Celebrated during Holy Week, Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, that is to say the three days marking the ascent to the feast of Easter and celebrating the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ in glory!
Discover the meaning of Holy Thursday for Christians, the course of the celebrations, and finally the devotions and prayers that mark this holy day!
Holy Thursday is a very special day for Christians! Celebrated in the middle of Holy Week, it commemorates the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist during Christ's last meal, shortly before his arrest and death on the cross.
Three evangelists—Matthew, Mark and Luke—recount the story of the Last Supper, the day before his arrest: while Jesus and his disciples are in the Cenacle, Jesus takes bread and wine, and after blessing them, he offers them, proclaiming: “Take this and eat, this is my body. [...] Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-30)
During this same meal, Jesus kneels before each of his disciples and washes their feet, thus taking the posture of a servant. Faced with their incomprehension, he explained: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15). This is why, during the evening Mass, the Catholic Church repeats this gesture of Jesus.
In the evening, after this shared meal, Christ went to the garden of olive trees, the place of his arrest. For this reason, on Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the altar is stripped: the tabernacle is left open, the crucifixes are veiled. The faithful are invited to stay up until late at night, in order to remain present with Christ who experienced his agony in the garden of olive trees.
The Catholic Church celebrates two specific services on Holy Thursday: in the morning the Chrism Mass and in the evening the Mass of the Last Supper.
Celebrated most of the time on Holy Thursday, the Chrism Mass sometimes takes place on another day of Holy Week.
The Chrism Mass, whose name comes from the Greek khrisma meaning oil/anointing, is a celebration that brings together the bishop of the diocese, as well as many priests. During this Mass, the consecration of the Holy Chrism takes place, the holy oil being used to bless the newly baptized during the Easter Vigil. This oil is also used throughout the year during baptismal celebrations or confirmations.
The bishop also blesses other holy oils, serving in particular for the sacrament of the sick.
It is also during the Chrism Mass that priests renew their priestly promises: to live in a united way to Christ, to remain faithful to his commitments related to the order, to proclaim the word of God, etc. This celebration also manifests the unity of the entire diocesan Church around its bishop!
The Mass of the Lord's Supper - from the Latin cena meaning evening meal - commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and also reproduces the gesture of the washing of the feet, as told by Saint John. It takes place in the evening and opens the three days of the Easter Triduum, celebrating the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
Readings thus lead us to meditate on these two events. In the second reading, the letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians clarifies the Lord's Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." (Corinthians 11:23-26).
The Gospel, on the other hand, gives us the story of the washing of the feet: "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5)
The Mass of the Last Supper represents the last Mass before the Easter Vigil: at the end of the celebration, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for the adoration of the faithful. Then, in the evening, the tabernacle is left empty. The bells ring one last time, before we hear them again for Easter!
The liturgy of Holy Thursday opens us to a deep intimacy with Jesus: the last meal of Christ, who gives his body and blood for us; then the washing of the feet that involves us personally, and finally the vigil of worship, during which we are led to watch over the dying Christ. All these moments plunge us into a deep relationship of love with Christ!
Moreover, Jesus, after the washing of the feet, proclaims: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
So, let us enter into this relationship of intimacy with Jesus, by the grace of being able to live these moments of the last meal and the washing of the feet!
"O Jesus! Victim of love, who you give so liberally to us in this Mystery, I also want to give myself totally to you. I offer you and consecrate my body and soul, my thoughts, my words and my actions. I would only live to love you, to adore you, to glorify you. I want everything in me to belong to you without the slightest reservation. It is true, my Savior, that my offering is little worthy of you: I am only a useless servant; but if I give you little, I give you at least all that I can give you, and I know that you will respect the desires of my heart. I would like to constantly pay you worships worthy of you, but, unable to do so, I offer you, to make up for my powerlessness, the homages you receive from the Angels, Saints and just souls who make here below the delights of your Heart. O Jesus, I implore you by the prayers and merits of all the worshippers of your Sacrament, make all my happiness to adore you in the Holy Eucharist as my God, to obey you as my King, to imitate you as my Model, to follow you as my Pastor, to love and respect you as my Father, to unite me inseparably with you as the sovereign good of my soul. Amen.”
A day of grace for us, Holy Thursday invites us to enter into a relationship of love with Jesus, who makes himself close by washing our feet, and henceforth calling us his friends!
During the Last Supper, Jesus also loved us to the end by offering us his precious body and blood! So, let us live this Holy Week with Christ and let us be touched by Jesus who gives his life for us!