Today is Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, when Christians around the world celebrate the Last Supper, the event when Jesus and his disciples are believed to have dined together for the last time before his crucifixion.
Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday, derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment – a reference to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to love with humility by serving one another and to remember his sacrifice.
According to Biblical beliefs, the Last Supper occurred four days after Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The day represents the institution of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, and the sacrament of the priesthood.
Holy Thursday is possibly one of the most important and profound days of celebration in both Orthodox and Catholic churches.
It starts with the water liturgy (lakan), a special prayer in which bishops or priests consecrate the water used in the act of washing worshippers' feet and as a sacrament for protection against evil during the year.
Jesus was believed to have washed the feet of his disciples. By performing this lowly act of service, Jesus "showed them the full extent of his love" (John 13:1). Through his example, Jesus demonstrated how Christians are to love one another through humble service. For this reason, the bishop or priests wash the feet of 12 clergy members to symbolise Christ’s washing of his 12 apostles – the Christian faith's first bishops and priests.
After the water liturgy comes the divine liturgy of the Lord's Supper – hours later Judas would betray Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, setting the stage for Christ's eventual crucifixion on Good Friday.
Later that night, after sundown – because Passover began at sundown – the Holy Thursday prayers take place, marking the end of Lent and the beginning of the sacred Triduum, or the last three days of Holy Week. These days are the holiest of the year in churches.
The Catholic Church's tradition of visiting the altar in the seven churches stems from pilgrims visiting the seven churches of Rome as a form of penance. Christians believe that number seven symbolises perfection, as the Bible states that God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day.
After Holy Thursday, no mass will be celebrated in the Church until Easter, which proclaims Jesus' resurrection.