Ah! how short was the time; and yet so long that the Prior looked up sharply, and the deacon shifted in his rustling silk.
Then again the hands opened, and the stately flood of petition poured on, as through open gates to the boundless sea that awaited it, where the very heart of God was to absorb it into Itself.
The great names began to flit past, like palaces on a river-brink, their bases washed by the pouring liturgy—Peter and Paul, Simon and Thaddeus, Cosmas and Damian—vast pleasure houses alight with God, while near at hand now gleamed the line of the infinite ocean.
The hands came together, arched in blessing; and it marked the first sting of the healing water, as the Divine Essence pushed forward to meet man’s need.
"Hanc igitur oblatianem ...”
Then followed the swift silent signs, as if the pilot were ordering sails out to meet the breeze.
The muttering voice sank to a deliberate whisper, the ripples ceased to leap as the river widened, and Chris was delicately fingering the white linen before taking the Host into his hands.
There was a swift glance up, as to the great Sun that burned overhead, one more noiseless sign, and he sank forward in unutterable awe, with his arms on the altar, and the white disc, hovering on the brink of non-existence, beneath his eyes.
* * * * *
The faintest whisper rose from behind as the people shifted their constrained attitudes. Sir James glanced up, his eyes full of tears, at the distant crimson figure beneath the steady row of lights, motionless with outspread hands, poised over the bosom of God’s Love.
The first murmured words broke the silence; as if next to the Infinite Pity rose up the infinite need of man—Nobis quoque peccatoribus—and sank to silence again.
Then loud and clear rang out Per omnia saecula saeculorum; and the choir of monks sang Amen.
So the great mystery moved on, but upborne now by the very Presence itself that sustained all things. From the limitless sea of mercy, the children cried through the priest’s lips to their Father who was in heaven, and entreated the Lamb of God who takes away sin to have mercy on them and give them peace.
Then from far beyond the screen Mary could see how the priest leaning a little forward towards That which he bore in his hands, looked on what he bore in them; and she whispered softly with him the words that he was speaking. Ave in aeternum sanctissima caro Christi ...
Again she hid her face; and when she raised it once, all was over, and the Lord had entered and sanctified the body and soul of the man at whose words He had entered the creature of bread.
The father and daughter stood together silently in the sunshine outside the west end of the church, waiting for Chris. He had promised to come to them there for a moment when his thanksgiving was done.