Maundy Thursday Provides a Lesson in Humility
by Susan Leem, associate producer and Trent Gilliss, senior editor
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.
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.
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.”
Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Cardinal 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 (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.
Roman 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)
William Blake’s Holy Thursdays
by Kate Moos, executive producer
William Blake, the English poet and engraver, wrote two poems entitled “Holy Thursday” — one a “song of innocence” and one a “song of experience.”
Each of them decry the wretched realities of children in poverty but tell different stories, in different tones. The Song of Experience begins, in outrage:
Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduc’d to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
The Song of Innocence presents a picture of orderly and gentile charity to which the British class system condemned the poor. The poem ends with a sarcastic exhortation to “cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”
Both poems recall yet another Song of Experience, “The Human Abstract,” which begins:
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.
Blake himself, of course, lived in abject poverty for most of his life and was actually buried on borrowed money in a graveyard reserved for dissenters and nonconformists.
Image courtesy of ©2003 Fitzwilliam Museum