Maundy Thursday. An odd name, derived from the Latin ‘mandatum novum’, meaning ‘a new commandment’, the opening words of the ancient ritual of the washing of feet. In normal times all the cathedrals of the nation would be crowded today as clergy and lay ministers from each diocese gather for the Chrism Mass – the annual Eucharistic celebration when ministerial vows are renewed and holy oils are blessed by the bishop for use in the coming year. Not this year, though. Only virtual services are taking place, which adds to the oddness of the day. For me, it’s the first time since 1983 I won’t have been in my cathedral church: first Oxford, then Ripon, then Rochester, then Chichester, and on special occasions Canterbury…. The four walls of home feel very different!
At the heart of Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the Eucharist. It was on the night before he died that Jesus met for the Last Supper with his disciples and gave to them and to the Church the sharing of bread and wine as the central act of worship and of remembrance. ‘Do this’, said Jesus; and for the past two thousand years we have continued to do so. And his ‘new commandment’ to love one another as he loves us is commemorated in that ceremony of foot-washing. The evening Eucharist ended, altars are stripped of their finery, and churches are left bare and unadorned for Good Friday, the most solemn day of the year….