The feast of Maundy (or Holy) Thursday solemnly commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and is the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week. In Rome various accessory ceremonies were early added to this commemoration, namely the consecration of the holy oils and the reconciliation of penitents, ceremonies obviously practical in character and readily explained by the proximity of the Christian Easter and the necessity of preparing for it.
Holy Thursday could not but be a day of liturgical reunion since, in the cycle of movable feasts, it brings around the anniversary of the institution of the Liturgy. On that day, whilst the preparation of candidates was being completed, the Church celebrated the Missa chrismalis of which we have already described the rite (see HOLY OILS) and, moreover, proceeded to the reconciliation of penitents. In Rome everything was carried on in daylight, whereas in Africa on Holy Thursday the Eucharist was celebrated after the evening meal, in view of more exact conformity with the circumstances of the Last Supper. Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage dispenses the faithful from fast before communion on Holy Thursday, because, on that day, it was customary take a bath, and the bath and fast were considered incompatible. St. Augustine, too, speaks of this custom (Ep. cxviii ad Januarium, n. 7); he even says that as certain persons did not fast on that day, the oblation was made twice, morning and evening, and in this way those who did not observe the fast could partake of the Eucharist after the morning meal, whilst those who fasted awaited the evening repast.
Holy Thursday was taken up with a succession of ceremonies of a joyful character: the baptism of neophytes, the reconciliation of penitents, the consecration of the holy oils, the washing of the feet, and commemoration of the Blessed Eucharist, and because of all these ceremonies, the day received different names, all of which allude to one or another of solemnities.
Redditio symboli was so called because, before being admitted to baptism, the catechumens had to recite the creed from memory, either in the presence of the bishop or his representative.
Pedilavium (washing of the feet), traces of which are found in the most ancient rites, occurred in many churches on Holy Thursday, the capitilavium (washing of the head) having taken place on Palm Sunday (St. Augustine, "Ep. cxviii, cxix", e. 18).
Exomologesis, and reconciliation of penitents: letter of Pope Innocent I to Decentius of Gubbio, testifies that in Rome it was customary "quinta feria Pascha" to absolve penitents from their mortal and venial sins, except in cases of serious illness which kept them away from church (Labbe, "Concilia" II, col. 1247; St. Ambrose, "Ep. xxxiii ad Marcellinam"). The penitents heard the Missa pro reconciliatione paenitentium, and absolution was given them before the offertory. The "Sacramentary" of Pope Gelasius contains an Ordo agentibus publicam poenitentiam (Muratori, "Liturgia romana vetus", I, 548-551).
Olei exorcizati confectio. In the fifth century the custom was established of consecrating on Holy Thursday all the chrism necessary for the anointing of the newly baptized. The "Comes Hieronymi", the Gregorian and Gelasian sacramentaries and the "Missa ambrosiana" of Pamelius, all agree upon the confection of the chrism on that day, as does also the "Ordo romanus I".
Anniversarium Eucharistiae. The nocturnal celebration and the double oblation early became the object of increasing disfavour, until in 692 the Council of Trullo promulgated a formal prohibition. The Eucharistic celebration then took place in the morning, and the bishop reserved a part of the sacred species for the communion of the morrow, Missa praesanctificatorum (Muratori, "Liturg. rom. Vetus", II, 993).
Other observances. On Holy Thursday the ringing of bells ceases, the altar is stripped after vespers, and the night office is celebrated under the name of Tenebræ.
O Lord Jesus, in order that the merits of your sacrifice on the Cross might be applied to every soul of all time, you willed that it should be renewed upon the altar. At the Last Supper, you said: "Do this in remembrance of me." By these words you gave your apostles and their successors the power to consecrate and to the command to do what you yourself did. I believe that the Mass is both a sacrifice and a memorial- reenacting your passion, death and resurrection. Help me to realize that the Mass is the greatest gift of God to us and our greatest gift to God.
