Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus celebrated his last meal before being betrayed and crucified. It is always celebrated on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. This year, it falls on April 2.
Learn more about the holiday and its traditions and meaning.
1. It Remembers the Last Supper
There is evidence in the Synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark Luke and John — that Jesus had a meal with his 12 apostles before his Crucifixion. The Gospels of Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12- 31, Luke 22:1-19 and John 13:1-30 refer to it, and three mention that it was a Passover supper. (Jesus and his apostles were Jewish.)
It was during this night that Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
The scene above is from the 2014 movie Son of God.
2. The Mass Includes Washing of Feet
During the Last Supper, which was the first Holy Thursday, it is said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
This is the last mass celebrated in the church before Easter Sunday, since there are none held on Good Friday. On that day, the priest washes the feet of 12 parishioners to symbolize the number of Jesus’ apostles, who are seen as the first bishops and priests. The ceremony is usually held at night, after sundown.
The Body of Christ is removed from the tabernacle of the church and taken somewhere else overnight. The Eucharist is not in the church for Good Friday, and only returns on Easter Sunday, when Jesus is resurrected.
On his first Holy Thursday as Pope, Francis went to a prison where he washed the feet of inmates in a juvenile detention center. Watch the CNN report of the unprecedented ceremony above.
In 2014, Pope Francis washed the feet of the elderly and disabled at a center in Rome.
3. It Instituted the Celebration of the Eucharist
In Luke 22:19, it states:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
Priests recite this each Sunday at mass as they celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist. Parishioners eat blessed bread and wine to symbolize Christ’s Body and Blood.
4. The Priesthood Was Born on This Day
When Jesus washed his apostles’ feet, this was him instituting them to the office of the priesthood.
In the Gospel of John 13:3-8 we read:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless (ean mē) I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”
In a letter Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 until his death in 2005, wrote, he said:
Let us pause in the Upper Room and contemplate the Redeemer who instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood at the Last Supper. On that holy night he called by name each and every priest in every time. He looked at each one of them with the same look of loving encouragement with which he looked at Simon and Andrew, at James and John, at Nathanael beneath the fig tree, and at Matthew sitting at the tax office. Jesus has called us and, along a variety of paths, he continues to call many others to be his ministers.
5. It Starts the Easter Triduum
The Easter Triduum, or just Triduum, is the name Christians give to the liturgical season that ends the Lenten season.
It begins with Holy Thursday and continues with Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Vatican reported on April 1 that the Pope said that “The Easter Triduum is the apex of our liturgical year and it is also the apex of our lives as Christians.”