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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History


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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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Maundy Thursday in A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ April 4, 2012

In A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH, the second of my Monastery Murders, Felicity, who enjoys extravagant liturgy to the fullest, has been anticipating experiencing the amazing experience she has heard that Holy Week will be in the Community of the Transfiguration where she studies in the theological college run by the monks.

As the Maundy Thrusday service approaches, however, she is puzzled by the strange absence of her friend and fellow amateur sleuth Father Antony who lectures on church history at the college and chairs an ecumenical commission. With a stoicism unusual for Felicity she puts Antony's absence out of her mind;

. . .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. There were prayers and rehearsals and. . . well, she could go on making excuses all day, but a hot shower would do her far more good.

If liturgical matters were more important to Antony than she was then that was just fine. After all, she’d been looking forward to this incredible experience through all the 40 days of Lent. She had no intention of missing out on a minute of it.

By the time she entered the silent, yet expectantly vibrating church a few hours later Felicity had entirely convinced herself that all the unanswered questions of Antony’s feelings toward her and the tangled affairs of the Mortara family and even the unsatisfactory answer to Neville’s murder were mundane matters that she could very well put behind her for the rest of her 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.

She wanted to say to him, Look, I wasn’t that late. And besides, if it weren’t for me your precious icon wouldn’t be hanging over there under her veil. 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. But then Father Anselm picked up his basin and towel and 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.

The ecstasy of the moment faded and she shivered. Surely it wasn’t just the chill of the granite. She paused in the shadow of a massive pillar and turned quickly. Ah, it wasn’t just her imagination that she was being followed, but the reason could hardly have been more innocent. The Russian priest or deacon or whatever he was who had been beside her for the foot washing stood gazing up at the veiled outline of Our Lady of the Transfiguration. It was hard to read his expression beneath his bearded face, but Felicity imagined he was anticipating the veneration which would take place at the Easter Vigil.

Back in her seat beside her mother 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, standing with the other gold and white vested priests who would concelebrate. Even though it was unlikely he could have seen it the length of the nave, she tried to send him an encouraging smile, because she remembered his telling her how hard it was for him to sing this hymn "That all thy church might be forever one" since the goal was so far from being fulfilled. Perhaps he did see her, though. Or was it only her imagination that his face softened?

"On the night he was betrayed— which is tonight. . ." the Eucharistic Prayer commenced.

After all had communed the procession 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 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. And then Felicity wasn’t in the crypt at Kirkthorpe, but in a side chapel at Durham Cathedral where this same observance would be occurring at this moment and where Antony had first told her about this ancient rite. And where she had been so convinced St. Cuthbert had been entombed. Chagrin washed over her. Was she destined always to be so wrong? Was she equally wrong-headed about her determinations now?

She made her way slowly back upstairs. In a darkened, nearly bare church, a lone voice read Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and are so far from me. . ." as the altar and the entire church was stripped 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.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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This is based on Maundy Thursday as I experienced it at The Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire. It will be with me through all the Holy Weeks I experience.
-Donna, April 4, 2012

I love it. Reminds me of Maundy Thursdays of my childhood.
-SheilaDeeth, April 5, 2012

How wonderful, Sheila, I love the old traditions--and Felicity is learning to.
-Donna, April 5, 2012

Terrific, Donna! That's a really good description of Maundy Thursday. I've just played the guitar at the Stations of The Cross and I'm off to Good Friday service later on. Well done.
-Dolores, April 6, 2012

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