Maundy Thursday, which derives its English name from Mandatum, the first word of the Office of the washing of the feet, is known in the Latin liturgy by the heading In Coena Domini (upon the Lord's supper). This marks the central rite of the day and the oldest of which we have an explicit record.
St. Augustine informs us that on that day Mass and Communion followed the evening meal or super and that on this occasion Communion was not received fasting. The primitive conception of the festival survives to the present time in this respect at least, that the clergy do not offer Mass privately but are directed to receive the communion together at the public Mass, like guests at one table.
The Liturgy, as commemorating the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, is celebrated in white vestments with some measure of joyous solemnity. The Gloria in excelsis is sung, and during it there is a general ringing of bells, after which the bells are silent until the Gloria is heard upon Easter Eve (Holy Saturday). It is probable that both the silence of the bells and the withdrawing of lights, which we remark in the Tenebræ service, are to be referred to the same source — a desire of expressing outwardly the sense of the Church's bereavement during the time of Christ's Passion and Burial.
The observance of silence during these three days dates at least from the eighth century, and in Anglo-Saxon times they were known as "the still days".
In the modern celebration of Maundy Thursday attention centers upon the reservation of a second Host, which is consecrated at the Mass, to be consumed in the Liturgy next day. This is borne in solemn procession to an "altar of repose" adorned with flowers and lighted with a profusion of candles, the hymn Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium being sung upon the way.