Maundy - History and Facts
It will help to know...
The word 'Maundy' comes from the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. This is a special day for Christians. It is the day when they remember the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane and the arrest and trial of Jesus. The Last Supper is a key event for Christians. It was at this Last Supper which Jesus shared with his friends that he changed the words of the traditional Passover meal and commanded his followers to break and eat bread and drink wine in his memory. Christians throughout the world continue to do this. This act of remembrance is known as the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Mass or The Lord's Supper.
The blessing of oils
As Maundy Thursday commemorates the day when Jesus instituted the Eucharist through the Last Supper, it is also the day on which priests may renew their priestly vows. This service is called the Blessing of Oils and it is one where oil blessed by a bishop is distributed to the priests for them to use in their ministry the following year. Holy oil is used for baptism, confirmation and the anointing of the sick and dying.
The distribution of Maundy money
This is an ancient tradition dating from before the Middle Ages. However, when the Church of England broke with the Church in Rome and the English monarch became Supreme head of the Church in England, the ceremony took on a greater significance.
The reigning monarch, as head of the Church, gives out special coins, called 'Maundy money', to elderly people at a service on Maundy Thursday. One coin is given for every year of the monarch's age. The coins are silver and are specially minted for the occasion. The service takes place in one of the great English cathedrals and it usually takes 40 years before it is held at the same cathedral again. In the year 2000 the ceremony took place in Lincoln Cathedral and 148 old-age pensioners, 74 men and 74 women, each received the Maundy money. In times past not only were the poor given coins to help provide food but the monarch also washed the recipients' feet.
The Maundy Thursday Eucharist
In some churches this is a very special service. White vestments are worn by the clergy, and members of the congregation are chosen to have their feet washed by the priest. The number chosen is usually twelve to represent the number of disciples. The priest goes to each of the twelve in turn, kneels before them, washing and drying either one or both feet. This is a symbolic gesture to re-enact Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. It is a very powerful symbol, and a deep expression of humility and love.
After the Holy Communion or Eucharist, the remaining consecrated elements may be saved or 'reserved', to be used during a Eucharist on Good Friday. In some churches this bread and wine is transferred to a special altar with a tabernacle. This altar is called an 'altar of repose' and it is usually decorated in a special way with candles and flowers.
When the formal part of the Eucharist service has ended a solemn ceremony begins. As the choir sings or chants a psalm, the candles on the altar are extinguished and the part of the service known as the 'stripping of the altar' begins. Slowly and reverently the vessels, books and artefacts are removed. All altar coverings are taken away and the church lights dimmed. When all is complete and the altar bare, both congregation and priests kneel in silent prayer. Those who wish to leave do so in silence. In many churches this poignant moment is followed by what is known as a 'watch of prayer' perhaps by the altar of repose. Although in most churches today this 'watch' normally ends at midnight some Anglican churches still retain a 'watch' throughout the night to symbolize Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane and his arrest and trial before both the Roman and Jewish authorities.
Jesus the servant.
The institution of the Eucharist.
The prayer and agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
The Bible can help you…
You will find the story of the Last Supper in Matthew 26.17-35, Mark 14.12-31, Luke 22.1-38, John 13.1-20.
The story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet is found in John 13.1-20.
The story in the garden of Gethsemane and the arrest and trial is found in Matthew 26.36-75, Mark 14.32-72, Luke 22.39 - 23.12 and John 18.1-40.
Mandatum, water, oil, humility, love, Eucharist, prayer.
1. Jesus behaved as a servant. Think about some occupations today which could be considered as menial. Explore what might happen if these tasks were not carried out, e.g. cleaning the toilets. Make a list of these important tasks.
2. Find out about the Jewish festival of Passover. What did Jesus say and do that significantly changed this event for Christians?
3. Write a letter to a Jewish child about the significance of the Last Supper for Christians.
4. Explore the role of Peter in this story. Write a diary account as if you were Peter.
5. Imagine Judas is on trial. Role-play the trial using the courtroom model, e.g. judge, jury, defence, prosecution, witnesses etc.
6. Write the letter that Judas might have left explaining his actions to the other disciples.
7. Write a prayer to be read at a Maundy Thursday service which reflects the feelings of one of the characters involved in events which took place in the garden of Gethsemane.
8. Investigate the role of a priest. Imagine that you are also thinking of becoming a priest. Write a letter to a member of your family explaining the reasons for your decision. Say what aspects of the work you might find difficult and why.
Something to think about…
Think about ways in which people in power today show examples of humility.
Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week (the Thursday before Easter). It was the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, sharing a meal with them which we call the Last Supper.
In those days it was usual for a servant to wash the guests feet on arrival. On this occasion there was no servant present and none of the disciples volunteered to do the menial task. Instead, Jesus got up and washed his disciples feet, giving them an object lesson in humility and service.
In some churches priests carry out a ceremonial washing of the feet of twelve men on Maundy Thursday as a commemoration of Christ's act.
In Britain it is still customary for the sovereign to give 'Maundy Money' to a number of male and female pensioners - one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign's age. The money is contained in two purses: one red and one white. The white purse contains specially minted coins - one for each year of the sovereign's life. The red purse now also contains money, in lieu of gifts which used to be offered to the poor.
Up to the time of James II the sovereign also washed the feet of selected poor men.
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