Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I was stationed very near the domed and gilded shrine I have already described; at the corner of one of the vast encampments which cut up the whole huge plain into squares; like the assemblages of the tribes in some tremendous primitive revelation. I could hear directly almost all that was directly addressed to the congregation, which was carried everywhere elsewhere through the resounding mirrors of the loudspeakers. But I think everyone who heard all those things, directly or indirectly, will agree salve fide and apart from the invariable values of the Canon, that the most astonishing thing they heard was something that they could hardly hear. At one of the moments when Catholics would be accustomed to hear the clear and rather shrill tinkle of the bell of the Sanctus, there was heard a sound that must be almost unique in human history. It was as faint as the sound of a far-offsheep-bell and as weak as the bleat of a sheep; but there was something in it that was not only weighty, but curiously hard; almost dead; without the resonance that we mean by music. It was as if it came out of the Stone Age; when even musical instruments might be made of stone. It was the Bell of St. Patrick; which had been silent for 1,500 years.

Update: Dr. Thursday sent more!

I know no poetical parallel to the effect of that little noise in that huge presence. Some such imaginative nerve was once touched for me, in a context quite incongruous and infinitely less important, by one fine artistic instinct in Rostand's play about the only son of Napoleon. That play is simply filled with the name of Napoleon; and the author was far too clever to suggest the ghost of Napoleon, or even the ghost of a ghost of Napoleon. But an old Napoleonic soldier dies in delirium, dreaming of the last charge at Wagram and the victory. And among the last noises of battle, the rush of horse-hooves and the rest, there is heard, tiny and clear and infinitely far away, just the voice beginning: 'Officiers; sous-officiers; soldats . ..' and then no more. That is as near as the ghost comes to his ghost story. Multiply that by a million-fold more of import and intensity than all the greatness of Napoleon; extend that by twelve times the length of time that separates us from Napoleon; and it was something like that little distant voice, that was heard for a moment by all those thousands. From far away in the most forgotten of the centuries, as if down avenues that were colonnades of corpses, one dead man had spoken and was dumb. It was Patrick; and he only said: 'My Master is here.'

And after that, I for one could realize little but a catastrophic silence, till it could be crowned with the only fitting close. From the four corners of the sacred enclosure the all-shattering trumpets shouted, like the Sons of God shouting for joy. And all along the front there ran, like a sudden lightning, the light upon the lifted swords; for all the soldiers standing before the altar saluted with a blazing salute of steel, carrying the hilt to the head in the old swordsman's salutation,and then striking outwards, in the ancient gesture of the Romans.

Her face was like a King's Command
When all the swords are drawn.

The old line of Belloc's song went through my mind for a moment; and none could doubt in that day what King was commanding; almost visible upon His throne.

Christendom in Dublin 72-3

Thank you so much Dr. Thursday!

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