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Holy Thursday Meaning & Seven Churches Tradition


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The Essential Meaning of Holy Thursday


Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is a significant day in the Church's liturgical calendar. It gets the name maundy from the Latin word "mandatum" which also means "commandment." In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, "a new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In this way Jesus prepares us for what is to come, His death, and a life in which He will no longer be physically present on earth, but present through us, His Church. With that in mind Jesus institutes the Eucharist, shows us how to serve by washing the feet of his Apostles, and institutes the priesthood. All of these actions are essential components that we need to be united with Him through the sacraments and one another, this is what establishes the Church. We hear the words of the Last Supper at every Mass, "do this in memory of me," and not as in remember, but to be re-membered with Jesus' own body and that of the Church as the body of Christ.


Liturgically Speaking


Holy Thursday also concludes the end of Lent and the start of the Paschal Triduum which also embraces Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and concludes on the evening of Easter Sunday. It is a time of solemn reflection on the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By commemorating the events of Holy Thursday, we prepare ourselves spiritually for the remembrance of Jesus' crucifixion and his ultimate triumph over death.


Holy Thursday Liturgy Highlights


1. The Last Supper: Holy Thursday marks the occasion of the Last Supper, where Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal. During this meal, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist by consecrating bread and wine, saying, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." He instructed his disciples to "do this in memory of me," and this establishing the practice of the Eucharist.


2. The Institution of the Priesthood: At the Last Supper, Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples, demonstrating acts of humility and service. This symbolizes Jesus' call to his followers to serve one another in love. Furthermore, it serves as a model for the priesthood, emphasizing the importance of humility and service in their ministry and vocation.


3. The Agony in the Garden: After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It was here that he experienced intense anguish and distress, knowing the suffering and crucifixion that awaited him. Jesus' prayer in the garden reflects his submission to the will of God and serves as an example of surrender and trust in God's plan, even in the face of great suffering. This is where the tradition of visiting seven churches began and if you scroll down you can see more about that.


4. Altar of Repose: The altar of repose is an altar other than the main altar where the consecrated host is kept for adoration and reserved for use on Good Friday. Traditionally, the congregation will process to this altar towards the end of the Holy Thursday Mass to spend time in reflection and adoration with Jesus just as he asks his apostles to stay awake and keep watch with him. Notice that the liturgy didn't conclude? See the next point!


5. Start of a Three Day Liturgy: One of the interesting elements to the Holy Thursday liturgy is that there is no dismissal or final blessing. That is because the Paschal Triduum liturgy begins on Holy Thursday, but it doesn't until Easter Sunday.


Are you thinking, that's four days? Let me clear that up for you.


The Paschal Triduum is one liturgical celebration that encompasses three days. Beginning on Holy Thursday and ending the evening of Easter Sunday. You may be thinking, that's four, 1) Thursday, 2) Friday, 3) Saturday, 4) Sunday. Remember, the Church counts these days liturgically, so the “day” begins the evening before. Just as we read in Genesis, “evening came, and morning followed, the first day."


Day 1: Thursday evening to Friday evening

Day 2: Friday evening to Saturday evening

Day 3: Saturday evening to Sunday evening



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The Origin Story


seven churches tradition origin story text liturgical living holy thursday

Tradition says that the "Seven Churches" visited by St. Philip Neri and his friends were the seven ancient basilicas in Rome. These basilicas are considered significant sites in the history of Christianity and some Catholics even associate a meditation with each church and a scripture passage.


Church One

1. St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano): Located in Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica is one of the largest and most important churches in the world. It is built over the traditional burial site of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles and the first pope according to Catholic tradition.


Reflection: Recall Jesus going from the Last Supper to His agony in the garden.


Scripture: Luke 22: 39-46


Church Two

2. St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura): This basilica is located outside the ancient walls of Rome and is dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. It is said to be built over the burial site of Saint Paul.


Reflection: Recall Jesus being taken out of the garden by the guards and crowd to the house of Annas where He is interrogated.


Scripture: John 18:19-22


Church Three

3. St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano): Officially known as the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran, this basilica is the cathedral church of Rome and is considered the mother church of all Roman Catholic churches worldwide.


Reflection: Recall Jesus being held captive in the house of Caiaphas where he is beaten and ridiculed.


Scripture: Matthew 26:63-65


Church Four

4. St. Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore): Also known as the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, this church is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is one of the oldest churches dedicated to Mary in the Western world.


Reflection: Recall Jesus being brought before Pontius Pilate.


Scripture: John 18:35-37


Church Five

5. St. Lawrence Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura): This basilica is dedicated to Saint Lawrence, a deacon in the early Christian Church who was martyred during the persecution of Emperor Valerian. It is one of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome.


Reflection: Recall Jesus being taken before King Herod where he is mocked and abused.


Scripture: Luke 23: 8-9;11


Church Six

6. Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme): This basilica is located in Rome and is known for containing relics purportedly from the Holy Land, including soil from Jerusalem.


Reflection: Recall Jesus being brought before Herod a second time where he is scourged and crowned with thorns.


Scripture: Matthew 27: 22-26


Church Seven

7. St. Sebastian Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Sebastiano fuori le Mura): This basilica is dedicated to Saint Sebastian, a Christian martyr who was killed during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.


Reflection: Recall Christ carrying his cross and enduring a painful death.


Scripture: Matthew 27: 27-31


Prayer Recommendations


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Overall, Holy Thursday is a day of profound significance for us, as it commemorates the foundational events of our faith, including the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, as well as Jesus' selfless example of service and his obedience to the will of God unto death. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and deepening one's commitment to following Christ's teachings of love, humility, and self-sacrifice.


I pray that you have a blessed Paschal Triduum! If you participated in the seven churches tradition, share your experience with me so that I can share with others. Let's be a helpful inspiration to one another. You can tag me on Facebook here, or on Instagram here.



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