Answer by John Mackay

The word Maundy is an English devolution of the old Latin word ‘mandate’. It’s connection with the Thursday before Easter is found in John 13:31 onwards where we read that at the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34).

The word ‘commandment’ is an English translation of the Greek word ‘entolay’ which refers to an authoritative order or instruction given by a ‘commander’. (see Strong’s Concordance number NT:1785) And the word commandment is connected to the Latin word ‘mandate’ (from ‘manus’ a hand, and ‘dare’ to give i.e. the hand that gives the orders).

All these verbal connections came to prominence in England via good old ‘1066 and all that’, as the Norman conquerors with their Latin based Old French language made a much bigger ‘Latinizing’ impact on English than the previous Latin speaking Roman invaders ever did.

The religion the Normans brought was Rome based, and therefore related to the 4th Century Latin Vulgate Bible which translates the first two words of John 13:34 as ‘mandatum novum …a new commandment’. Since this ‘new commandment’ was given by Christ on the evening before the Crucifixion, the commemoration of this event and its place in the last supper became known to the English, firstly via the French ‘Mande’ (from mandate), then between the 12th and 14th Century devolved to the Anglo pronunciation of ‘Maundy’ Thursday. Six centuries further on this leaves many English-speaking students, for whom history starts with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, wondering why we have ‘Monday Thursday’.

This day is known by varying names across the non-English speaking world, but all refer to commemorating the Last Supper and the new commandment in particular. The day is often associated with an act of foot washing to remember Christ humbling Himself in washing the disciples feet (John 13:1ff). But the moral of the story is that it is far more important to do as Jesus asked, than to quibble over what to call the day.

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About The Contributor

John Mackay