Blessed Maundy Thursday! This day is less known by Evangelicals, but it is considered one of the church celebrations during the Passion Week of Christ. Because it is often associated with liturgical churches, we know less about it. As Evangelicals, we know and celebrate Good Friday and Easter.
It refers to the Thursday before Easter, so called from Christ’s command (Lat. mandatum, Eng. mandate/command) that His disciples should love one another (Jn. 13:34). Gradually through history, there were other things added. It was in the Middle Ages that the foot-washing was added.
I am including what might be pertinent for us as Evangelicals to know. There is much more about this day that is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church that I am not including from these dictionaries. Know this – how the RCC celebrates this day would be the precise reasons we would want nothing to do with it. But a good reminder for us is that what the celebration of this day has become by the RCC cannot be the only way this is understood. It was celebrated in the early church long before the RCC existed. We must be careful we do not overreact that we miss the truth that lies behind the service.
Here are a few important aspects of how this day is understood (minus the excesses):
The Thursday before Easter, so called from Christ’s command (Lat. mandatum) that His disciples should love one another (John 13:34). In fourth-century Jerusalem there were special services at the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, and in North Africa an evening Eucharist commemorating the Last Supper.
J. D. Douglas, ed. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978).
The traditional English name for the Thursday preceding Easter, derived from the first antiphon of the ceremony of the washing of the feet, ‘mandatum novum’ (J. 13:34). Its special celebration in commemoration of the Lord’s Institution of the Eucharist on that day is attested already for the 4th cent. by the Council of Hippo (393). [This entry then explains the more recent RCC practices associated with this day.]
F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd. ed. (New York: Oxford, 1997)
The Thursday of Holy Week, said to be named from the command (Lat. mandatum) Christ gave his followers at the Last Supper that they love one another (John 13:34). Possibly the name derives from the Latin mundo, “to wash,” referring to Christ’s washing the feet of the apostles, an event sill commemorated by many Christians, including the Church of the Brethren and Roman Catholics. As the eve of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Maundy Thursday has been kept by Christians from earliest times. . . . The day is associated with Tenebrae, a ceremony of the extinguishing of candles in preparation for Good Friday. Observed in the Roman Catholic Church, Maundy Thursday appears on the Lutheran, Anglican, and many Reformed liturgical calendars and is almost universally celebrated with the Lord’s Supper. [This is primarily done in those churches that are more high-church who follow a lectionary, which explains why many Evangelicals, who are low-church, do not follow the Maundy Thursday service.]
Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).