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Yuletide Story, Chapter 4 Midnight Mass - Columcil

Started by revanne, January 26, 2021, 06:21:59 AM

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As they walked across to the wee church, Columcil could feel the depth of the silence close around them. Preparing for Mass should always be a prayerful experience as a priest prepared to voice the most holy words known to human or Deryni, the words which made Christ, God himself, present. But in the real world, as Columcil knew all too well, this was often far from the case, especially in another priest's church. Nothing was less conducive to prayer than an untidy sacristy with scruffy vestments and holy vessels which looked as though they could do with being baptised before they were fit for use. And then there were the servers: bored, casual or competent but seeing this as simply a role to be fulfilled without a real sense of the enormity of the privilege. And worst of all the ones that wouldn't stop talking, seeing the time before Mass as an opportunity for gossip instead of prayer.

Columcil knew, though, that none of this would be the case tonight. No priest serving here, under the watchful eye of Aliset's family, would ever allow such slipshod goings on. And he was immeasurably grateful for Washburn. How could a priest of the calibre of Bishop Arilan, and even his grandfather to a lesser extent but even more incomprehensibly, have been so wrong about him. True Wash was no natural scholar, nor a man to wear piety on his sleeve, but honour and loyalty and an enormous capacity for love flowed out of him.``And the greatest of these is love". As he offered the holy sacrifice tonight with Washburn kneeling behind him on the altar step, Columcil knew that both of them would be praying that Wash's heart might be allowed to find joy in the love that had blossomed through such trauma.

Though there was still over an hour before folk would start gathering for Midnight Mass, the door of the church stood slightly ajar, and Washburn leant slightly past Columcil to push it fully open before stepping back with a courteous gesture to allow the priest to enter. Columcil stood for a moment transfixed on the threshold, his senses overwhelmed by light, warmth, scent and sound. Every sconce in the place was alight, the usual rushlights replaced by candles of finest beeswax. Stone cressets had been brought in filled with scented oil which burned taking the chill from the old stone building. The floor was strewn with pine fronds, which would give more of their aromatic scent the more folk crowded in. And final wonder, in the back corner behind the font, sat a bard with a small travelling harp which he was playing.

A hand placed gently on his shoulder brought him back to himself as Washburn murmured in his ear,

"Maybe inside is a better place for long prayers, Father."

Turning to smile in apology, Columcil moved a few steps further in, and then smiled again to himself as he heard Washburn's intake of breath. But there was no time for more talk between the two of them as a man in a priest's robe was hastening to greet them.

"You must be Father Columcil and my Lord Washburn," a warm handshake for his fellow priest and a courteous bow of the head towards the young lord went with his words before he continued,

"I'm Father Petroc, and I'm honoured to welcome ye. We'll have chance for a crack later but for now I've put all in readiness and I'm away to sit in yon corner, close my eyes and enjoy having Mass said for me for once."

Columcil warmed to the man and any lingering concern he had had that the local priest might feel resentment at thus being ousted from his altar on such a special occasion was assuaged.

"Well, laddie, it looks as though there's little enow fer us t'do. We'll just take a look in yon sacristy and then ha'e time fer plenty of prayin'. An' if yer mind is wanderin' tae a bonnie lassie back o'er in the Mains, dinna forget tha' 'twas the guid Lord himself who made man and maid ta love each other."

With that Columcil made his way to the Sacristy, not even trying to hide his grin.

Everything within the sacristy was as immaculately laid out as Columcil expected it would be, so he and Washburn each made themselves as comfortable as they could on the stone ledge which ran along the inside of the church walls and served as a seat for those who were unable to stand for the whole of Mass, and each gave themselves over to their thoughts.

Columcil brought into his prayers each of those he had grown to love over the last year then allowed his mind to drift back over Chistmas Eves of the past.

He dwelt with fondness, and something akin to homesickness, on the little grey church of St Melangell and the simple people he had served for so long. The untrained, but all the more beautiful, voices raised in song rejoicing that Christ was born. The nights, perhaps more frequent in memory than in reality, when they had come out from church expecting darkness but were greeted with fresh snow glistening in the starlight. A fitting tribute from creation to He who was the Light of the world.

