Today is the Thursday of Holy Week, the day on which according to Holy Scripture, Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper. It is also the day on which he gave his “new commandment” to love others as he has loved us. Review the words of one of the Latin antiphons (or translations) sung during the washing of the feet at services this evening: Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos dicit Dominus. I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another just as I have loved you, says the Lord. The operative word in this phrase is “Mandatum”, command. Thus, the action of washing the feet and hearing the descriptive texts from the Gospel of St. John is referred to generally as “The Mandatum”. Hence one of the Latin names for the day: Dies Mandati, “The day of the commandment”. This Latin word Mandatum, Anglicized, becomes “Maundy”. So comes to us the English name for today: Maundy Thursday, “Thursday of the commandment”. Therefore it is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places refer to this day as Maundy Thursday when speaking English. The Liber Usualis also terms the chants for this day as belonging to the liturgies of Maundy Thursday. “Holy Thursday” is fine too, of course, but the real impact comes with the term Maundy Thursday. In this term, we have contained one of the important messages of the day. Using the term Maundy Thursday does not make one more or less Catholic, of course, and neither does it make one more or less Protestant.
Now, I’ll burden you with the German name for this day, which is, to say the least, quite odd. We (and I mean both Catholics and Protestants) refer to this week as “Karwoche”. The syllable “Kar” comes from an Old German word Kara, which means “complaint” or “mourning”. So, we have Complaint Week, or Mourning Week (refer to my post on Luther’s Good Friday sermon to understand whom we’re mourning and why). The days of the week are the regular day names with the syllable “kar” placed before them: Karmontag, Kardienstag, Karmittwoch, Karfreitag, Karsamstag. I omitted the Thursday, obvious, because this day we call Gründonnerstag. It’s the oddity in the week-day names. Literally, today is “Green Thursday”. Why? Well, we’re not sure, but I’ve heard a couple reasons. One, because before the 16th century, the laws regarding the liturgical colors were not as strict as they are now, and regional differences may have been the norm, and green colored vestments may have been in use in German-speaking areas. There is also a connection with the season change (which certainly holds true this year, since today on Green Thursday, we have the vernal equinox): green, spring, re-birth, etc. Linked to the spring notion is the concept of confession today: that the soul enjoys a new springtime having confessed its sins.
At any rate, we enter today the Sacred Triduum, the “Holy Three Days”. Attend the Maundy Thursday service in your parish this evening!