By Jeremiah Bannister
“True prayer starts in the darkness, for it is only then and there that we can see the light.” — Fr. Ron Floyd, Vicar of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Grand Rapids, Michigan
I opened my eyes in the darkness, deep within the quietude of prayer. I was kneeling in a pew near the narthex, thumbing through the wooden beads of my Little Flower chaplet, when students started shuffling in. Their faces were shrouded by the shadows, but you could hear their teeth chattering from the cold in the world beyond the walls, and for a moment the church was abuzz with the sound of students stomping the snow from their shoes. They hustled and bustled to find a seat, but barely had the children settled in before the sacristy bell rang, and the men in the loft began to sing:
“Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum…”
Everyone stood as the priest and the altar boys entered and made their way to the foot of the altar, then knelt again as they recited the Judica me. Frankincense saturated the sanctuary, and the flickering flames of the candelabras shone like stars in a distant dimension, causing the altar to come aglow with an otherworldly bluish-gray haze. It felt ancient, even primal–like a timeless tragedy, as somber and as sorrowful as the wilderness; and there was a disquieting desolation in the silhouettes of the servers, offset only by the lonely white of their surplices.
“Peccávimus, et fácti súmus tamquam immúndus nos…”
A young man emerged from the darkness, and he brought with him a book, which he placed upon the altar. The reading was rhythmic, telling of a time long ago, when a prophet foretold a sign: for the sake of our sin, a virgin would conceive, and the child’s name would be Emmanuel. Upon completing the reading, the priest processed to the other side of the altar. His movements were gradual, even glacial, like a man marching up a mountainside; and when he reached its peak, we stood to our feet, like gates lifting their lentils. Then, just as he began to read the gospel, I saw a stream of sunlight seep through the stained-glass windows.
“Emítte Agnum dominatórem térræ…”
As the priest prepared the altar, I pondered his homily in my heart. I couldn’t help but be moved by the maiden and her man-child, and I was mesmerized by the gleaming glass of the windows around the church. They told the stories of an angelic annunciation, a virgin birth, and the gracious greeting of a kinswoman. Then, while gazing at the gallery, I realized that I was beholding the totality of a tale, being privy to something predestined before the dawn of time, disclosed to the dead and dreary only upon the dissipation of darkness. I hoped to see it through to the end but was startled by the sudden sound of the Sanctus bells.
“Ut sciátis, et credátis mihi…”
The martyrs were memorialized, the victim was vouchsafed, and upon his breathing the words of consecration over unleavened bread, the priest elevated the Host. It was beautiful to behold, as the sol now sparkled through the stained-glass window of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the banging of church bells echoed in the architecture! In like manner, he consecrated the wine, and raising it in ritualistic adoration, the chalice glittered and gleamed with the glorious golden rays of a risen sun!
“Cito véniet sálus túa…”
Row by row, the faithful filled the aisle, forming a line leading to the Sacrament. And with the celestial sound of the chorister singing overhead, I entered the echelon. One by one, the priest gave Communion on the tongue. And as I knelt, readying myself for reception, I glanced again at the windows along the wall. There, right where I left off, was a man, and he was weeping in a garden. Moreover, he was scourged, crucified, and hung on cross, with a crown of thorns on his head! And at the foot of the crucifix knelt the Virgin Mother, gazing up at the Son, her heart shot through with six of seven sorrows.
“Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternum. Amen.”
I gasped, as the priest placed the host on my tongue, and I shuddered when I shut my mouth! We had been in darkness, having sold our sanctity to the deep magic of iniquity, and our salvation could only be secured with sacrifice.
This was the man-child! This was Emmanuel! This was the Lamb of God with us!
Making my way back to my pew, I beheld the baptistry, where I saw a simple stable. And there, smack-dab in the center, was a meager little manger. It was empty, waiting in eager anticipation of angelic hosts, a virgin mother, and her man-child… destined to die and to rise again, so as to rule over a kingdom that shall have no end.
“Ecce Dominus veniet, et omnes sancti ejus cum eo: et erit in die illa lux magna, alleluia.”
After the reading of The Last Gospel, students gathered their things and hurried off to school, re-entering the snowy cold through which they arrived. I followed right behind, but before leaving the sanctuary, I took one last look around, marveling over the mystery of the Rorate Mass; then I descended down the stairs and through the door separating the sacred from the secular, and with the strong smell of incense still on my clothes, I was greeted by the blinding light of day, and the warmth of a fully-risen sun.
Jeremiah Bannister is a writer, YouTuber, and public speaker. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he earned a degree in Journalism & Mass Communication, with a minor in Political Science, from Olivet College (Michigan), where he was awarded the school’s top-honor in three specialties: creative writing, political science, and public speaking. Since then, he has hosted a local TV show, served as a contributing editor for the Distributist Review, and hosted a live AM/FM talk radio program (PaleoRadio). Jeremiah has presented before audiences at Michigan State University, Ferris State University, and Campellsville University, as well as before those attending the 2016 Make-A-Wish Michigan Wish Ballat the MGM Grand Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. He and his family attend the Traditional Latin Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his children are also enrolled in the parish’s classical education school,Sacred Heart Academy. He’s currently completing a novel about the “real-life fairy tale” of his daughter Sami’s life and death with childhood brain cancer, and how her “heroic tragedy” led him and his family back to the Catholic Church. To learn more about his testimony, or to schedule an interview/event, visit his website or contact him at TeamTinyDancer@gmail.com. Follow him @paleocrat.