But clearest in his memory was the night when as a young boy of four he had crept from his pallet while his mother was at Midnight Mass and slipped along to the byre to see the animals kneel in worship at midnight, only to be found later huddled beneath his blanket and sobbing bitterly because they had done no such thing but simply stared stolidly at him while they chewed. His mother had slipped in beside him and held him until he fell asleep. But he had not truly been comforted until coming out of church on the Feast of St Stephen, and waiting with the other children for the sweetmeats which the clerk shared with them on behalf of their kindly priest, the priest himself had taken him aside and explained that the beasts would not kneel with an onlooker present, for their homage was for the Christ child and not the amusement of any purely human child. It had been said with gentle kindness and not in rebuke and, remembering, Columcil blessed himself and said a prayer for the godly soul whose example had led him towards the priesthood.

Lost in thought as he was, Columcil nonetheless  heard the iron latch of the door rattle as the first worshippers entered, and touching Washburn gently on the shoulder he led the way into the Sacristy as once again they prepared to pour out their hearts in thanksgiving for the wonder of God made man.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46 v1)


Such a lovely setting. I love Columcil's memories of other small churches not quite as well cared for and this Wee Church surpassing his expectations. I love his peaceful memory of being a child and seeking to the barn animals to be kneeling and the priest's explanation to calm a child's understanding when that was not what he witnessed. Thank you, Revanne.
May your horses have wings and fly!


A beautiful, touching scene, revanne.  Thank you very much.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


A lovely, inspiring scene. Loved it Revanne. I felt I was there in the church with the worshippers, celebrating the ultimate gift, the birth of the Christ child come to save the world.
"Thanks be to God there are still, as there always have been and always will be, more good men than evil in this world, and their cause will prevail." Brother Cadfael's Penance


Fortunately I have an excellent sacristan, or I might have had to keep Columcil out of my church 😁
The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.


Wash stumbled on the sacristy carpet as he entered. He didn't tumble, thanks to Colucmil's outstretched hand. A few minutes later, as he assisted Columcil with vestments, he dropped the key that unlocked the cabinet which held the stole and chasuble. He apologized as he went down on a knee to retrieve the key from under the dressing chair. He didn't attempt to stand, embarrassed and rushed, he reached up to unlock the cabinet, but then he turned it the wrong way, apparently, for it would not open. "I am sorry," he apologized again. He would need to stand to open it correctly.

Before he could rise, Columcil put his hand over Washburn's hand on the key. "What is bothering you, my son? Is it the bonny lass?" When Wash shook his head, the priest asked more concernedly, "It is not the mass, is it?"

"No," Wash said quickly. "I have been present many times when Duncan has donned his vestments, and I have even assisted a time or two. It is not that, it is just...."

"The Nativity?"

Wash sighed and put his head down. "No and yet, yes. The vigil's of my past have not been, how should I say, given their full due of my attention. Since being a squire, Midnight Mass signaled advent and the preparations for the festivities of Twelfth Night. You should understand, a young man has other priorities; if there were heavy emotions toward this mass, they were entangled in the memory of the first Christmas after my father died, my mother and sisters cried through the whole of it." Wash sighed. "After... well... after that dungeon... lost in darkness, I thought I was doomed, mind and soul. But then I found light and a prayer, which was nearly my undoing, yet, it turned out to be my saving." Wash felt a little awe, looking up at the vestment lamp.

"Aye," Columcil said, both his hands now rested on Washburn's hands. "And now ye are here, a free man." When Wash said no more, Columcil had to ask, "Are you saying that you might be considering the church?"

Wash quickly looked back at the priest, held his questing gaze for a long held breath, then a faint smile crossed the knight's lips. "Oh, that would be a pickle, would it not? As much as that is often a choice for second sons, it is not a choice for this second son. No, I am a warrior, and I am a Healer, and as such it is my duty to protect the kingdom, to marry, and to raise children to pass on my inheritance. But as this is the night that we celebrate the Lady and the birth of our Lord, I have to ask myself if I have the right to bring an innocent maiden into my troubles with consideration for her to be the mother of my future children?"  Wash suddenly stood, opened the cabinet doors revealing the stole and chasuble, he looked long at them and then stood back, "I am in love with Fiona, but Iain is right, I am not good enough for her. I could put her in peril. She could do better than me."

