Maundy Thursday

Giotto di Bondone, The Last Supper - 1305
Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin antiphon sung at the beginning of the Footwashing Ceremony: Mandatum novum do vobis--"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. There is a tendency to overemphasize the fact that this is the night of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. That was but one of the important things that happened at the Last Supper. This night begins the Triduum Sacrum, the sacred three days, of the Passion and Resurrection. As great a mystery as the Eucharist is, it is still only one aspect of a greater mystery, the mystery of love. Love is the mystery which is manifest again and again in the course of these days: in the New Commandment, in the Footwashing, in the Eucharist, and most especially on the Cross. A familiar Eucharistic hymn, translated from the Greek by John Brownlie, expresses succinctly the meaning of these days and the mystery they re-present.

Let Thy blood in mercy poured,
Let Thy gracious body broken,
Be to me, O gracious Lord,
Of Thy boundless love the token.

Thou didst give Thyself for me,
Now I give myself to Thee.

Thou didst die that I might live;
BlessŤd Lord, Thou camíst to save me:
All that love of God could give
Jesus by His sorrows gave me.

By the thorns that crowned Thy brow,
By the spear wound and the nailing,
By the pain and death, I now
Claim, O Christ, Thy love unfailing.

Wilt Thou own the gift I bring?
All my penitence I give Thee;
Thou art my exalted King,
Of Thy matchless love forgive me.



Although the liturgy is enacted in segments, following the temporal course of the events of the Passion, it is in fact one liturgy of the Passion. Medieval English tradition reflected this in the use of a single liturgical color, the so-called Passiontide Red, or Oxblood, which was not used at any other time of the year but was used throughout the week of the Passion, from Palm Sunday until the change to festal vestments at the Paschal Vigil. In the early Church, the Paschal Mystery was quite literally celebrated in one liturgy. Our Paschal Vigil represents the tail end of a true all-night vigil, which began after dark on the Eve of the ancient Christian Pascha and featured the reading of the prophecies, followed by the Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection. The Vigil included the Baptism of catechumens and, of course, culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist. Later, particularly in Jerusalem where events could be celebrated in the places in which they actually occurred, this single liturgy began to be broken up and spread over several days, losing some of the outward sense of continuity. But it remains a single liturgy, unified by its single overarching theme: the love of God that redeems us.

My song is love unknown,
My Saviorís love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then ďCrucify!Ē is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ígainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heavín was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, The Young Manís Meditation, 1664

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