“Maundy Thursday” is the holy feast day before Good Friday in the Christian calendar. It is a not a widely used term and is only observed in England, not Scotland or Ireland. Most Christians call today “Holy Thursday”, but the Anglican Church uses that name for Ascension Day which falls next week.
The name “maundy” has a mixed origin (as most English names do!) and scholars have come up with two possible explanations for how it came into use. Some theorise that it is derived through Middle English and Old French from the Latin mandatum which is the first word in the phrase spoken by Jesus as he washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. He said “mandatum novum do vobis diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” which in English means “A new commandment I have given unto you, That ye love each other as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
Other scholars say that it may have derived from the Latin mendicare which means “to beg”. Medieval monarchs began a practice of distributing alms to the poor in “maundsor baskets”, which ties in with this notion. Peasants and poor people would queue up with their baskets and the monarch would give them food, coins or clothes. The monarch would also wash the feet of selected people as Jesus did to his Apostles prior to hearing Mass, but this practice died out when James II died in 1701. The practice is still held by Roman Catholic priests who ceremoniously wash the feet of the parishoners, following Jesus’ example.
The practice of giving alms has evolved over the centuries and continues today.Specially minted coins (“Maundy Money”) is presented to selected elderly citizens by the monarch in specially created red and white silk purses. One purse contains regular currency in place of food and clothing, and amounts to one penny for the Sovereign’s age. The other contains the specially minted 1, 2, 3 or 4 penny coins and all are legal tender, although the honour of receiving it is so great nobody would want to spend them. The Queen attended Manchester Cathedral on Maundy Thursday in 2007 to distribute the Maundy Money, and one of the senior gentlemen at my church was honoured to be chosen to receive it.
I will be marking Maundy Thursday this evening when our church will be holding a service to commemorate the Last Supper. We will be sharing fellowship followed by a meal of unleavened bread and wine. We did this last year and it was an incredible experience, both practically and spiritually.