Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Now that the star of light has risen, Iam lucis orto sidere,
Let us to God most humbly pray, Deum precemur supplices,
To save us from all hurtful things Ut in diurnis actibus
In all our actions of the day. Nos servet docentibus.

To bridle and restrain our tongue, Linguam refraenans temperet
That wordy war may not resound. Ne litis horror insonet:
To guard and protect our sight, Visum fovendo contegat,
From dangerous follies around. Ne vanitates hauriat.

To drive iniquity away, Sint pura cordis intima,
And purify our inmost soul, Absistat et vecordia;And by spare use of meat and drink, Carnis terat superbiam
our rebel passions to control. Potus cibique parcitas.

That when the day has sped away, Ut cum dies abcesserit,
And He again the night shall bring, Noctemque sors reduxerit,
We may, through holy abstinence, Mundi per abstinentiam,
With purity His glory sing. Ipsi canamus gloriam.

All glory to the Father be; Deo Patri sit gloria,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee; Eiusque soli Filio,
All honour as is ever meet Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
To God, the holy Paraclete. Nunc et per omne saeculum. Amen.

My foggy brain finally made it through the end of my morning offering, when the whistle shrilly echoed in my ears. 'I suppose we'll get used to it by the end of the pilgrimage,' Basia had laughed the day before as the pilgrims serving as traffic directors had urged us to quicken our pace on the last leg of the journey. I scanned the barn loft one more time to be sure I had left nothing behind, scrambled down the ladder and into a morning covered with a cool, sage mist.

It was not long before the group began its public morning prayers. I followed comfortably along with the Pater Noster and Ave Maria, only having to glance at the written version of the Polish Apostles' Creed. Other prayers seemingly not in the Modlitewnik succeeded them.

Then everyone began to sing. I was taken aback a moment for no page number had been announced. Cunningly sneaking up behind a fellow pilgrim I spied at the top of her page: Godzinki o Niepokalanym Poczęciu Najświętszej Maryi Panny--the Matins of Immaculate Heart of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. 'Which you don't know by heart!' I inwardly scolded myself, but it was not long before I gathered the sense of the Polish refrains, even if my ignorant ears were rather shut to the hymns.

The invocation did require my dictionary:

W: Wbyrał Ją Bóg i wywyższył ponad wyszystko,
O: I wziął Ją na mieszkanie do przybytku swego.
W: Pani, wysłuchaj modlitwy nasze,
O: A wołanie nasze niech do Ciebie przyjdzie.

V. God elected her, and pre-elected her.
R. He made her to dwell in His tabernacle.
V. O Lady! aid my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto thee.

The baritone cantor's rich voice led us on through the hymns, which flowed into the morning air as wine dyes the fibres of a cloth as it spreads. Gradually I caught the meaning of the refrains between the songs:

W: Pani, wysłuchaj modlitwy nasze.
O: A wołanie nasze niech do Ciebie przyjdzie.
W: Błogosławmy Panu,
O: Bogu chwała.
W: A dusze wiernych zmarłych przez miłosierdzie Boże niech odpoczywają w pokoju,
O: Amen.

V. O Lady! aid my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto thee.
V. Let us bless the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
V. May the souls of the faithful, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R. Amen.

O Lady, aid my prayer--prayer offered by a distracted, too often despondent, and fickle soul. Remembering the meditations of St. Louis de Montfort, I saw myself in rags, approaching the throne of the King with an apple bruised, worm-eaten, and dirty. Reminded of the guest with no wedding garment, whom the Bridegroom's Father had cast into darkness, I shrank from presenting such a fruit to the King. Then emerged His Mother at my side. Gently she took the apple, washed it in a basin while cutting away its blemishes. She placed it on a silver platter and sprinkled it with flower petals, whereupon she glanced at me, and I begged her to present it to Him herself.

'Amen,' intoned all the sojourners, and we shut the prayer books. I clung a little longer to my image of the Mediatrix, yearning to appreciate it further. Wasn't that indeed the entire point of the pilgrimage?

* * *

An announcement rang out, and I saw every pilgrim, whether youth or aged, lithely swing about their backpacks (a maneuver we all mastered in time) and take out their scarlet breviaries to sing the morning Lauds. So it would follow every morning: an invocation of the gracious Madonna, followed by the songs of him who was after God's own Heart, and then...second breakfast.

At least that's what one man called it, which delighted the cockles of my literary heart. Finding Basia, we reclined together on the long dewy grass at the first rest stop. I took out my missal and found the Mass's readings of the day. It was St. Cajetan's day. A lump rose in my throat on remembering an Alexian brother of the same name, one of the few clerics I have ever known that did not eye me askance for my religious enthusiasm and traditional leanings, but had instead encouraged them.

I glanced at the staff serving as the standard for each group. It was the same as that on the back of the Miraculous Medal, an 'M' hanging upon a cross. Ours was painted white, black, and red with a spray of golden flowers and green grass beneath. How proudly Brother Cajetan would have held it aloft.

'Basia,' I asked, 'Today is St. Cajetan's day isn't it?' She frowned in thought. 'I think today is the feast of a Polish saint.' 'Oh dear,' I thought, 'who knows if I have the same readings we'll have at Mass.'

