Historically, quite a number of different things were done this day. Not all of these were done everywhere or every year; the most important were:
- The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper was sacramentally commemorated.
- Catechumens were given their final preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil.
- Penitents who had completed all of their penance were reconciled to the Church.
- The oils necessary for Baptism (The Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism) as well as the Oil of the Sick were consecrated.
- Our Lord’s example of humility at the Last Supper by washing the Apostles’ feet was commemorated. It was very commonly extended to the poor and joined with gifts of material support to them. Still today in the United Kingdom on this day Her Majesty gives the Royal Maundy to various poor subjects.
- Sufficient of the consecrated Elements for tomorrow were removed to a location away from the main altar of the church.
- The Altars were entirely stripped and washed, a commemoration of the burial of Our Lord as well as a dramatic emphasis
- Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden and the disciples’ failure to “watch one hour” with Him is commemorated by a special watch before the reserved Sacrament.
Some of these activities were not done in every parish church. The blessing and consecration of the Holy Oils and Sacred Chrism is traditionally reserved to the Bishop of the Diocese or, in the case of the Sacred Chrism, sometimes to the Patriarch himself. In Rome a Mass for the Blessing and Consecration of the Holy Oils and Sacred Chrism was celebrated in the morning. Bishops of the suburbicarian dioceses and the priests in charge of various parishes would attend this liturgy and obtain the Oils and Chrism which they would need for the coming year.
The Washing of the Feet or Maundy, as it is known, was frequently done as a completely separate service at a different time and location than the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is still the case in the United Kingdom where Her Majesty performs the service in person each year. This is known as the Royal Maundy.
The Royal Maundy is the only occasion on which the Her Majesty Queen visits others to make awards, as recipients of honours usually come to her. The service has become the occasion of a royal pilgrimage to different parts of the country because Her Majesty has directed that the service not be held in London more often than once in ten years. Westminster Abbey was the site of the 2001 Royal Maundy, and again in 2011,
The Queen ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as “Maundy money” (legally, “the Queen’s Maundy money”) as alms to elderly recipients. The coins symbolic of the very much greater alms given yearly by Her Majesty. They are legal tender but do not circulate because of their silver content and numismatic value. A small sum of ordinary money is also given in lieu of gifts of clothing and food that the sovereign once bestowed on Maundy recipients.Today the recipients are pensioners, chosen on an interdenominational basis from various Christian churches for their service to their churches and communities. For 2012, in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, recipients were selected from all 44 dioceses in the United Kingdom for the service at York Minster.
Following very ancient custom of both East and West, no Mass is celebrated until the completion of the Easter Vigil. The Church is in profound grief and sorrow. Jesus will now obediently allow Himself to be captured, tried, mocked, scourged and crucified for our Sins. Therefore at the end of this Mass, the Holy Sacrament is solemnly removed from the altar and carried in procession to a separate Altar of Repose. At this altar vigil is kept until the Sacrament is brought back to the main altar in the Good Friday liturgy.