Maundy Thursday Observed as Day of Service, Cleansing

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by Sharon Rondeau

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper," painted during the 1490s

(Apr. 5, 2012) — Holy Thursday, often called Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper among Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem. The Christian priesthood and gift of the Eucharist were presented to mankind.  It has been called “the most complex and profound of all religious observances” other than Easter.  The Jewish celebration of Passover was held between what became Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday in the Christian Church.

The three days from Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday are sometimes called the “triduum,” signifying the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

Jesus knew that at least one of his disciples would betray him and that he would perish on the cross on Good Friday.

Maundy Thursday is celebrated as an evening of cleansing and service to others, the word “maundy” emanating from the Latin word “mandamus,” or “command.”  Jesus had commanded his disciples to “…love one another; as I have loved you.”

After the Last Supper, Jesus and three of his disciples went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  In a moment of human frailty, disciples Peter, James and John fell asleep after Jesus spent some time alone, when He had asked God to spare Him if He could.  John’s account of the Last Supper differs from the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke as to the day and what occurred.

Catholics offer prayers called “Acts of Reparation” for sins committed against Jesus, including his suffering on the cross at the hands of the Romans by order of Pontius Pilate.

The antiphon “Ubi Caritas,” written before the Tenth Century, is often sung during Holy Thursday Catholic services as well as Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.”

Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday to offer everlasting life to all people, regardless of their sins, offering them immortality if they believed.  In 1946, a Lutheran minister said:

Jesus, when He was raised from the dead, was absolved for all sin, but since it was not for Himself but for all people that Christ died, who was it really that was set free, who was it really that was absolved when Jesus rose from the dead? It was all people! Just as all Israel triumphed when David defeated Goliath, so all humanity triumphed when Jesus defeated sin, death and Hell. And so we hear Paul saying in his second epistle to the Corinthians, “We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” And again in his epistle to the Romans, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” Just as Christ’s condemnation was the condemnation of all mankind, Christ’s death the death of all mankind, Christ’s payment the payment for all mankind, even so Christ’s life is now the life of all mankind, His acquittal the acquittal of all mankind, His justification the justification of all mankind, His absolution the absolution of all mankind.

John 2:1 states:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

John referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

Today Pope Benedict XVI tasked believers to abandon “much-vaunted self-fulfillment” and focus on serving others.  The Pope washed the feet of other priests as Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday.

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