'You have someone different?' she asked, peering at my missal.
I smiled, 'Yes. Whereas Poland has a universe unto herself of saints, America is obliged to look abroad and everywhere for hers. That's a good thing in its own way though.'

The whistle blew and once again we fell into line on the road, I took out the pilgrimage's little program, soggy and nearly ruined from the downpour the evening before. The logo for this year, sundial etched with the word 'Kocham'--I love--was coloured an eerie, brown hue. The
notion it seemed to present was: 'I love, but time is running out.'

* * *

As if the cantor had read my mind, we were told to turn to page 138 in our songbooks. The next moment we burst forth in song. The hymn, typical to the medieval psyche, was gay and robust in its tune, while somber and earnest in meaning:

Ad mortem festinamus, peccare desistamus, peccare desistamus.

As we hasten on to death, let us refrain from sinning, let us refrain from sinning.

When we finally arrived at Goszczyn, it came upon me as a surprise, as it did indeed everyday no matter the length of the route. 'For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night.' (Thessalonians 5:2) I smiled. Today's theme certainly seemed to have been Memento Mori.

Another announcement was made. The Mass was to be said in the beautiful church we had passed while walking through the little town. I breathed in gratitude that we had our own Mass apart from the rather charismatic celebration that the rest of Group 17 took part in. My stomach suddenly growled, but glancing at my cellphone I saw there might no time to eat anything and still observe the fast, so I grabbed my washing tub and made off to the woods to make myself fit for entering a church.

Dashing back to the barn to pack away my dirty clothes, I met Barbara. She informed me happily that her father was coming from Warszawa to the Mass to, I think, deliver her a second pair of shoes. I smiled somewhat ruefully to think how easily a car would make the distance we had reached with so much toil. Unfortunately, I could not communicate thus much to Barbara in Polish, so we kept to small talk as we walked to the church.

My stomach gave another pang as we knelt, but quickly subsided, allowing me to smile a greeting to Barbara's father. Mass unfolded beautifully, with the Scripture spoken matching that of my missal, though the other variable parts escaped me. But it was just at the moment of consecration, when a hole is torn in the lantern of time and space, and Light--neither signified nor dismembered, but whole and pure--descends on the Host, that I began to fade.

My flesh went cold and perspiration dewed my body all over. My limbs went slack and my forehead helplessly fell against my missal with a mute thump. Black stars clouded my vision, and I begged God not to faint nor to vomit here in His sanctuary. Barbara stood up to go to Communion, but I could not move to let her pass.

I felt her take me by the arm and lead me out into the cool evening air. Another pilgrim brought a bench for me, while one of the priests came out to see whether I was all right. I replied I was and that they should go receive the Body of Christ. They asked me if I did not want to receive. My innards churned again, and I had the grotesque vision of throwing up after communicating, the Body of my Lord mangled with the bile of my stomach. 'Myślę, że nie mogę,' I replied feebly, and they gently took their leave.

A moment after I saw a young woman approach me. She had that peculiar Slavic beauty, with long hair full of golden waves and blue, almond eyes. Unfortunately she was garbed in pyjamas that showed the beauty of her limbs to advantage, though they would have hardly shocked anyone living in the modern age. She asked me a question in Polish, to which I apologetically stated that my Polish was very feeble.

'Oh,' she said enthusiastically, 'You speak English?'
'Yes,' I said, laughing a little at her exuberance.
'I was hoping to meet an English speaker on the pilgrimage. We only have a few Germans in our group, and my German isn't very good. But are you OK?'
'I'm better now. Just a little puny from not having supper yet, I think.'

She frowned and said with the curious force all Polish women possess despite their delicate femininity: 'You are pale! Really, you are white, and I'm taking you to the hospital.'

She meant the medical facilities that traveled with the pilgrims and set up a temporary facility at every encampment, but I protested against making such a fuss. When Barbara came out again to check on me, my angel of mercy immediately initiated her aid in concurring that I looked like death. Unable to resist, I allowed my arm to be taken and myself to be escorted to the hospital.

'My name is Karolina (Karo-LEE-na),' she said, and proceeded to chatter with me in a soothing way as we strolled to the nurses' headquarters. There was quite a queue on our arrival, but Karolina took speedy care of that. 'Brother!' she called out in Polish, and there I had it confirmed that we were all brothers and sisters on this pilgrimage, Mr.'s, Mrs.'s and Misses being left behind in Warszawa. The young man organizing the line turned, and Karolina showed him my face for his benefit. He nodded and I was shown in.

Thus began my interview with the doctor, a considerate woman who spoke very good English. Her questions were thorough as was her examination. I was of course embarrassed at taking up her time with something of which I was sure I knew the cause, but she made certain of it before allowing my departure, even giving me some medication for my nausea.

Karolina was waiting for me with tea and a smile to gently usher me back to the camp. I could never have felt the same fellowship in her group that I felt in mine, but I shall always be grateful for the reminder that in the end, we are not groups, but souls. And souls can minister to one another.

I went to bed that night without any embarrassing questions about my episode, which had fortunately occurred without making any sort of a scene. I murmured a quick prayer that no such thing would happen again though, before I drifted into slumber. Heaven help me, I was going to finish the pilgrimage.


About Me

My Photo
Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
View my complete profile