Thursday, March 28, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we look at the traditions behind Maundy Thursday.

It is March 28th, 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A blessed Maundy Thursday to you if you observe the tradition in the church that goes back to the 4th century. I begin today’s show with two notes:

  1. The first comes from the pages of Scripture itself from Romans 14:5 and 6, One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” So this is not mandated, and Christians can disagree on whether or not to observe this day.
  2. There are some who get a little dogmatic about the “right” or “historic” method of observing the solemn day as we come up to Good Friday. I might make your head spin a little, but it’s on purpose in order to remind you that there is no single “historical” method for observing today- it’s been wild.

So we begin with the name of the day- for many, it is “Maundy,” and even the roots of this term are cloudy. By acclaim, most will say that it comes from the Latin word “mandatum” because in the Gospel of John, the evening in the upper room (where the synoptic gospels give us the implementation of the Lord’s Supper) Jesus says, “a new command” or “mandatum” I give you: love one another. In England, since the reign of King Edward I in the 1270s up to the 1680s with James II, it was been a custom of the Monarch to give alms to the poor- and the poor held baskets called “maundy purses” after the Latin word for alms.

Some might know today as Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, or the Thursday of the Covenant. Covenant as this is the day we remember Jesus making a new covenant with the Passover meal, turning it into the Lord’s Supper. It was historically also known as Pedilavium- Latin for “foot washing”. In the same chapter of John, where he gives us the new command to Love one another, he also tells his disciples, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

Traditionally, foot washing has been observed—monarchs and Popes have washed the feet of the poor, a priest or pastor might wash the feet of 12 parishioners, or the whole church might wash each other's feet. Of course, with the advent of modern footwear, this is purely symbolic.

Today has been known as “Redditio symboli” that is Latin for “repeat the symbols, that is, Creeds”. In the ancient church Easter Sunday was the day catechumens- having studied for inclusion into the church would be Baptized and they would confirm their faith today by repeating the Creed of choice. It also became customary for priests and pastors, and then all people to use this day to re-affirm their faith by repeating the Creed.

If you want the coolest name for today, go with “Exomologesis”- that is Greek for “reconciliation” as it was custom to reconcile the penitent today to the church so that they could celebrate Easter. The penitent would be given a green branch to acknowledge their grafting back into the church- this would lead some Northern Europeans to call today “Green Thursday”. In some countries, today is a day to eat only green vegetables. The Dutch call it “White Thursday” because of the tradition that priests use white as the liturgical color for the day.

On a day where reconciliation was emphasized, the Medieval church in the West lost its way a bit by a tradition that had the Pope call out heresies and heretics today to make sure we all knew who shouldn’t be celebrated. In 1521, Maundy Thursday also fell on this day, March 28th, and Pope Leo X used the occasion to condemn Martin Luther.

But there’s more in England. You might hear today called “sheer Tuesday,” perhaps from the word “to clear or clean”- at the end of the service, the altar is traditionally stripped. It would also be a day to make sure you shaved and cleaned up in preparation for the big day. Finally, today is marked as the beginning of the “Easter Triduum,” which ends with Easter and means “Three Days.” Even though Easter is in 4 days, there is no service on Holy Saturday.

So, now that we’ve cleaned that up, you can be sure whatever you call or don’t call today and whatever your practice, do it as unto the Lord and with whatever practice or lack of practice you choose. History is fun!


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary for today comes from, you guessed it, John 13:

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of March 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who, for today, breaks out his foot and leg spa from the Sharper Image- it’s efficient and luxurious- He is Christopher Gillespie,

The show is written and read by a man who liked going to the Sharper Image in the mall to sit on the fancy massage chair- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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