BENEDICTION was at 5.00 pm. At half past four the Church was full, the benches crowded, the people kneeling in the aisles … it is in Benediction that hundreds find the only visible beauty that shines out on the drabness of their lives, like stars burning into a grey twilight.
It is an easy and sweet ceremony, with the singing of hymns (my favourite has always been the “Tantum ergo sacramentum …”), and the relief of prayers spoken out loud, a sweetness, a gentleness, a goodnight to the little flock …
Father Christopher unlocked the Tabernacle door and lifted out the Sacred Host. Walking carefully and slowly, as St. Joseph might have done when Our Lady put the Divine Child into his arms to carry, he went up to the Altar, up the tiny steps, and set the great Monstrance on its throne.
Again there was a lurching forward, a rattling and creaking and dropping as the congregation plunged and dived down into adoration.
The heads of the children went down, the rows of the boys’ heads, like round knobs of unpolished wood. One tiny little girl, a First Communicant of the year, squinted through her locked fingers, and screwed up her eyes, to see the gilded rays of the Monstrance blurred as if they were real glory …
Again the bell rang out, loud and sweet and solemn, the bell of Benediction.
It shivered into silence.
Silence possessed the people.
Silence possessed our souls.
Not the silence of emptiness, but of fullness, of a crescendo of expec-tation, like a towering wave, gathered to the whole of its strength, lifted up to its full height, pausing in the moment of its utmost integrity, before rolling on, to fling itself forward and break upon the rocks.
Father Christopher lifted the great Monstrance above the bowed heads, held it up for a moment before his plain face, suffused with love, as if he held the sun up, burning in his hands. Slowly he made the Sign of the Cross with it, lowered it onto the Altar and knelt before it.
The flowers on the Altar breathed the shimmering breath of the candle flame.
The incence rose in straight blue lines through the haze of gold.
“Blessed be God”, said the priest, and the wave broke, surging, tumbling, rushing forward in a torrent of praise.
“Blessed be God”, roared the people …
Now the “Adoremus” rose, gentle as a caress and flowing over the Sacred Host, as Father Christopher lifted It from the Monstrance, put It back into the Tabernacle and locked the door.
That’s how I remember Benediction.