Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | April 15, 2014

A Lost Tradition?

Chrism oil being blessed on Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – the Institution of the Eucharist (and Chrism Mass)

The parish I grew up in had a tradition of hosting a Eucharistic vigil on Maundy Thursday after the conclusion of the liturgy. Members of the parish could take an hour staying in the church all night, in memory of Jesus’ agony in the garden at Gethsemane. I’m not sure how widespread this practice has ever been in the Episcopal Church. However, I was sorry to learn that this was no longer observed at that particular parish.

Foot washing and/or the addition of an agape meal or Passover seder-style meal are very common. I’ve noticed that foot washing gets “mixed reviews” from many worshipers, especially those from legalistic traditions that mandate the practice at each Lord’s Supper. One very real problem exists in allowing this practice to become a distraction from the institution of Holy Communion. After all, performing an act of humility may be good for us spiritually, but maybe we must ask ourselves whether it impacts how we treat people outside of Mass.

The addition of an agape meal or seder, on the other hand, can be a good way of keeping the institution of communion fresh in everyone’s minds. Sometimes, the best way to appreciate a part of the church’s liturgy is to experience where it came from. Meals are after all, one of the things that helps bind people together in fellowship.

Are parishes missing out by not offering a vigil on Maundy Thursday?


  1. We do it at the Church of the Divine Love (Episcopal Diocese of New York). In recent years we have not always managed to keep the “altar of repose” attended straight through the wee hours of the morning, but it remains a meaningful and poular devotion.
    At nine pm Thursday, following the Eucharist and the stripping of all vestments, hangings, and movable furnishings in the church, down to bare wood and stone, we sing the hymn “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” and commence the vigil.
    I was introduced to this devotion at the Church of St Matthew and St Timothy in New York City where it is still practiced.
    As far as footwashing goes, here is a small part of an article I wrote on the subject, if you are interested:
    “It was not until 1928, … that any edition of the Book of Common Prayer would contain an alternate lesson to remember the footwashing on the Thursday before Easter. In1979, that lesson became the prescribed lesson and a specific instruction permitting (though not requiring) footwashing was added. … [but] Christ did not say: “make a ceremony out of this,” he said that we were, in the same way as he served us, to serve one another, to love one another. Our worship of God must have as its focus the glory of God and his love for us in giving his son to the death of the cross. We come to communion not to celebrate our own goodness and offerings, but to mourn and turn from our sins, and endlessly praise him for his gracious, self-offering love. In fact, until 1979, the clear teaching of the Prayerbook was that baptized Christians are washed, by Christ himself, in the receiving of Holy Communion. The words, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood,” have now been removed from the prayer just before taking communion.”
    (full text at

  2. Excellent article! I enjoyed reading it and learning some interesting historical things about Maundy Thursday I wasn’t previously aware of. We can learn a lot from the early Anglican reformers in that respect.

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