Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the commemoration of the Last Supper, Jesus’ final meal with the apostles before his crucifixion as described in the biblical Gospels. It's traditionally celebrated as an annual Christian holiday that falls three days before Easter Sunday. Western churches around the world hold special services to commemorate the supper and Jesus’ inauguration of the New Covenant which, in Christian theology, meant a break from Old Testament laws that required God’s people to perform sacrifices and rituals to please God.

Pope Francis washes the feet of a prisoner at a prison in Rome. Pope Francis washes the foot of a prisoner at Casal del Marmo youth prison in Rome, March 28, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

The word "maundy" in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means an order or mandate. Christians take the mandate Christ issued during his last supper to regularly memorialize the meal as perpetually obligatory for all believers. In the eastern Orthodox churches, the day is referred to as Holy Thursday.

In past years the pope has spent the holiday washing the feet of inmates at a prison in Rome. While the Holy Father will continue that tradition, he will instead wash the feet of asylum seekers and immigrants, many of whom will not be Christians. Below are other traditions associated with Holy Thursday:


1. Thursday night church services. Services are traditionally solemn observances, unlike the celebration of Easter on Sunday. Most services are held in the evening, as the Last Supper was said to take place during sundown.

2. The Eucharist. The Eucharist is a Christian rite meant to symbolize the Last Supper. It involves eating bread and drinking wine, which symbolize the body and blood of Jesus, respectively.

3. Feet washing. The religious rite of washing feet was described in the Bible as a symbolic gesture of breaking social barriers between the religious elite and the poor. Jesus told his disciples, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” according to the Gospel of St. John. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

4. Visiting seven churches. The tradition of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday to pray is practiced most notably in the Philippines and Latin America. The practice is thought to have originated in ancient Rome when religious followers visited Rome’s seven basilicas.

5. Alms giving. In the U.K., the giving of "alms," which comes from the Greek word for pity, is traditionally practiced by the monarch and involves offering coins to the elderly.