Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday in a Monastery

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day Christ celebrated The Last Supper with his disciples and thereby instituted the Eucharist for his followers through the ages to come.

In A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH, the second of my Monastery Murders, my heroine Felicity, who enjoys liturgical worship to the fullest, is ready to immerse herself in the full Holy Week experience at the Community of the Transfiguration where she studies in the theological college run by the monks.

Although Felicity’s focus on the worship is distracted her confused feelings for Father Antony and the mysterious behavior of their Russian Orthodox visitors she strives to keep the holiness of the day. After all, this was the beginning of the Triduum— the Great Three Days of Holy Week— the high point of the Christian year where the liturgy would reenact as closely as possible the way Christians had been celebrating Easter since the first century.

Felicity entered the silent, yet expectantly vibrating, church a few hours later determined to put behind her the tangled affairs of her mundane life. And when the Mass of the Lord’s Supper began with the Cantors in the organ loft singing Durufle’s Messe cum Jubilo and the Kyrie washed over her she felt so lifted out of herself she believed her own determination.

The foot washing came as a shock to her. Weeks ago she had been selected as one of the 12 to have their feet washed in an enactment of Christ washing his disciple’s feet on that long-ago night when he instituted the Last Supper. Most of the others had taken their place on the long bench between altar and choir before she remembered. She pulled off her shoes and socks and slipped forward as unobtrusively as possible, taking her place on the end of the bench. Sitting there with her head bowed, though, she realized she hadn’t been completely unobserved. The black-robed, bearded member of the Russian delegation sitting to her right looked at her with eyes that could have burned holes.

Then Father Anselm, an apron tied around his rotund form, knelt on the stone floor before her. She extended her leg and the Father Superior meticulously washed, wiped, and then kissed each offered bare foot. She had no idea it would be such a powerful experience. As chills shook her and she fought back tears she wanted to cry out, No, I’m not worthy.

Father Anselm, though quietly picked up his basin and towel an departed. As the cantors sang the final, echoing strains of "Ubi Caritas" — Where true charity and love are, there is God— she made her barefoot way back toward her seat over the cold stones of the side aisle.

Back in her seat she looked around for Antony. She knew he would be participating in the service, but she hadn’t spotted him yet. The hymn "O Thou Who at Thy Eucharist Didst Pray" had begun when she caught his eye as he stood with the other gold and white vested priests who would pray together for the Holy Spirit to descend upon their offering. "On the night he was betrayed— which is tonight. . ." the Eucharistic Prayer commenced.

After all had communed the procession to the garden tomb began. Servers draped a long, gold humeral veil over Father Anselm’s shoulders and, with the ends covering his hands he lifted the ciborium filled with the reserved host. Two thurifers, their thuribles wafting clouds of incense, and eight priests followed. Lights were extinguished as they processed in stately, measured tread down the choir. The faithful followed, all singing in dirge-like tones:

     Of the glorious body telling, O my tongue, its mysteries sing,
     And the blood, all price excelling, which the world’s eternal King,
     In a spotless womb once dwelling, shed for this world’s ransoming. . . .

In increasing darkness, Felicity followed with the others, down the curving stairs at the back of the nave to the crypt below where they knelt before the altar of repose, especially prepared for this moment. It was ablaze with candles and banked with white and gold flowers. Felicity knelt and attempted to pray, but like the disciples who followed Christ to Gethsemane, she found it hard to concentrate.

She made her way slowly back up the stairs. In a darkened, nearly bare church, a lone, solemn voice was reading Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and are so far from me. . ." as monks and ordinands stripped the altar and the entire church of all its paraments, candles, crosses, holy pictures and sacred vessels. Even the carpets were rolled up and carried away.

The lights were extinguished one by one and all departed in darkness and silence. The tomb was prepared.

To read Felicity’s complete experience:
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In the UK:

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: You can follow her on Facebook at:

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