"How dae ye consider 'at two people would be better than two other people fur marriage? That which brings two together can be: Wealth, Status, Safety, Loyalty, Hope, Trust, Faith, Love. A marriage wi' half ay these things at its conception will lead tae a guid marriage an' is a blessing. Less than half... weel... let me say, Laird Jaxom only offered Aliset status and safety, only two traits toward happiness, his love was solely fur himself. A marriage based oan 'at cannae prevail th' testin' ay time. If ye intend tae brin' more than half ay these tae the woman of your choosin', as Darcy has brought tae Aliset, then how can anither man be better than ye fur Fiona."

Columcil looked kindly at Washburn but couldn't avoid a smile as he broke into a thicker brogue betraying his emotions, "Nay doobt, ta lass will hae somethin' ta say aboot it. She isna fond o' others makin' her choices fer her. Like you, she is brave. After all, she ran away from ta manor alone tae warn ta king. She will pursue wha she wants nae matter wha anyone says. I know her safety is ye concern, but I believe ta lass will be safer if tae two o' ye have ta chance tae spend time together. Than ye can learn whether ye are meant tae be together."

With reverence, Columcil reached into the cabinet and pulled forth a lovingly folded white stole with a gold cross embroidered on each long front. His lips touched the cloth with his own love showing. "There abideth these three: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love." If ye truly love the lassie then ye mustna' say that ye are no guid enow. Tha' wuld be ta deny th' grace o' God. Ye say, and right enow that ye are a warrior, an' a warrior fechts fer what he believes to be true an' guid. Gi'e the lassie her chance ta fecht fer ye and gi'e the guid Laird his chance too. And now we mustna keep Himself waiting."

Washburn could see that it was the trinity of Faith, Hope and Love that carried Father Columcil into his own happiness as he dressed for his service to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On this night there was magic in the very air.


The mass was simple in terms of what Washburn had seen in the past at Saint George Cathedral, but this was so much more; it was intimate and moving. The villagers were quiet, attentive, and heartily grateful. Wash stood in the front, off to the side where he could assist Columcil if necessary and where he could watch the demure rosy lips of Fiona. When he looked at her, she was looking down or at the celebrant. When he was attentive to the celebrant, he could swear her eyes were on him. At the end of the mass, their eyes finally connected and there was nothing so moving as the warmth that stirred his racing heart. Here after midnight, at the end of this Nativity mass, he found his light, a brilliance that would never let him succumb to the darkness again.

After, as Wash assisted Columcil in de-vesting in the sacristy, trepidation was no longer part of his demeanor. He knew what he had to do, in time he would succeed, and he would find ways to bring Lady Fiona happiness. The residents of the castle waited for the priest and knight so that they could all walk though the village and farmland together.  The heavier snowfall of the afternoon had dissipated; there were only a few fat snowflakes falling around them and melting on the torch flames the men held to light their way. The white powdery ice over everything glistened and sparkled in the torchlight.

Fiona, perhaps a little spellbound by the night, bent down to look at a bunch of early blooming snowdrop flowers that seemed to poke their heads above the snow's surface and then bend down as if to kiss the snow. When Wash knelt beside her and would have picked the flowers for her, she stopped his hand. "They are so peaceful just where they are," she told him.

As she went to stand, her foot slipped. A caring hand quickly encircled her waist and lifted her up, even as the owner of the hand himself stood. There were sparkles of torchlight in his cornflower blue eyes, eyes that would not let her fall.

Iain cleared his throat, and Wash set Fiona back on her feet. He let Aliset and Lady Stuart take both of Fiona's hands to walk her back to the castle. With a wistful smile, he walked behind, next to Father Columcil and simply said, "Thank You."

((I wish to thank Revanne and Derynifank for some of Columcil's conversation.))
May your horses have wings and fly!


Now is life, and life is always better.


That is really lovely Laurna. Wash is using his past experiences to mature into wisdom without losing his exuberant charm. A worthy match for Fiona.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46 v1)


A wonderful scene, Laurna.  I can feel the magic.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


This scene was lovely and magical.

After a magical night let us move into the festivities of Christmas day https://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,2699.0.html
"Thanks be to God there are still, as there always have been and always will be, more good men than evil in this world, and their cause will prevail." Brother Cadfael's Penance