What is Maundy Thursday 2023? Meaning of day before Good Friday explained - what happened on holy day

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Maundy Thursday is a day during the Christan observance of Holy Week

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is a day marked by Christians across the world and forms part of the Easter celebrations. Holy Week is a series of days from when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) to his crucifixion (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter Sunday).

But what is the significance behind Maundy Thursday? Here’s what you need to know.

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When is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday always falls three days before Easter. In 2023, this Holy Day will take place on 6 April 2023 in Western denominations. For Eastern Christians, such as the Orthodox Churches of Greece and Romania, Maundy Thursday will take place on 13 April 2023.

The difference between Eastern and Western Christianity is the calendar. Western Christianity bases its holidays on the Gregorian Calendar, while Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar.

Maundy Thursday relies on the date of Easter which is based on the lunar calendar and moves every year. Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon following the vernal equinox - which takes place on Monday 20 March 2023.

This year, the first full moon after Sunday 20 March is Thursday 6 April, therefore, Easter will take place on Sunday 9 April. Minusing three days will give the date of Maundy Thursday, 6 April.

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols conducts Maundy Thursday Mass at Westminster Cathedral on April 13, 2017 in London, England. Maundy Thursday marks the start of the Christian three-day celebration of Easter. Cardinal Vincent Nichols conducts Maundy Thursday Mass at Westminster Cathedral on April 13, 2017 in London, England. Maundy Thursday marks the start of the Christian three-day celebration of Easter.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols conducts Maundy Thursday Mass at Westminster Cathedral on April 13, 2017 in London, England. Maundy Thursday marks the start of the Christian three-day celebration of Easter. | Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

What is the significance of Maundy Thursday? 

Maundy Thursday triggers the Paschal Triduum, the period of three days commemorating the Passion (the final hours), death and resurrection of Jesus. However, this Thursday also commemorates several significant events in the bible and the Christian faith.

It is said the Last Supper occurred on Holy Thursday. The Gospel states that the Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his apostles before his crucifixion. During this meal, Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of the disciples present and foretells that Peter will deny knowing him three times.

The Last Supper also holds the important event of Washing of the Feet, which is where the name of this day stems. Maundy, from the old French mandé and Latin mandatum, means command.

During the Last Supper, Jesus gave a new command as he washed the feet of his disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you". This day became a religious rite within various Christian denominations who perform a similar ceremony on this date. However, this Thursday also marks the end of Lent for practising Christians in Western Christianity.

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How is Maundy Thursday observed? 

As this Thursday holds several significant events, those who observe this day usually celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, by giving service attendees bread and wine. During the Last Supper, Jesus gave bread and wine to his disciples during the Passover meal and commanded them to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. Later, the bells ring for the final time until after the Easter Vigil.

In Eastern Orthodox churches, this observance is marked with brighter liturgical colours, with white being the most common. If any practitioners are fasting, the fast is permitted to break to consume wine and oil. After the service, the liturgy colours are changed to a darker colour, or black to signify the start of the Passion.

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