Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday commemorates Christ’s institution of the sacrament of Eucharist; “Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Mt. 26:26-28; Mk. 14:22-24; Lk. 22:19, 20; Jn. 6:53-58; 1 Cor. 11:23- 29; 10:16-17).

As with all covenants drawn between God and man and consolidated by means of a blood bond (e.g., circumcision in the case of Abraham, and the paschal lamb in the case of Moses), Christ’s redemptive covenant was confirmed on the cross by means of His precious blood. The commemorative service that the Coptic holds on Maundy Thursday, the only day with a Liturgy in Holy Week, is particularly rich in spiritual nourishment. It falls into three main parts.

The first part covers the hours of Holy Week, starting with the first hour (or morning prayer), followed by the third, sixth, and ninth hours, in each of which the lection from the Old Testament is in perfect harmony with that from the New Testament. After each hour the relevant Psalm is chanted in a special sad melody, then follow the appointed readings from the Gospels, and finally, a short passage, called tarh in the commentary, is usually as a hymn.

The second part is the service of foot-washing, known as LAQQAN, meaning basin. As in the service for the of the waters on the feast of the Epiphany, the priest prays over a basin filled with water, with a lighted candle on either side. There are nine readings from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, and some prayers and homilies on the theme of humility, meekness, and self-denial that our Lord taught us by precept and practice. An actual foot-washing takes place, following the example of Jesus Christ: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:14, 15). Vested in an epitrachelion (see LITURGICAL VESTMENTS), the high priest dips a cloth into the consecrated water and washes the feet of his fellow priests and the congregation.

The third part is the liturgy proper, in obedience to Jesus’ commandment: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:25). It is noteworthy that in the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, in view of the Passion of our Lord and the particular incidents that take place prior to His resurrection, the following changes are made:

  1. The Psalms that precede the offering of the lamb are omitted.
  2. There are no lections from the Catholic epistles or the Acts of the Apostles. The reading from the Pauline epistle is confined to 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.
  1. The Gospel reading, which is taken from Matthew 26:20-29, is by these relevant verses from the Psalms: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5) and “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9).
  2. The of reconciliation (as reconciliation is only effected through the Crucifixion) is omitted.
  3. The is omitted (because Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss).
  4. Three sections from the Creed—”He was crucified for us at the time of Pontius Pilate”; “He suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures”; and “He ascended to the heavens; he sat at the right hand of His Father; He will also come again in His glory to judge the living and the dead; of Whose Kingdom there shall be no end”—are dropped.
  5. The commemoration of the saints is omitted. While Holy Communion is being administered, the usual Psalm (150) and its accompanying expressions of exultation are to be replaced by three readings from the eleventh hour, taken from the Old Testament. The Psalm and Saint John’s Gospel (13:21-30) are then read in a sad melody. Finally, the priest gives the blessing and dismissal.

Late on Maundy Thursday evening, prayers are resumed in preparation for the rite of Good Friday.