Sunday, February 12, 2017
Last month I found myself way in the back of the church a couple of minutes before Mass started. We typically arrive about 15 minutes early and sit near the front where I can see without glasses, so the back is a mysterious and alien place.
When I came in, the organist was playing the last notes of the prelude, then stopped. At this point, the whole church was dim, quiet, and packed. In front of me was the priest, a couple of deacons, eight or so altarboys, the censor and the crucifer, all close around the baptismal font, waiting.
Then the church bell rang 11 times. Within a few seconds of the last peal, the lights came up, and the small bell inside the nave was rung once. A second or so after that, the pipe organ let loose a huge belch of sound, the choir and congregation belted out the opening words of the entrance hymn, and the procession began to advance.
For the next few weeks I kept reflecting on that prepared waiting for the moment- it was so compelling in its dark, hushed stillness. It seemed familiar, but not from church...yet I had still imagined aspects of it before. Finally yesterday, or maybe this morning, I remembered- it's this:
"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time."- William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
As Kylie said in Strictly Ballroom, "That was unexpected."
Photo from the vestibule of St Mary's, Greenville SC