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Author Topic: Nunc Dimittis  (Read 3976 times)

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Offline revanne

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Nunc Dimittis
« on: February 06, 2016, 03:51:35 pm »
A somewhat belated tale for Candlemas

Nunc Dimittis

The Feast of Candlemas, being the second day of February, in the year of our Lord 1145

Dhassa Cathedral: around noon.


The ceremonies of Candlemas were a welcome break in the darkness of winter. Even in the bleakness of Dhassa - and few of even the most faithful citizens of the Holy City could be found to laud her climate any more than her wine - the shadowed depths of the cathedral were made almost cheerful by the light and warmth of the candles.

During the previous weeks the precincts of the Abbey attached to the Cathedral had been redolent with the fragrant smell of beeswax as the monks worked to produce the candles that would be used during the following year’s worship and now the fruits of their labours were gathered in glistening heaps to be blessed.

Standing at the altar, Denis Arilan, Bishop of Dhassa, always found the symbolism of the day’s ceremonies profoundly moving. As a Deryni, who had had quite literally to hide his light for most of his life, the promise of the One who would bring light and glory to all people warmed his heart to a degree which would have astounded those who believed him unfeeling. To be able to allow the flare of his aura to shine with the light of the candles was a joy that moved him almost to tears. To know that those who knelt before him, reaching out work-hardened hands to receive their candles and kissing his hand in return, no longer flinched from his touch was in itself a greater blessing than any he himself could bestow.

Shamingly for a priest of his experience, and a Deryni of his training, he found himself unable to focus his thoughts as he would have liked; his active mind would simply not allow him to put aside thoughts of two individuals.The first was the young seminarian whose privilege it was to serve today’s Mass. The lad himself was all that an altar server and potential priest should be, discreet, devout and efficient. No! it was simply who he was that created a distraction for Denis, producing in him thoughts that were hardly fitting for a bishop. How beautifully ironic, how warming to his heart that his scapegrace nephew Sextus should have a step-son who had a vocation. Everytime Denis saw young Taggert Moreau he saw again the look on Sextus’ face when he had learned the news. His mother, Baroness Avisa, had been happy enough for her younger son to follow this path, and whether from mischief or not, Denis could not quite decide, had suggested that he enlist the support of his step-great-uncle before informing Sextus. ‘“Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord, “I will repay”’ had been Denis’ somewhat unchristian thought as he listened to the stunned silence and barely bitten-off oaths of his nephew, but being unrepentant he had not yet shared that thought with his confessor, and it lurked ready to spring into his mind at the most inappropriate moments.

The other distraction was more befitting a priest. For his colleague of many years, Thomas Cardiel, Bishop and Archbishop, was gravely ill. Not only was he perhaps Denis’ closest friend but, despite being fully human, next to Kelson, and without access to any of Kelson’s personal motivations, he was the man who was most responsible for the returning of the Deryni to their full place in the Church of Gwynedd. It had been he, who, with what courage Denis could only imagine, had taken the step of opposing Loris all those years ago, and had been the first, and for many years the only, human to whom Denis had revealed his true identity. Thomas was staying with his niece Richenda, Duchess of Corwyn, having gratefully acceded to her request after a severe attack of palsy had rendered him bedridden the previous summer. Being the gracious, humble man he was, he had resigned as Archbishop of Rhemuth rather than fail to fulfill his duties and had been taken to Coroth by gentle stages aboard the Duke’s flagship, Rhafalia. He had rallied for a short time but was now failing fast and Denis was awaiting a summons from Morgan’s chaplain so that he might make his last farewells.

The Mass concluded, he had intended to stay a while in prayer before the altar, pouring out the thoughts of his heart, both worthy and unworthy, but he became aware of a disturbance at the Sacristy door, where Taggert seemed to be engaged in some sort of agitated discussion. Extending his senses Denis became aware of a powerful presence behind the door, and of Taggert’s increasing distress. Hurriedly he rose to his feet, pausing only to genuflect to the Presence at the side of the altar, and made his way to the sacristy, irritation becoming his primary emotion. Surely even a bishop deserved to be allowed to pray in peace. Beyond the irritation, however, was fear. Something must be badly wrong for Alaric to enter the Cathedral in this way. Dhassa held too many bad memories for him, starting from that service of public penance and reconciliation which had been such a necessary step on the way to the rehabilitation of Deryni in the popular mind but which Alaric saw as public humiliation. Neither had he ever fully understood or forgiven Denis’s long years of hiding his true identity as Deryni.

Taking his step-great-nephew by the shoulders, he swung him gently back towards the body of the  Cathedral speaking with an affection which would have surprised the man on the other side of the door. “Don’t worry, son, no-one expects you to have to deal with a Duke and a Bishop simultaneously at your level of training. I’ll deal with his Grace, you go and say my prayers for me.”

