Chapter 22

in which Father Joseph Scott celebrates his first Mass.

Father Joseph Scott was ordained priest by the Bishop in the pro-Cathedral on the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, 1932, and said his first Mass the next day in the chapel of the convent, because the nuns had asked for him to say it there, as he had learned his first lessons from them as a little boy. Lilies and roses from Mother de la Tour's garden had been banked on and about the altar and the white flag of Henri IV, of François I, and of Joan of Arc had been hoisted at the gates, as the nuns didn't like the tricolor any more now that the religious orders had been driven out of France. The children of the junior school were to make their first communion, the Bishop himself was to preach a special sermon, and, unknown to Reverend Mother, Mother Leclerc had smuggled the parrot up with her into the organ loft, because she thought that even an animal ought not to be allowed to miss the edifying ceremony of a newly ordained priest saying Holy Mass for the first time.

The Bishop and Monsignor O'Duffy and Canons Bonnyboat and Smith all met in the sacristy and helped Father Scott to put on the heavy old red chasuble which had once been worn by the Curé d'Ars, now called Saint Jean Vianney, and which had been laid out specially by the nuns. As soon as they entered the chapel Mother Leclerc began to play the Ecce Sacercdos Magnus. It was a good thing she knew the score by heart, because she was crying so much that she couldn't read the music as she was playing it for Father Scott as well as for the Bishop; but the children didn't know the words well, because they had learned them only the previous week and they broke down when they came to 'Non est inventus similis illi, qui conservaret legem excelsi,' but Mother Leclerc knew it didn't really matter, because Almighty God heard all right. As they walked down the aisle, the Bishop scattered little blessings to right and to left, because he was their Father-in-God, their good and wise Pontiff.

After the Gospel, with its appropriate counsel, 'Ecce ego mitto vos sicut oves in medio luporum. Estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes et simplices sicut columbae,' Father Scott left the altar, and the Bishop spoke out over the nuns' coifs, riding the pews, like gulls on waves.

The priest who was saying Mass for the first time today and the children who were going to receive their first holy communion at his hands must always remember, the Bishop said, that far greater than the marvels of trains and aeroplanes and wireless telegraphy was the miracle of the Blessed Sacrament, in which Jesus came and came again in a clean white wind. The continuance of this miracle down the ages had been secured by the Sacrament of Order by which bishops and priests and deacons were consecrated and ordained for God's work. Before our Lord had ascended into heaven, He had given power to His apostles, not only to forgive sins and to turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood as He Himself had done at the Last Supper in the upper room, but also to transmit those holy powers to other men, so that the sacraments might go on and on across continents and through jungles and down past kings and queens as they grew old and died, and past Popes too, sliding away down over the windows of empires and kingdoms and republics in a lovely rope of silver and gold. That rope was known to theologians as the apostolic succession; and each time that a bishop ordained a priest there blew down from heaven a great gust of Holy Ghost which inflated the ordinand's soul with the same powers as our Lord had breathed upon the apostles when He had commanded them to go and teach all nations whatsoever things He had commanded them. The nuns began to weep as the Bishop said this, but they weren't weeping because they were sad, but because they were happy, because a new priest had been given to God.

Father Scott's father and mother were the first to receive holy communion at the young priest's hands, as was only fitting, since they had given him to God. Mr. Scott wore his tramwayman's blue uniform for the occasion because he had to go out on points duty immediately afterwards, but his wife had bought a new hat, all yellow and green and blue and red. Then came Father Scott's brothers and sisters, all the steps and stairs of them, and then the children in their lovely white dresses and then the nuns with grave faces and folded hands. Last of all came a tall dark lovely young woman whom Canon Smith didn't recognize as Elvira Sarno until it was all over and Father Scott had prayed to Holy Michael, the Archangel, to deliver them on the day and to thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wandered through the world for the ruin of souls.


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