Holy Week II: Maundy Thursday

Having dealt with the peculiarities of Palm Sunday in the last post, we are going to skip over Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week for the time being, given the rather less frequent observation of these masses in comparison with Maundy Thursday.

Three Masses of Maundy Thursday

Near the beginning of the Middle Ages, there were three distinct observations on Maundy Thursday. The one with which we are most familiar, and which nearly every congregation celebrates, is the Mass of the Institution. The Chrism Mass was also held on this day in order that the bishop might bless the holy oils for use throughout the year, which still occurs in at least two places in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, one on the morning of Maundy Thursday, the other earlier in Holy Week. A third mass, almost certainly not currently celebrated, is the mass of the reconciliation of the penitents who were expelled on Ash Wednesday. Neither the reconciliation of the penitents nor the blessing of chrism will be discussed in any detail, but the blessing of the chrism does impact the rubrics for Maundy Thursday.

Greater and Lesser Glorias

As it is described in the Altar Book for LSB, Maundy Thursday can be observed in two distinct ways. One way is to order the service in a particularly somber way, as the evening before the Passion of Our Lord. The other is to celebrate the institution of the Sacrament in a particularly festive way, with the Gloria in excelsis and the ringing of the bells. This is the post-Trent usage of the Roman Church, and, in fact, was the use in the city of Rome in the 1490s. It was not, however, the common usage in the majority of the Western Church at the time, certainly not in northern Europe.

The late medieval practice in much of Europe for Maundy Thursday, was, in this respect, united. Whether in the British Isles, Germany, France, Scandinavia, the Baltics, or Croatia (and presumably places in-between), the Gloria in excelsis and Gloria Patri were only sung on Maundy Thursday in the church in which the bishop had consecrated the chrism on that day. Forever burned into my retinas are this words: Gloria patri non dicitur nec Gloria in excelsis nisi ubi crisma conficitur.

Lutheran usage, of course, is rather more confusing. Or, at least, it seems so at first glance. Ludecus 1589 takes care to note that the Gloria Patri is not sung in the Introit and neither is the Gloria in excelsis sung following the Kyrie. On the other hand, Magdeburg 1613, while also omitting the Gloria Patri, prescribes the singing of the Gloria in excelsis. But to set this in context, Magdeburg 1613 also uniquely prescribes the singing of the Gloria in excelsis on every Sunday in Lent. So if you find yourself singing the Gloria in excelsis on every Sunday in Lent anyway, you may as well also sing it on Maundy Thursday. I do, however, very much doubt that anyone reading this post is in the habit of singing the Gloria in excelsis in Lent.

In summary: If you have a Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, sing the Gloria in excelsis. If not, then don’t.


While the Epistle and Gospel appointed for Maundy Thursday in LSB and in TLH are largely those found in the earliest lectionaries of Würzburg (c. 700) and Murbach (c. 800), the Epistle does differ slightly in that the aforementioned lectionaries, the medieval missals, and the post-Reformation Lutheran sources (including Ludecus, Magdeburg 1613, and Luther’s 1526 lectionary) all begin the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 11 at verse 20 rather than verse 23, the latter use being found in the German-language lectionary of the LCMS and the Common Service lectionary of 1888.

All sources, however, agree on the Gospel, save one. Murbach prescribes a much lengthier reading from John 13:1-32, and there is, unfortunately, no Gospel mentioned in Würzburg.

The Old Testament reading is, of course, a rather more recent addition to this day, but I might suggest the Exodus 24 reading rather than Exodus 12, as the Passover narrative is traditionally appointed as the second reading on Good Friday.

Variations in the service

Holy Week is full of liturgical irregularities, and Maundy Thursday is no different. The irregularities in question do not, however, include the alteration of the normal Confession and Absolution or the omission of the Introit. The beginning of the service proceeds as normal, with Confession, Introit, Kyrie, Collect, and Readings continuing in their normal sequence.

There is, properly, no Verse or Tract for Maundy Thursday, only a Gradual. This is unusual, but seems more unusual given our current usage of three readings, with an interlude between each reading. The common usage of the Church for most of her history was an Epistle, followed by Gradual and Verse/Tract, maybe a sequence, and then the Gospel. I might suggest moving toward a tradition in which the Old Testament and Epistle are read without musical interlude, in order that the Gradual and Tract/Verse might be reunited. If you must have music following the Old Testament and prior to the Epistle, an additional psalm would be more suitable than moving the Gradual.