Expecting to face polite resentment, Denis found his hands grasped with a mixture of relief and worry. “Thank God I’ve found you so quickly. Richenda’s out of her mind. It’s Thomas, he’s behaving very strangely. He’s refusing the last rites and becoming increasingly agitated!”.

All the old resentments between them were set aside for the moment as Denis responded, “ I’ll come now, but you’ll have to allow me to disrobe first. Let me just recall my server, it’s almost impossible to get out of these robes by oneself, and certainly not in a hurry!” Alaric moved from the door but did not make room for Denis to pass through. Instead, to the other’s total astonishment, he held out his own hands to help him disrobe.

Smiling in spite of himself Alaric explained, “Well of course I was never an altar boy, they’d have exorcised the church afterwards even if such a thing had ever been allowed! But I’ve helped Duncan often enough to know how.” Stunned into silence Denis allowed himself to be disrobed by one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, wondering what Thomas would make of this. If he ever got the chance to tell him. Even in his distress he was a little dumbfounded to see that Alaric knew just where and how to place each liturgical garment but wisdom told him that comment would be foolish so he contented himself with straightening the wool of his purple cassock.

“Alaric, what is going on? Is he dying?”

“As a healer I would say he has a matter of hours, if that. There is nothing more that can be done. I’m sorry.”

“So why is he refusing the last rites? To risk dying unshriven, without viaticum? To risk his salvation?” Denis’s pain was apparent in his eyes, and fear. Fear that a good and godly man was turning his back at the last on the mercy of God. “Why?”

“I don’t know. God knows I’m sorry Denis. He’ll speak neither to me, nor to Richenda, nor to my chaplain. I even sent out for a human priest from one of the city churches in case in his mind’s wandering a deeply rooted fear of Deryni had resurfaced. But nothing. Richenda thinks that he might speak to you. But we’ve spent too long. Is this your cloak? Please, come!” Catching Denis’s glance towards the Aumbry he added, “my chaplain has all that you will need. Richenda will be counting the minutes. We need to go, now”

His own fears fuelled by Alaric’s anxiety, Denis made no further demur and led the way to his portal. He knew the co-ordinates of the relatively new portal in Coroth Castle. That had been one of the conditions of his persuading the Camberian Council that a portal there was not only necessary, but long overdue. It was a mark of his distress that he turned to Alaric and asked Will you take me through, please? and was humbled to find none of the triumph that he might have expected at his weakness as the other gently pulled him back against him and even more gently enfolded him in his shields.

Coroth Castle a few minutes later

Richenda met them at the entrance to the portal, her face drawn. More than ever beautiful in her mature years, she was lacking her customary serenity. “Thank God you are here. No-one is able to reach him and I’m so afraid for him. He was so good to me all those years ago, I can’t bear to think of him dying like this.”

She bent to kiss his Bishop’s ring and as she straightened he gently retained her hand in his, “Has he said anything?”

“Nothing. He allows us to meet his physical needs and is as gracious as ever but if Father Irenaeus offers any spiritual comfort he simply turns his head away. Any attempt to press him just distresses him and I’m afraid that he will suffer another seizure.”

“Pray God he will allow my priestly ministrations. I owe so much to him. Where is he?”

Richenda led him to a quiet chamber overlooking a secluded garden. Somewhat to his surprise Richenda did not enter with him, neither was Father Irenaeus present. Maybe if it is just you and him, he will feel free at last to unburden his heart. Denis nodded in acknowledgement, Bless you, my daughter, and quietly entered the room.

The invalid’s bed lay across the narrow end of the room to the right of the door, a prie dieu close to the head of the bed. Opposite the door, were two glazed windows set low in the wall, and the muted tones of grey and green from outside, dominant in the February half-light, were gentle on the eyes. Physically Denis felt at ease, and he could feel that this was a place where both prayer and healing were offered. Nevertheless his Deryni senses prickled; it was as though someone was playing a grossly discordant note into a beautiful melody.

Someone, most probably Father Irenaeus, had left a purple stole, holy oil and a pyx with the precious Body on the prie dieu. Denis ran the stole through his fingers touching his lips to the cross at the centre and placed it around his neck. Then he crossed to the bed and slipped to his knees by the man who he had trusted before all others.

“Thomas.” He had spoken quietly but the other heard him and opened his eyes. “Denis, you should not have troubled to have come for the likes of me.” The voice was barely above a whisper and it did not need Deryni senses to read the hopelessness in it. Denis began to answer but the other shut his eyes and turned away, a miasma of grey despair making the room darken to Denis’ psychic sight.

