The following is a snippet of my fiction writing with ties to the Christmas season. It takes place on January 1, 2011, with three characters attending the Mass for today's solemnity inside the chapel of a monastery:
Father Fogarty, the old Irish priest who usually said Mass for the brothers, began with the sign of the cross. Seth held a missal open so his mother and Tess, standing on either side of him, could follow along with the words he’d memorized by now. When they sat for the first reading, Seth finally dared to look up.
The angels were there, innumerable heavenly hosts. His breath caught in his throat as Seth devoured the visual feast, feeling them through all his other senses, and he understood that what he had told his mother about as a child was what was happening to him now—he was feeling the angels, and more than just the glimpse he’d received at the cathedral twice now, more than the fleeting visions blessing him on occasion here in the monastery chapel, but he knew with a profound firmness he was going to notice them for the rest of his life when he entered any sacred space of a Catholic sanctuary. He dipped his head in humility and closed his eyes at the sight that was too rich for prolonged consumption.
During the gospel reading, Seth noticed Tess’s gaze concentrated on the nativity angel perched on the roof of the stable. Father Fogarty finished with the statement that ‘he was named Jesus, the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.’
As they sat and Father began his homily, Theresa leaned close and whispered in Seth’s ear, “They sure focus a lot on angels this time of year.” The opening hymn had been Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.
He nodded and swept his gaze across the ceiling above the altar, thinking that Catholics talked about angels all year long. And this was why—they were here constantly, at every Mass, and alongside their charges as guardians every moment of every day. He wondered how he could even explain to her in words how it was all intertwined in him, running through his life, through the ups and downs, his failures and joys. Seth swallowed and squeezed her hand where their laced fingers rested on top of her pregnant belly.
Mary had been a humble, poor girl, the priest was explaining. Her prominence in the religious life of Catholics was due to one thing, he said: Mary had said yes to God. ‘Be it done unto me according to your word.’ She’d suffered much to care for the holy child entrusted to her. Seth felt the profound reality that the woman sitting at his side was accepting a difficult cross, too. Their life would be full of hardships but contain great happiness, too. He saw Tess studying the figure of Mary tucked inside the stable alongside the baby Jesus in the manger, with Joseph leaning protectively over both, and she fingered the Holy Family necklace at her throat. Seth hoped he knew what she was thinking: that this was a mother who was so poor that she gave birth in a stable, and then had to flee from an evil king who wanted her child dead. Seth’s heart raced at the thought of Ace’s threats to their unborn baby, the mournful words of Coventry Carol that they’d sung at the Mass for the Holy Innocents running through him, and he felt dizzy at what could have happened the other night. He dipped his head and gulped for a breath of air.
Tess leaned closer to him. “Are you okay?” she murmured.
Seth nodded. He was okay—now.
As the priest prepared the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist and all sang the hymn What Child is This, Charlene turned to her son with a smile. “I like how Catholics celebrate Christmas as a whole season. It’s not such a letdown when all this is still happening a week after December 25th. Maybe I’ll leave the tree up a little longer, after all.”
On his other side, Theresa put her arm gently over Seth’s sore shoulders. “We know what child this is,” she whispered, rubbing her belly. “He’s ours. I can’t believe that you and me have been trusted with something so amazing. I can never be as good a mother as she was.” Her eyes rimmed with tears as she pondered the manger scene.
“But Mary needed him in order to be a good mom, Tess.” The words came from Seth without hesitation, and he assumed it was something he’d assimilated from all the prayers and talks with the brothers over the past many months. “He still had to save her. And this baby has helped save us.” He dipped his head. “Thank God.” His last words shuddered through his lips in a whisper that had him wanting to fall to his knees, and the angels’ praises inundated the air all around.