The liturgy for Maundy Thursday is both an act of joyful thanksgiving for the gift of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence and a somber preparation for all that follows. The Readings place this Eucharist in the context of three other meals: the Passover meal eaten as Israel prepared to leave Egypt; the gatherings of the earliest Church that Paul describes and attempts to correct; and the meal Jesus shared with his friends during which he washes their feet and offers an interpretation of his coming death. Each reading provides the context in which this gathering is to be understood and each speaks to how we participate in the Eucharist.
The footwashing is observed as an enacted parable. In Luke’s account of the Last Supper the disciples argued among themselves as to who was the greatest. Christians are still prone to argue amongst themselves and too often need this reminder. This day takes its name from the Latin, Maundatum—Command. The command we are given is that we love one another, as we have been loved by Christ. The words which introduce the footwashing suggest that while there is a lesson here for all, it is particularly pointed at the Church’s priests.
After the Eucharist is celebrated with great joy and thanksgiving, the Consecrated Bread and Wine is removed from the High Altar and taken in procession to, what is for us, the Garden of Gethsemane. There, we keep watch with Jesus in his Eucharistic Presence through the night. After the Procession, the Altar is stripped and laid bare in preparation for the Liturgy of Good Friday.