Wondering whether desperate need would justify reaching out to touch the other’s mind without permission, Denis was saved such a breach of trust when Thomas began to speak.

“ ‘Whatever you did not do to these the least of my brethren, you did not do to me. Depart from me into the eternal fire…’  How can I hope for the mercy of God, when I refused mercy to so many others. You were there, Denis. You saw Jorian burn. St Jorian he is now. Why would he welcome me into the eternal mansions?”

The wave of fear and pain hit Denis, it was as though the other already felt the fires of hell. Blessed St Jorian, without Thomas Cardiel we would still be denied the priesthood and many more would burn as you did. Grant me the words I need. Gently he took the others hand and tried to reach though the self-loathing with words of comfort.

“Thomas, without your courage in standing up to Loris, many more would have burned. We all have much to be forgiven, me more than you. I stood by and watched my own people suffer, as Duncan has reminded me more than once. Come, let me give you the tokens of God’s mercy.”

But he might just as well have not spoken as Thomas continued, “ There is ‘a time to speak and a time to be silent’. Your people needed me to speak as they needed your silence. You were faithful, I failed to do what it was needful for me to do. Not just Jorian, so many others. Women and children...sometimes they made the mothers watch their children burn first, did you know that.?” Denis could only nod, his eyes full of tears. “And I stood by, secure in my humanity, thankful that I was not one of the accursed race.”

“Thomas, don’t do this to yourself. Do you think that God does not see the grief and repentance in your heart?” Blessed St Camber, he thought, Defensor hominem, if ever a man deserved your protection it is this one.

From somewhere Thomas found the strength to speak more clearly but there was no change in the tenor of what he said, “I know now why we hate the Deryni so much. It is because it is we who are the accursed race, spawn of satan, with no hope of heaven.” And again he turned his face to the wall and shut his eyes.

To his dying day Denis could never be quite sure if the words which sprang from his lips reflected too much time spent in the company of his nephew, or were an answer to prayer and  the intervention of a certain unpredictable saint.

“That’s a load of bollocks!”

It was uncertain which one of them was the more shocked. Thomas’ eyes shot open and he looked with disbelief at his restrained and normally so correct colleague. Denis thought guiltily of the stern penances given to Taggert in his early days at seminary before he learned to moderate his language, but at the same time he was so relieved to see a reaction other than despair that he would have accepted any penance.

“What did you just say?”

“I believe I used the correct expression to describe the nonsense you were speaking. And I’ll say it again, and worse, if it means that you will start to listen to me!” But Thomas was no longer looking at him. Rather he was looking towards the foot of the bed and appeared to be listening with a look of awed wonder on his face. He whispered something and as Denis bent to listen he repeated softly, “Deo Gratias.”

The look of haunted horror had left Thomas’s face and shyly he placed his hand upon those of Denis. “I think I have just been told off for being an idiot by a saint. But he gave me his blessing too. Please, I’d be honoured if you would read my memory.”

Denis already knew what he would see but he felt privileged beyond words to enter the memory of the man now able to die in peace, and for once he felt no resentment that St. Camber had yet again appeared to someone other than himself. With a grateful heart, he offered the last rites which were now as gratefully received, and then together they shared in the prayer of another elderly priest who long ago had also seen his salvation.

"Nunc dimittis, servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace."
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word."
« Last Edit: February 07, 2016, 06:25:49 am by revanne »
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen His glory, full of Grace and truth."
Prologue to John's Gospel

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2016, 06:27:50 pm »
What a wonderful story.  Thank you, revanne.

And nice to see Sextus was able to assist his Uncle Denis, even if a bit obliquely. :)

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2016, 08:31:33 pm »
Sometimes there is no way to say what must be said using polite language. 

Offline DesertRose

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2016, 08:43:27 pm »
Sometimes there is no way to say what must be said using polite language.

As I told revanne when she asked if she could get away with that expression on the forum, there's a time and a place for strong language.  :)

Lovely, poignant story, revanne!
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)

Offline Evie

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2016, 10:47:52 pm »
Very moving.  I wonder if it has become your mission in life to make me cry with your stories, though?  ;D

Who would become Archbishop of Rhemuth after Cardiel, I wonder? Duncan seems the logical choice, unless it's thought he's needed more at the Schola. Though I could see John Nivard moving up to become rector there, or perhaps Denis, with someone else being sent to Dhassa.
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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2016, 12:19:08 am »
Beautiful Revanne.
A lovely notation of Candlemas, that I had only wondered at before- For the Blessing of the newly made candles.
You are making me start to like Denis, you know. Even Alaric is learning to appreciate the man behind the cloth.
I am so sorry to learn of Thomas's despair. And I am so glad our renown Saint has lifted Thomas's spirit before the end. And that Denis was there to offer comfort.
Thank you.

