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What does “Maundy Thursday” mean?

A few days ago I jumped into a conversation with two people who wondered what Thursday of Holy Week was called. I quickly answered that some people refer to it as Holy Thursday, others as Maundy Thursday, and others as just Thursday.

It wasn’t until a while later that I found myself wondering what the word “Maundy” meant. It’s not immediately obvious and, to be honest, it’s a funny word if you’ve never heard it before.

Etymologically, the consensus is that “Maundy” comes from the Latin word Mandatum (itself from the verb Mandare), which is translated “commandment.” (See Wikipedia’s entry on the derivation of the name ‘Maundy’ for additional opinions.)

In the context of Holy Week it refers to the commandment Jesus gave to his disciples while washing their feet, as recorded in John 13. Specifically, the commandment in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As a reminder of this commandment, some churches hold foot washing ceremonies on the Thursday of Holy Week. If you’ve never been a part of a foot washing ceremony, it’s an incredibly humbling activity—one can imagine how difficult it would have been for the disciples to allow Jesus to humble himself in this way.

The CRI/Voice Institute has this to add about the colors used on Maundy Thursday, from an article on The Days of Holy Week:

The colors for Maundy Thursday are usually the colors of Lent, royal purple or red violet. Some traditions, however, use red for Maundy Thursday, the color of the church, in order to identify with the community of disciples that followed Jesus. Along the same line, some use this day to honor the apostles who were commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world.

For a perspective on Maundy Thursday celebrations in the Catholic Church, check out the “Maundy Thursday” article at

Filed under Easter, General