The Creed is ordinarily not said, as is the case on most weekdays. The Creed is, however, said at churches in which the chrism was consecrated earlier in the day.

The Agnus Dei reverts to its more ancient form on this day, with the third repetition concluding “have mercy upon us” rather than “grant us Thy peace.” I suggest a note in the bulletin at the beginning of the service, just before the Agnus Dei, or both. You also ought to be sure that the choir is well aware, and you might also mention it at Bible study in the days preceding.


This is the point at which the service deviates much more substantially from the norm, as it joins Vespers to the end of the mass, a pattern which will repeat itself over the following two days. Either during the distribution or following the distribution, depending on the source consulted, a truncated form of Vespers is begun, without opening versicles. The deacon (or celebrant) takes the chalice, turns to face the congregation, and sings the antiphon “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord” to begin Vespers, followed by Psalm 116:10-19, without Gloria Patri. The antiphon is repeated after the psalm, and several more psalms follow:
Psalm 120, antiphon vv. 6-7;
Psalm 140, antiphon v. 4a;
Psalm 141, antiphon v. 9;
Psalm 142, antiphon v. 4a

As this will almost certainly be unfamiliar, you might like to start with only one or two psalms the first year. Following the psalms, the Magnificat antiphon (without versicle) is intoned: “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples” [Matthew 26:26a], followed by the Magnificat without Gloria Patri, and the repetition once again of the Magnificat antiphon.

Following the Magnificat antiphon, the following Complend (Post-Communion Collect) is said with salutation:

O Lord our God, being refreshed with life-giving nourishment, we beseech Thee: that what we pursue in the time of mortality, we may attain by Thy gift of immortality; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Translated by Matthew Carver

Following the Complend, the Benedicamus is said without Benediction. This is not from some sense that all the days of the Triduum Sacrum form one ongoing service, but for the much more prosaic reason that the Divine Office, like the Mass, undergoes a simplification and reduction during these three days, and its beginning and concluding rites are omitted. This is why the Easter Vigil, followed by an even more abbreviated form of Vespers, also concludes with Benedicamus and without Benediction.

Transfer of the Sacrament

What happens at this point will vary from congregation to congregation. As there is an ancient custom of not celebrating the Sacrament on Good Friday, the day of Our Lord’s death, the highly problematic medieval practice was to reserve a host from Maundy Thursday, and to place a portion of it in a chalice filled with wine on Good Friday to “sanctify” the unconsecrated wine.

Instead, there would seem to be a few options:

  • Consecrate with a minimal rite on Good Friday
  • Reserve additional wine and hosts for Good Friday on Maundy Thursday
  • Don’t receive the Sacrament on Good Friday

If you are taking advantage of the first or third options, feel free to jump ahead to the next section.

If reserving the consecrated elements for Good Friday, they are removed from the altar following the Benedicamus to the sacristy or another appropriate place as the following antiphon is sung:

This is the Body which shall be delivered for you:
This is the cup of the new testament in My Blood, saith the Lord.
This do ye, as oft as ye drink it,
In remembrance of Me.

Antiphon: Hoc corpus

This antiphon will reappear on Good Friday as the Sacrament is moved back to the altar. The singing of Pange Lingua, while certainly appropriate, is not so much as mentioned in German sources, though it might certainly be used in addition to the above antiphon. In contrast to Roman practice, an elaborate Altar of Repose is not envisioned in German use, but wherever the Sacrament is reserved, a lit candle is always to be present.

Stripping of the Altar

In the sources consulted, directives are provided for not only the stripping, but also the washing of the altar. The detailed instructions for the washing of the altar, however, do not fall within the purview of this once again not-so-brief outline. The stripping of the altar has no similar description, but a simple note that it ought to be done. The singing of Psalm 22 is not mentioned in any of the sources consulted, but is certainly not inappropriate.

Keep an eye out for Part Three: Good Friday

For the other posts in this series, see here:

  • Palm Sunday
  • Good Friday
  • Vigil of Easter
  • One thought on “Holy Week II: Maundy Thursday

    Leave a Reply

    Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: