Observed in Countries with Christian populations
Observed on Thursday before Easter
Observed by Christians

Maundy Thursday is a Christian observance and part of the religious calendar that is variously referred to as Holy Week, Passion Week, or Great Week. This was the last week of the mortal life of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the embodiment of the second person in a Holy Trinity comprising the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Christians also believe that Thursday was the day Jesus had his last meal with his Apostles, the “Last Supper.” The Last Supper that Jesus and his Apostles shared is thought to have been a ritual meal called a Seder, a ritual meal that is part of the Jewish feast of Passover (Pesach).
The rituals observed on Maundy Thursday are based on a sequence of events that are supposed to have occurred during this meal. First, Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles; then he announced that he had been betrayed by one of them. The traitor Judas left the table. Finally Jesus instituted the Eucharist-a ritual of consuming bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood, also referred to as Communion in Christian Churches. In the Roman Catholic Church, Maundy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week, and gives priests an opportunity to prepare for the many rites associated with Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter.

Origins and History
Maundy Thursday became part of the Easter Biduum that began in the second century. The word biduum refers to the two days before a Christian holiday that are observed with prayers and specific services. The Easter Biduum was expanded to an Easter Triduum (three days) in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Easter Triduum officially begins after the Communion at the Maundy Thursday evening service and concludes with the evening service on Easter Sunday, the day on which Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.
Maundy Thursday has also been known as Shere Thursday, although its origin is uncertain. One theory suggests that, because men shaved and cut their hair in preparation for Easter day in the Middle Ages, shere (“pure” or “guilt-free”) came to be associated with Holy Week. Shere is also related to shearing, and monks used to shave their heads at this time. The day is also known as In Coena Domini (“upon the Lord’s supper”) because a papal bull listing censures of excommunication against those guilty of various offenses was read on this day in Rome.
The traditional Maundy Thursday rituals involve both mourning and celebration: Observants mourn the betrayal, abandonment, and subsequent death of Jesus but celebrate the opportunity to share with him in the Eucharist. In early Christianity the day began with a predawn service (also held on the Friday and Saturday of Holy Week) called Tenebrae (meaning “darkness”). This service was later shifted to the evening so that more people could attend. It consists of a collection of prayers and readings specific to the last week of Jesus’ life, his suffering, and death, which are referred to collectively as the Passion of Christ. As the readings continue lights are gradually dimmed and candles extinguished until only one candle remains. The darkness symbolizes a world without God and the one lit candle represents Jesus, also called the “light of the world.” This candle is removed from its holder and placed behind the altar, while a loud sound resembling the closing of a tomb can be heard. Worshippers leave in silence, and the candle is replaced in the holder.
The other four rites practiced in Catholic churches on Maundy Thursday are: pedilavium, or washing of feet; the olei exorcizati, the consecration of oils (done during a special morning Mass); the exomologesis, the reconciliation of penitents (their confession and absolution), and redditio Symboli, recital of the creed by new converts prior to baptism.
The 40-day fast Christians observe during Lent is broken on Maundy Thursday. This is because, in ancient times, it was customary to bathe before receiving Communion, and fasting was considered incompatible with bathing and receiving the Holy Sacrament. But there was a problem: In Rome, people broke the fast in the morning so that they could receive Communion then, while in Africa people chose to conform to the timing of the Last Supper and receive Communion in the evening. In addition, they engaged in nighttime celebrations.
Church officials frowned on the practice of a double Communion and the nocturnal revelry, and finally in 692 the Council of Trullo prohibited them. After that the Eucharist would be celebrated only in the morning.
Originally, the Communion cup was not always offered to members of the congregation. This practice drew the censure of popes Leo I (r. 440–61) and Gelasius (r. 492–96) and was reversed in the 12th century. In 1415, however, the Catholic Council of Constance once again approved the withholding of the cup.
As Christianity diversified, the Maundy Thursday practices were modified. In Catholic churches: holy oils are consecrated, including the chrism (oils consecrated by a bishop) for the baptism of new converts, and the sacrament for Communion is prepared at the special Mass held in the morning. Neophytes (new converts) are required to recite the creed from memory before being baptized. (The baptism may also take place during Mass on the Easter Vigil.) Penitents listen to the Missa pro reconciliatione and are given absolution, sometimes receiving a traditional green branch.
In Protestant churches, the service focuses on the events of the Last Supper, and there is often a biblical session later in the day when the story of the Passion is retold. Altar and other coverings are usually removed after Communion and replaced, either on Friday with black covers or with white covers before sunrise on Easter morning. Pedilavium is not necessarily observed.
In some denominations of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Holy Week begins after Easter has been observed in the Western churches and those Eastern churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. In a ritual unique to the Orthodox Church, the clergy prepare the Amnos-the Communion items to be given to the sick throughout the year-on Maundy Thursday.