Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week, commemorating the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Ordination. The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday begins the Triduum, which is the three-day celebration of the heart of the Christian faith: Christ’s death and resurrection. The Paschal Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes with the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of Easter. Thus the Triduum includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and reaches it high point at the Great Easter Vigil. The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin antiphon Mandatum Novum, i.e. “a new mandate.” This new mandate from Jesus is taken from John 13:34: love one another as I have loved you.
Various traditions and customs are associated with Maundy Thursday, including the reciting of the creed by Catechumens from memory, the washing of feet, reconciliation of penitents, and the consecration of holy oil (chrism). The modern Western Holy Thursday service has an option for the blessing of chrism and the washing of feet. After the Maundy Thursday evening Mass the altars are stripped, the holy water stoups are emptied, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the church in procession to a place of reposition. Traditionally the Pange Lingua is sung during this procession. Perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is then encouraged. The consecrated host is then used for Good Friday Masses. The alternate and uncommon name Shear Thursday comes from the ancient custom of trimming one’s beard and hair that day as a sign of spiritual preparation for Easter.
A special commemoration of the Institution of the Eucharist on the Thursday of Holy Week is first attested to in the documents of the North African Council of Hippo (AD 393). References to Holy Thursday celebrations are abundant after this date. Since 1955 in the Catholic Church, the Maundy Thursday Mass is only celebrated in the evening, although in earlier times as many as three Masses a day were said. Traditionally, Maundy Thursday falls within the Lenten Season, although in post-Vatican II Catholic practice, Maundy Thursday is not liturgically a part of Lent, although it is still reckoned as part of the “forty days of Lent.”