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T.S. Eliot & the Maundy Thursday Watch

2010 March 30
by Gordon Reid

I am half way through a book by Barry Spurr called “Anglo-Catholic in Religion”, T.S. Eliot and Christianity” and am struck (especially this being Holy Week) by this paragraph (page 121):

“Eliot participated in the annual Holy Week “watch” before the tabernacle at St Stephen’s, an ancient liturgical custom drawing attention both to Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and to his Passion (“Could ye not watch with me one hour?”), taking place between the Maundy Thursday liturgy and the Good Friday liturgy of the Passion. Mary Trevelyan records in her diary for 1950 that Eliot had insisted on taking the 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. watch before the Sacrament that Easter (the custom being for women to watch during the day; men at night), and, the next day, looking particularly exhausted; while the poet wrote to her on 27th March, 1953, remarking that his only free evening for a visit would be Thursday, and on the following morning he would be beginning his watch at 9.30 until Mass began, as he had done the previous year. His reference is to the “Mass of the pre-sanctified”.

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