Witte Donderday – White Thursday

Americans know this day before Good Friday as Maundy Thursday; the Belgians know this day as White Thursday, referring to the liturgical color. On this evening Jesus shares his last meal with His disciples; He washes their feet and reminds them to wash each other’s feet and so care for one another. My home convent frequently shares a passover meal with lamb and bitter herbs and unleavened bread. I had not thought to wonder what the sisters here at the Béguinage might do. I arrived at supper to be greeted with a breath of the joy of spring, daffodil clustered flower arrangements adorned  each place. Settings had  pastel placemats, white earthenware and a white napkin jauntily poking out of the cup. Sparklingly clear wine glasses and panne cottas with fresh raspberries and sauce also colorfully brightened the table. In the center was an earthenware wine pitcher and water, a basket of fresh bakery rolls and a platter of cold meats and cheeses. Wow!

The best, however, was yet to come. The Prioress dons a stiffly starched white apron and serves each of the sisters bringing the platter of cold meats, attentively seeing that each has a second roll and enough wine or water, and then patiently clears the sisters’ plates when each has finished. The Prioress here has been struggling with health issues since my arrival last June and here she was strong and healthy, serving her sisters (and me!) in this Witte Thursday tradition in the life of the Béguinage. I was so joyful and blessed; I have to admit I was overcome with the goodness of God; I sniffled, I hope noiselessly, into my white napkin throughout the meal.

The church is open for private prayer on Witte Thursday evening with lit candles in tall elegant silver candlesticks on the side altar and the faithful enter the hushed and darkened church for quiet prayer and slip away to home or monastery.

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