Holy Thursday is the final day of Lent and the first day of the Paschal Triduum, the shortest liturgical season within the Church. Lent ends at the beginning of the Holy Thursday’s Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which leads us into prayer and reflection on the final night of Christ’s life preceding His death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Table of Contents
- Biblical Roots of Holy Thursday
- Holy Thursday Morning Chrism Mass and Blessing of the Oils
- Mass Readings: Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2023
- Holy Thursday Prayers
- Holy Thursday Frequently Asked Questions
- Additional Reading
Biblical Roots of Holy Thursday
One of the most eventful and vital days in the liturgy of the Church, Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples, where He instituted both the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders (the priesthood).
As we read in 1 Corinthians about the Eucharist,
“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13 about the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and urged them to follow after Him and spread the Good News:
“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Because of this command of Christ to do as He has done, Holy Thursday is often called “Maundy Thursday” (from the Latin “mandatum,” meaning “commandment”), especially in Protestant traditions.
To reenact this final night of Christ’s life, most churches will wash the feet of several parishioners and hold Eucharistic adoration following Mass.
At the end of the Evening Mass, there is no concluding prayer. Instead, the altar is stripped, lit candles remain the only source of light, and incense is used to prepare the Church for the upcoming procession of the Eucharist. Wearing a humeral veil (to cover his hands as he carries the Blessed Sacrament), the priest and procession bring the Body of Christ to an Altar of Repose, often in a sanctuary or chapel separate from the main altar, where the faithful are encouraged to pray before the Eucharist following the Mass.
This special worship after Mass replicates the patient waiting of the disciples as they kept a vigil with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.Matthew 26
The beautiful Holy Thursday liturgy guides us to consider the many ways in which Christ calls us to remember Him, to place our trust in Him, and to follow His example – to keep our own vigil with Him as we await His Passion and Resurrection.
Holy Thursday Morning Chrism Mass and Blessing of the Oils
On Holy Thursday morning, most dioceses celebrate the Chrism Mass, including the bishop’s annual blessing of the three holy oils: the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and the holy Chrism. The Chrism Mass and blessing of the oils occur worldwide, and afterward, the blessed oils are distributed across respective dioceses for sacramental use.
A typical Reception of the Holy Oils follows this order: the Holy Oils, in vessels, are processed, and then placed on a table where they are incensed after the main altar is incensed. Then, the priest explains the meaning behind the blessing of the Holy Oils and how each might be used sacramentally. (USCCB)
- Oil of the Sick: “for healing of body, mind, and soul”
- Oil of the Catechumens: “for the anointing of those preparing for Baptism”
- Holy Chrism: “to anoint infants after Baptism, those who are to be confirmed, Bishops and Priests at their Ordination, and altars and churches at the time of their dedication”
The procession of oils can vary from parish to parish, though there are some guidelines. As the USCCB notes, “A simple ceremony that is sober yet joyful, consistent with the Roman liturgy, and emphasizing the grace of the sacraments and unity with the bishop, would seem to be the most appropriate way to receive the oils in a parish.”
In particular dioceses, for various reasons, the Chrism Mass is sometimes celebrated on a different day than Holy Thursday during Holy Week.
Read more about the history behind the Chrism Mass and the holy oils of the Church in this article by Fr. William Saunders for Catholic Exchange.
Mass Readings for Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2023
Holy Thursday is not a holy day of obligation, though the faithful are encouraged to attend the Evening Mass. Consider reading and meditating on the readings before Mass:
First Reading from Exodus
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Second Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians
1 Cor 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The Gospel, according to John
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Holy Thursday Prayers
Pray with the Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday Evening Mass:
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered. (Cf. Galatians 6:14)
Or, pray with the Pange Lingua, a Eucharistic hymn and prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;-
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble sense fail.
To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
On Hallow, discover our Holy Thursday prayer collection to guide you in meditating on the charity of Jesus and remain close to Him on the night before His death.
Frequently Asked Questions about Holy Thursday
What is Holy Thursday?
Holy Thursday signals the end of Lent and the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, a period of three days tracing Christ’s three final days on earth before His resurrection. Holy Thursday Evening Mass reenacts the final night of Christ’s life with His disciples at the Last Supper, including the traditional washing of the feet.
Is Holy Thursday a Holy Day of Obligation?
Holy Thursday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Victoria Tufano, for U.S. Catholic, explains this is “not because the church considers them less important, but because it is simply assumed that Catholics know how essential these most solemn days are to our faith and will attend the liturgy accordingly.”
Can you eat meat on Holy Thursday?
Yes, you can eat meat on Holy Thursday; it is not technically a day of abstinence from meat in the Catholic Church.
What happened at the Last Supper?
Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples on the final night of His life; it signifies both the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders before Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
When does Lent end?
Lent ends at the beginning of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
How long is Holy Thursday Mass?
The Holy Thursday Mass liturgy includes some extra components, such as the oil presentation and foot washing ceremony, so it often runs 30-45 minutes longer than a typical Mass. It also includes the procession of the Eucharist and adoration after Mass, which might lengthen your time at church.
What is the liturgical color for Holy Thursday?
The liturgical color for Holy Thursday, like all other feasts of the Lord, is white.
What are the symbols of Holy Thursday?
Bread and wine represent the Body and Blood of Christ, recalling the events at the Last Supper. The image of the towel around Jesus’ waist also represents one of his last acts on earth, the washing of His disciples’ feet.
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