Tuesday, May 3, 2011 | Neyruz, Switzerland
I WENT TO church again this morning, with Isabelle and Jean-Maurice. I had suggested to Isabelle when I arrived that it might be a good idea to honor our dead friend, Rogelio Reyes Cannady, by attending a mass together, so she got on the internet and found a nearby church that offered daily masses.
It was a beautiful old church constructed of what appeared to be limestone. Nice, restrained architecture and great lighting that made it appear as if the church was flooded with brilliant sunshine, even though it was raining.
It was a good mass, and even though my French is not that great, I was able to rely on my knowledge of the Catholic ritual, my Spanish and the Latin I remembered from when the liturgy was all in Latin, when I was growing up in the pre-Vatican II days to follow along. Except for the brief sermon; I was totally lost there. I was even able to join in on some of the hymns.
It was an emotional experience and throughout the service I kept picturing Rogelio smiling, pleased that two of his favorite people and closest friends, and Jean-Maurice, whom he never met but was fond of nonetheless, were sharing this special time together. With him.
However, there was also a sense of disappointed because I didn’t feel any real emotional intensity. I was touched and I was moved, but I wasn’t shaken. It was not the cathartic moment I had hoped it might be. Except for those few minutes around 6 p.m. in May 19, the day he was executed, when I let the tears flow in the privacy of my home, I had felt little emotion about Rogelio’s death, other than an unsettling sense of guilt over not having been able to be with him on his final day on earth.
Maybe I thought this mass would purge me of this emotional baggage regarding Rogelio, and that was probably an unfair and unrealistic expectation. It was asking something of a ritual that I should be able to provide on my own.
Despite that, it was a special hour nonetheless. Being there with Isabelle and Jean-Maurice, listening to that sacred music did wonders. And after the mass, when the priest led the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament service, I felt I had come close to accomplishing my mission.
In particular, it was when the priest led the final hymn, a Gregorian chant written by Thomas Aquinas, Tantum Ergo.
It had been years since I had heard that haunting chant, which had always been among my favorites. I don’t think I ever learned the English translation of the hymn (and I’m sorry I looked them up now because they in now way hold the magic that the Latin does), but, as a kid, I always thought that the first line of each of its two stanzas had a special beauty.
The first is, “Tantum ergo Sacramentum.”
The second is, “Genitori, Genitoque.”
The last two words, in particular, always sent my heart soaring. And they did so again this morning.