Maundy Thursday Explained

Maundy Thursday is a day full of new riches for the Church. Its central theme is the Institution of the Eucharist with the commemoration of the Last Supper. Several other actions occur: the washing of feet, the blessing of oil for the mission of the Church, and a brief commemoration of His agony and abandonment.

The day takes its name from the Latin word for commandment (“mandatum”), and it refers to the New Commandment of Christ to His disciples: to love one another. The washing of the feet and the Communion we share by His generosity each express this new way of love, which He both gives and then calls forth from us. Similarly, the blessing of the oil provides the Church with a Sacramental that enables it to love those in need of physical and spiritual healing. 

Also, in keeping with the new mission given to the Church the priests will renew their ordination vows. Whether this is done publicly or not, the renewal of these vows provides a stark contrast to the commemoration later portrayed by the priests at the end of the service: as it draws to a close, the priests strip the altar of its hangings (a symbol of the stripping and dividing of Christ’s garments), they “Scour” its surface (a symbol of Christ’s scourging), and then they scatter (a symbol in action of the disciples’ abandonment of Christ). This is done in silence or while Psalm 22 is recited or sung. Following this, all silently retire from the sanctuary.