Saturday, December 02, 2006

Father Veils

ROSARIO’s mother heard mass on Sundays because she believed good Catholics sacrificed to receive the body of Christ.

Rosario, then 9, only felt the sacrifice: waking at dawn, walking three kilometers to town, putting on her shoes only when they reached the highway.

In the church, it was another sacrifice not to close her eyes from the warmth of so many bodies packed tightly within those eggshell-white walls.

Rosario preferred it when all the pews were occupied. She and her mother then had to stand near one of the alcoves.

Because her mother was preoccupied keeping her place in the crowd and fingering the beads of her rosary while listening to the priest, Rosario could look, undisturbed, at the statues enshrined in the alcoves.

Aside from candle melt, sweets and flowers, there was sometimes a miniature or two left at the foot of the statue of a saint or the Virgin Mother.

These miniatures were often chipped, faded or dirty. These were gone after a week or two. Rosario revised her first impression that these were offerings left by devotees.

The statuettes, she believed, were taken back by the owners when they thought these had absorbed some of the power in the church statues.

Rosario believed this because, whenever she lifted her gaze to the statue towering above her, she always found the glass, marble or painted eyes gazing back at her.

The girl imagined that infinite knowledge and infinite acceptance were reflected in those lacquered eyes fringed with stiff, brush-like lashes.

Rosario felt different about the Holy of Holies, the cabinet placed in the center of the altar. Before this, her mother prayed on her knees, genuflected, and prostrated herself on too many occasions to be counted.

Rosario’s earliest memory of mass had been the priest’s hands opening the cabinet doors, painted white and gold, to reveal red curtains.

A young Rosario had asked her mother what the priest was hiding from them.

But even the hushed tones of her mother telling her about the Body of Christ in the tabernacle had failed to impress Rosario.

If anything, the red curtains reminded her of the stage backdrop put up in the plaza during fiestas. That plaza curtain covered cracks and holes gouged in the wall.

When Rosario entered high school, she left her mother to work for a family in town. She studied in exchange for doing housework.

When the parish priest approached her mistress about a youth choir he was organizing, the devout lady volunteered Rosario’s Saturday afternoons.

Once, after choir practice, the priest instructed Rosario to return the music sheets to his room. That night, Rosario did not return to her employer’s house. She went back to her mother. She stopped schooling.

A day before she was to leave to become a helper in Dumaguete, she went to church, not to hear mass.

But she did not see him. Or if it was the same priest, he wore a mask. When his lids swept down and hooded his eyes, Rosario remembered the sensation she had as a child, watching red curtains fall and conceal what her mother and others could only whisper about. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 3, 2006 issue

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