What does the “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday mean?

A man's feet are washed in observance of Maundy Thursday in New York.

A man's feet are washed in observance of Maundy Thursday in New York. Randy OHC photo. CC-BY.

Many Christians throughout the world observe Maundy Thursday (sometimes called Holy Thursday) three days before Easter, which falls on a Sunday. The observance typically includes Holy Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist, in which worshipers partake of bread and wine (or, in some churches, grape juice) in commemoration of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus had with his closest followers before he was executed.

According to a biblical account, one thing Jesus told his disciples was that he was giving them “a new commandment, that you love one another.” The Latin phrase for “new commandment” was novum mandatum. English words we get from mandatum and related words include “mandate,” “mandatory,” “command” and “demand.”

According to the Gospel of John, as part of his demonstration of love for his disciples, Jesus washed the feet of disciples before the dinner, an act that in that era would have been humbling. In later centuries, some Christians would commemorate the Last Supper with a ceremonial foot-washing, which came to be known in French as a mandé, a shorter form of mandatum. That French word became a descriptive term applied to the day, becoming “maunde” in Middle English. Eventually, its spelling was standardized as “maundy,” the word we use today.

British English also uses the term “maundy money” to refer to special coins given by the monarch to the poor.

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