David Russell Mosley
3 April 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
I went to my first confession today. Up to this point in my journey toward Catholicism, I believed I couldn’t receive this particular sacrament, not until I was officially received into the Catholic Church. However, at my last confirmation class, I learned that not only could I go, it would be good for me to go, especially if I had any mortal sins to confess. And since I’m a fallen human being, I certainly did.
If you’ve never gone to confession, I’m not sure I can totally describe the experience. I was a little terrified at first. While I’m usually quite at home in new settings and with new people, I can become paralyzingly anxious if I don’t know the proper way to behave. This actually kept me from attending a Catholic church for some time. I hated being there and not knowing when to stand, when to sit, what to say. It’s nearly debilitating, this fear I have. But, I knew this was something I needed to do, and with the help of the Sick Pilgrims, I got the courage to go.
The priest was kind and generous. He talked me through the process, said Act of Contrition with me line by line, and then absolved me of sins. Well, God gave me the absolution, the priest was just the means by which I received it. It felt like I was finally forgiven of the sins I had committed since my baptism. It gave me hope that maybe, by God’s grace, I could actually fight against the temptations I had been daily giving in to. I nearly wept as I left the confessional and went to my seat.
I’ve had a few different favorite seats since I started attending St. Patrick’s. Lately, I’ve favored the right hand side of the church, toward the front, right in front of a statue of Mary. Since today was Passion Sunday, Mary––and all the other statues and crucifixes––were covered with purple veils. The veils on the statues of St. Patrick, Jesus, and St. Joseph all fit them rather oddly due to staves held in hands or just the positions of their hands. Mary’s, however, fit perfectly. At the crown of her head it was perfectly smooth and it flowed it in small pleats from there until it reached her outstretched arms. From her fingertips, the veil cascaded down. It reminded me, in so many ways of the picture at the top of this letter.When I had entered the church that morning, I was struck by how beautiful it looked as the sunlight poured in through the stained-glass windows on the eastern side of the building. I wished they hadn’t turned on even the scant lights they had in that time between services. When I say down in my pew after confession, I noticed that the light combined with the colors of the stained-glass made an interesting design on the wall next to the veiled Mary.
I can’t really describe it better than to say it looked a bit like a goblin. It had a green outline, with green, pointed ears. There were streaks of yellow following the inner curves of the green outline. And it had a red eye. At first I found it a bit funny. I was still feeling rather joyful (and a bit sorrowful at the idea of my sins), but as time went on, it felt almost more ominous. After all, why should the sun through the stained-glass conjure up an image of a goblin. A fairy or an elf would have been easier to explain, but a goblin?
Still, I did my best to ignore and began to contemplate the purple veils. In my Dark Devotional for Sick Pilgrim on the Transfiguration, I said that Christianity is an unveiling religion. And it is. Yet, here we veil the beautiful as we enter into the darkness that is Passiontide. We veil it in part so as not to fast from the beauty of the imagery as we are meant to fast from the goodness of many other material things (primarily food). We veil them in order to see something else, and to be reminded that before the resurrection, not all things had been unveiled. Even now we are still in the process of unveiling. But here and now, we veil the beauty to help us remember our sins.
And so I returned to the goblin. As the Mass neared its conclusion, the sun had risen and the goblin sunk. What was left of it’s head had now descended to the level of Mary’s feet. And how could I not then be reminded of Genesis 3:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
And while it is Christ and not Mary who ultimately crushes the head of the serpent, there is something fitting about the head being at Mary’s feet. After all, Mary is, in so many ways, a recapitulation of Eve as Christ is a recapitulation of Adam. So having the goblin succumb to the veiled Mary, veiled in part as we try to imagine life before the resurrection of Christ, that even which has transfigured all of human history, seems fitting. She is, in a way, still pregnant with Christ as she stands there veiled, for we await the third birth of Christ, the resurrection. Something we see in the foreshadowing of Lazarus’ resurrection, which was the gospel for today. In Passiontide, we re-enter this veiled time, but unlike the disciples, unlike Mary and Martha, we know what lies behind the veil. We know what is to be revealed.