy Thursday Mass at the Church of the Holy SepulchreRoman Catholic clergymen hold candles as they circle the Anointing Stone during the Holy Thursday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on April 5, 2012 ahead of Easter celebrations. Christians traditionally believe the church is built on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Muslim Gatekeeper Locks the Door to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy ThursdayRaed Nuseibeh, the Muslim doorkeeper of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, closes the door after the Catholic Holy Thursday Easter procession. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

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