Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The open sacristy door...

Meet the open sacristy door. 

Now, to non-Catholics reading this, it's probably just a door.  

Catholics may understand a bit more about where this is going, as the sacristy door is a definite boundary. How much of a boundary depends on the church: the higher the church, the greater the demarcation between priest and laity, and it becomes more like the door of a house than a room.

This, as you can guess, is 'my' open sacristy door at the O.

Why 'my'? Well, because... I have to confess to a relationship with the open sacristy door.

And yes, I can sense your puzzlement from here.

Now, if the sacristy door is closed, I won't touch it without reason: real need of a priest, someone has a phone call and we're checking if they're in there, that kind of thing. 

But the open sacristy door, well...it's like an emotionally unavailable boyfriend. It draws; it tantalises; it gives you a peek as to what's really going on inside; maybe even lets you in briefly, but it's never going to be a lasting relationship. You're always going to be shut out again.

Moth - flame.

I've walked through that door to clean, to play a St Philip's Day practical joke, to speak to the sacristan or the celebrant - that doorway and I know each other well. I've walked all the way in, poked my head round, even tried on one of the servers' cassocks (No Oratorians read this, so they'll never know :-D - and yes, my bum DID look big in it. I looked even hippier than any of the Oratorians do in that DIRE cotta that has lace from the waist down and ends at EXACTLY the wrong place - one day, it will disappear, oh yes it will).

In this, the sacristy door and I have a healthy relationship - no co-dependency, no attempt to make the door what it isn't, no trying to get it to commit.

No, the unhealthy part of our relationship is the peek-a-boo one.

There are few things quite so mesmerising as watching the preparation for mass through that door - the hurried conversations which give brief insight into the emotional tenor; the moving things around; the fiddling with the vestments that have been laid out. But nothing quite captures the attention like the vesting.

Watching the transformation is riveting, especially when it's someone you know well or are close to. Clericals or cassocks aren't an issue, that's how you know them - though I insist on mufti if we're stepping off the premises for coffee or dinner. But vestments - they bring a strangeness into the familiarity, even if one still feels comfortable enough to send a 'WTF' look across the sanctuary during the odd snippet of a 20th century mass setting. There's no way to quite explain what watching that strangeness settle in, layer by layer, is like.

But as John O'Donohue reminds us, that sense of strangeness, of 'other', often brings the familiarity into sharp, sometimes heart-stopping focus. Certain ways of doing things - adjusting cinctures, chasubles, amices, chalices make one think, 'Oh, that is SO you,' and grin affectionately. But the moments that make one's breath catch are the glimpses of something deeper - the moment of utter vulnerability where they're just in an alb, before the chasuble goes on; the expression as they adjust an amice in the mirror by the sacristy door; the fingers through their hair. The precious seconds when the mask slips, and for an instant, there they are.

And it is here I beg the sacristy door, 'Show me more.'

But in the way of all things emotionally unavailable, once it has found the emotional hook and drawn one in, even allowed one a glimpse of the reality within...

...the door closes.

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