Offline revanne

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2016, 06:44:58 am »
Very moving.  I wonder if it has become your mission in life to make me cry with your stories, though?  ;D


This from the woman who killed off Catriona, and sent Morgan Haldane to the very gates of Heaven!


Who would become Archbishop of Rhemuth after Cardiel, I wonder? Duncan seems the logical choice, unless it's thought he's needed more at the Schola. Though I could see John Nivard moving up to become rector there, or perhaps Denis, with someone else being sent to Dhassa.

Duncan does indeed seem the logical choice and he certainly would have the necessary political acumen (I am busily ignoring Duncan who is piteously protesting that he is more than happy with his books and students, thank you very much, and definitely ignoring Alaric who is ticking off on his fingers, Duke, Bishop, now Archbishop... and muttering God better watch out!)and John Nivard would seem very well suited for the Schola. I am thinking that Denis would remain in Dhassa, which is why I envisage him there as late as 1145. The Bishop of Dhassa has a degree of independence which would seem very well suited to Denis's watching brief in Torenth which I am sure would continue in some form or another and also his activities as a member of the Camberian Council. I cannot quite see Kelson being happy with a member of the Council with that degree of influence over the next generation of Deryni.
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Prologue to John's Gospel

Offline Marko

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2016, 08:51:24 pm »
I have often wondered why Denis has stayed Bishop of Dhassa all these years.  Very moving story about Thomas.

Offline Aerlys

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2016, 03:00:11 pm »
Didn't notice I'd not logged out last time I was on the forum. (oops!)

Funny how things happen. Was just reminiscing about the "Nunc Dimittis" as it is sung during Candlemas services versus Compline. So, if you don't mind me adding a little atmosphere to your story:

As sung during Mass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0SPKS-AyH0

As sung during Compline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrDTzQtfvwk

And one by Palestrina, because I love Palestrina.  :)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWVIdRfPfmE
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Offline Evie

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2016, 04:25:41 pm »
Lovely music, Aerlys!  And I almost never log out of the forum. Since no one else in my family checks it, there's not really a chance of someone else accidentally posting a comment here in my name, so I've just got my login time set for "forever" and just bother with logging in and out if I'm using a public computer or one that isn't my own.
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Offline Aerlys

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2016, 10:21:40 pm »
And I almost never log out of the forum. Since no one else in my family checks it, there's not really a chance of someone else accidentally posting a comment here in my name, so I've just got my login time set for "forever" and just bother with logging in and out if I'm using a public computer or one that isn't my own.

Not worried about rogue coments being posted, since my computer account is password protected. I  just don't like to leave the impression that I'm roaming the castle when I'm actually wandering about the countryside.
"Loss and possession, death and life are one, There falls no shadow where there shines no sun."

Hilaire Belloc

Offline Aerlys

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2016, 10:36:58 pm »
BTW. Wonderful story, revanne.  :) Why do I get the feeling that some of your own personal experience colors your portrayal of Denis?
 
"Loss and possession, death and life are one, There falls no shadow where there shines no sun."

Hilaire Belloc

Offline DesertRose

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2016, 11:11:55 pm »
Aerlys, I just got a chance to listen to the arrangements you linked.  The first one struck me for an odd reason.  The man who was singing was the most unassuming-looking person (he reminded me of a retired teacher who used to substitute-teach in the school district where I went to middle and high school) but he has a lovely voice!

I like the Palestrina arrangement best, but I'm a sucker for Renaissance music, particularly Thomas Tallis.  :)

Thank you for the links!
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)

Offline Aerlys

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2016, 01:06:28 am »
Aerlys, I just got a chance to listen to the arrangements you linked.  The first one struck me for an odd reason.  The man who was singing was the most unassuming-looking person (he reminded me of a retired teacher who used to substitute-teach in the school district where I went to middle and high school) but he has a lovely voice!


That particular song is usually sung by a schola during Mass, not just one man, but I couldn't find a decent recording of that.
"Loss and possession, death and life are one, There falls no shadow where there shines no sun."

Hilaire Belloc

Offline revanne

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Re: Nunc Dimittis
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2016, 02:30:32 am »
BTW. Wonderful story, revanne.  :) Why do I get the feeling that some of your own personal experience colors your portrayal of Denis?

Evie doesn't call me a "fierce wild priest" for no reason.  ;D

Actually I suspect that St Camber's language was even more colourful, but thankfully he speaks off page so I don't have to run and hide from our revered moderator  :).

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen His glory, full of Grace and truth."
Prologue to John's Gospel

 

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