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Maundy Thursday: Origin, celebration, significance

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By Chimezie Nebolisa

TODAY is Maundy Thursday, often called Holy Thursday, an integral day within the holy week across Christendom world over. Holy Week is the most sacred week in the liturgical calendar of Christianity. This period of events which are moveable observance, according to the Christian traditions begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday concludes the Lenten season and heralds the Easter Triduum- the three days which runs from dusk on Holy Thursday to dusk on Good Friday (day one), dusk on Good Friday to dusk on Holy Saturday (day two), and dusk on Holy Saturday to dusk on Easter Sunday (day three). The three days commemorate the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The term “Maundy” originates from the Latin word Mandatum which means Commandment. It reflects Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment…”. According to church history, Maundy Thursday arise by the dictum of Christ to his disciples: “ A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you”. This statement was made by Jesus in the gospel of John to explain the significance of his action of washing his apostles’ feet. Similarly, it commemorates the Last Supper, which celebrates the sacrament of Holy Communion as instituted by Jesus on the Passover night. As a moveable observance, the commemoration does not have a fixed date rather, the day comes always between March 19 and April 22.

As with the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, the Chrism Mass is celebrated on the morning of the Maundy Thursday. Chrism Mass, as a religious service is held in Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Anglicanism. Usually the Mass is held in all dioceses. Oftentimes, it’s the largest annual gathering of clergy and faithful. The Mass celebrates the institution of priesthood. During the Mass, those present are called to renew their vows – baptismal promises, priestly and religious. Chrism Mass takes its name from the blessings of the holy oils used in the sacraments throughout the liturgical year.

The rites of Chrism was restored in 1967 following the writings of historian, Hippolytus, who had earlier recorded of a ceremony taking place around 200AD during the Easter Vigil at which three oils were consecrated and blessed. It was not until the fifth century was the ceremony transferred from the Holy Saturday vigil to Holy Thursday, and a special Mass instituted for that purpose and distinct from the Mass of the Last Supper.

Following the degree renewing the rites, Pope Paul VI said: “ The Chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the closeness of the priests with him. During the Mass, the holy oils blessed and consecrated are: Chrism, the Oil of Catechumen and Oil of the Sick.

The Chrism Mass reminds us of our union and oneness in Christ through the baptism and its holy anointing. The Mass serves as an important moment which avails us the manifestation and renewal of vows between the bishop and his priests and their commitment to serve the people of God. Also, we are reminded as Christians that as anointed ones, we share in the life of the crucified and risen Jesus. The Oil of Catechumen strengthens and purifies a believer; Oil of the Sick brings forth strength and healing power of Jesus Christ on the sick while the Chrism is a sign of fullness of grace and spiritual strength.

At the dusk of Maundy Thursday, Christians commemorate two events – the Lord’s Supper and Washing of Feet. These events signal Christ’s call to share in his work as one united body with much emphasis that he is the way, truth and life. On the other hand, Jesus showed us the need to be a servant-leader, humble , humane and selfless through the his washing of the feet of his apostles; to care for one another despite our positions in life.

As we mark this year’s Holy Week, may we emulate Christ through an honest following of the tenets he has left for us.

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