Were we to travel back in time to Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and chanced to meet him, we would find a person immeasurably more great than even the Gospels proclaim. It is impossible for us to concieve the enormity of the personality of Jesus. Before he multiplied the loaves and fish for the people they had been with him for three days and had stayed until their food had run out. (Matt 15:32). What kind of person can hold a crowd for three days in the heat of the desert that the Holy Land is? Jesus is man and God, one person with two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. When he came to the temple and saw the money changers and the people selling animals for sacrifice he could take it no longer and lost his temper. In a rage he drove them out of the temple using a whip he had made from a piece of cord, according to St John.
The Second Temple, as it was known, was a huge building, almost half a mile square. It could hold many thousands of people. It was always busy, people coming and going, offering sacrifices or asking for prayers. When Jesus saw the moneychangers, his God nature came to the fore. His holy wrath, which had frightened so many people in the Old Testament, was given full reign and people ran from its holiness. The glory of Jesus as shown at the tranfiguration was equalled in power by his wrath in the Temple. Only this time it was not glory but righeous anger. Of course, Jesus did not use his anger to bully as we do, but when people saw it they knew there was somone special here, someone who you do not mess with. This is the Messiah who enters as king and he is not afraid to say what has to be said and do what has to be done, no matter who likes it.
By entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus shows his humility. By clearing the Temple, Jesus shows his authority. Only a truly humble person can have real authority. As we enter the drama of Holy Week, Jesus sets out his stall. He enters the city as King Solomon had done before him, on a donkey, thereby claiming to be the new King of the Jews. He lays claim to the temple and all that is in it, making himself the object of the veneration that goes on there. Jesus is laying out his position for all to see....and the Pharisees hate him for it!
We are about to enter once again the most sacred week in the Christian calendar - Holy Week - when we commemorate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Allow me to share a few thoughts about this most important time in our Church year.
The sky is bright on this warm day - the first day of the week. At the entrance to the holy city of Jerusalem near Bethpage on the Mount of Olives a crowd begins to gather. Soon someone shouts: "He is coming!" With a flurry of activity the people begin to tear branches off the nearby trees and spread their cloaks on the road as a man in the company of some friends enters the city astride a donkey. Cheers erupt: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they shout. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" The crowd is going wild with adulation for this man and when asked by some bystanders who it is they tell them it is the prophet from Nazareth - Jesus by name. The frenzy of the crowd continues prompting some of the Pharisees to call out to this Jesus that he should rebuke his disciples and tell them to be silent. His response: "I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!"Obviously the crowd is expecting much from this man - the one that some feel is the long awaited Messiah expected by Israel. This day is a day of triumph; their leader, the one upon whom they pin their hopes for Israel is among them. Then what does he do? He enters the precinct of the temple - the most sacred place in Judaism. He sees moneychangers and others selling goods within the temple precinct and his righteous anger comes forth. He takes a whip made of cords and begins to overturn the tables of the moneychangers and reminds them of the Scripture passage that says "My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves." He then leaves the city to return the next day to begin to teach the people within the temple precincts. His authority is challenged by the temple leaders but he proceeds by way of parables to bring God's message to the people. He issues fiery condemnations to the leaders - the Scribes and Pharisees - whom he calls hypocrites for a number of reasons. The stage is being set for the climax of the drama by which Jesus will be condemned and finally meet his death.
Dear Jesus, your entry into Jerusalem was a triumphant one. You were hailed as the Messiah, the Son of David. The people were placing their hopes in you to bring them out of bondage as Moses had done of old. But the bondage they wanted freedom from was not the one you came to deliver from - it was rather the bondage of sin, the sin of people down through the ages - those past and those to come. How many of those who cried out "Hosanna" to you on this Palm Sunday would be among those crying for your blood just a few days hence? Help us to realize that your gift to us was not one of power but one of love and forgiveness for all the things we had done or failed to do for you and for others. Help us to be reminded of the gratitude we owe to you for your sacrifice on our behalf.
source: A Servant's Message: Words From A Catholic Deacon