"Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maundy_Thursday
In class with Sister Marilyn on Tuesday I learned that the series of three days (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday) was called the triduum in the Catholic Church (literally, "three days") and I learned a lot about Holy Thursday, which precedes them. Specifically I learned that the sacrament of Holy Thursday includes both the meal - the breaking and sharing of bread which is in Matthew, Mark and Luke - and the foot washing Jesus gave to his disciples, which is only included in the Book of John. The Mandatum (mandate, mandatory) element of the ritual was meant to be the foot washing, and not the meal.
Here is a wonderful quote from Father Richard Rohr which perfectly sums up the imperative of the foot washing:
"There's no real story of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John as we find it in the other Gospels. There is no passing of the bread or passing of the cup. Instead we come upon the story of Jesus on his knees washing the Apostles' feet. Really quite amazing, and even more amazing that we never made the foot washing into a Sacrament! It is much more explicit in the Scriptures than many other actions we made into sacraments. Perhaps John realized that after seventy years the other Gospels had been read. He wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread. He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become. Peter symbolizes all of us as he protests, "You will never wash my feet!" (John 13:8). But Jesus answers, "If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me." That is strong! We all find it hard to receive undeserved love from another. For some reason it is very humiliating to the ego. We all want to think we have earned any love that we get by our worthiness or attractiveness. So Jesus has to insist on being the servant lover. Thank God, Peter surrenders, but it probably takes him the rest of his life to understand."
- Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 143, day 154
We accepted this mandatum in our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith group this morning, and took turns washing one another's feet. Though slightly uncomfortable and certainly unusual, it was a beautiful ritual that perfectly set the stage for the coming holy days. We serve those we love, and see our love mirrored in their acceptance. I also want to deeply thank this group for their loving support and receptivity of my bearings letter today; if we can only know ourselves by how we are reflected by others then I am honored and blessed to be reflected by you.