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In the Catholic world, Holy Thursday is mostly celebrated with a mass, the Mass of the Lord's Supper, where the Washing of the Feet is performed. The liturgical texts concentrate on those events and do not focus on the following episodes (the visit to the garden of Gethsemane and betrayal and arrest of Jesus). And yet, after the mass, the altar is stripped and statues and crucifixes are covered, to prepare for the next day.

I've recently found the celebrations of that day a bit wanting in the sense that, while I go home and do my life, Jesus "is" in the garden praying, being betrayed, arrested, and in prison, while awaiting trial. I feel a kind of vigil is missing, where one "re-lives" that process together with Jesus, in prayer.

I wonder whether there was, or there still is, somewhere, a traditional vigil celebration to "accompany" the Lord during the night. The closest I could find is the Seven Church Visitation, which seems to be ancient, although not very widespread. Still, nothing like a kind of "vigil".

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Any traditional Vigil celebration on Holy Thursday?

A few parishes might offer Eucharist Adoration until midnight of Holy Thursday. A least two parishes in my diocese offered this in a side chapel. I know of a Benedictine Abbey that does this for the monks in Chapter Room, where a permanent altar is in place.

The Holy Thursday liturgy, celebrated in the evening because Passover began at sundown, also shows both the worth God ascribes to the humility of service, and the need for cleansing with water (a symbol of baptism) in the Mandatum, or washing in Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples, and in the priest's stripping and washing of the altar. Cleansing, in fact, gave this day of Holy Week the name Maundy Thursday.

The action of the Church on this night also witnesses to the Church's esteem for Christ's Body present in the consecrated Host in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, carried in solemn procession to the flower-bedecked Altar of Repose, where it will remain 'entombed' until the communion service on Good Friday. No Mass will be celebrated again in the Church until the Easter Vigil proclaims the Resurrection.

And finally, there is the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by the people during the night, just as the disciples stayed with the Lord during His agony on the Mount of Olives before the betrayal by Judas.

There is such an abundance of symbolism in the solemn celebration of the events of Holy Thursday layer upon layer, in fact that we can no more than hint at it in these few words. For many centuries, the Last Supper of Our Lord has inspired great works of art and literature, such as the glorious stained glass window in Chartres cathedral (above), Leonardo's ever popular (and much imitated) Last Supper in the 16th century, and the reminiscence called Holy Thursday, by the French novelist, Franasois Mauriac, written in the 1930s. (A chapter of Mauriac's meditation was reprinted in Voices, Lent-Easter 2002, with permission from Sophia Institute Press).

Family Activities for Holy Thursday

When you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death, until He comes again. I Corinthians 11:26

  • We have prepared a Christian adaptation of a Passover Seder, simple enough for use in families with young children. This special meal stresses the Christian significance of elements of the traditional Jewish Passover meal (Seder) as it may have been celebrated in our Lord's time. It is neither a re-enactment of the Last Supper, nor a Jewish service. But we believe this festive family meal can be a very expressive way of helping young children to understand more about the historic origins of their faith as well as the importance of this day of Holy Week.

  • Maundy Thursday's emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning, evidently related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. Everything was to be cleaned and polished in preparation for the Easter celebration. You can tell children about this tradition and ask to them to clean their rooms in order to observe Maundy Thursday. (Be sure to let us know if this works!)

  • Adults and children who are old enough to accompany their parents can return to Church after Mass for a period of Adoration. If this is not possible, candles can be lighted and special prayers could be said after returning from Mass and before bedtime. To give you some ideas, we suggest the Stations of the Cross.

Holy Thursday / The Last Supper

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  • Interesting, thanks. I wonder whether such "vigil" practices existed in more ancient times (the penultimate link seems to be confounding the vigil versus the removal of the Blessed Sacrament as an "ancient custom"). Perhaps a question more suited to history.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 16:36

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