Thursday, 13 December 2012


What should we do on such an important occasion?  The bishop had come to our priory to ordain some of our fellow Dominicans.  Peter and I were the acolytes. And my brother had to kneel, holding a large book, before the seated bishop. 
All was going smoothly as planned -until a buzzing bee made a beeline for a resting place and   decided to settle on Peter’s face.  ‘Why on his face,’ we wondered? ‘Surely, on such an occasion, a bishop’s face would have been the far more deserving!’ Peter looked as though he was bracing himself for a divine visitation of the not so consoling brand.
 As the insect explored Peter’s face I’m ashamed to admit we watched with deliciously tingling fascination and apprehension. All of us, including his Lordship, froze into absolute stillness. All things considered, none of us wanted to provoke the bee into stinging Peter.  The only movement came from the rabbit-like twitch of the Petrine nose as the bee walked over it.  What should we do?  If we tried to shoo the bee away it might panic and sting Peter.  Any way the bee solved the matter for us by flying away.  Obviously Peter was not a good source of pollen!
This incident reminds me of other occasions when various beasties became involved in the liturgy.  When I was working in a country parish in the W. Indies I had to contend with a bleating goat tethered under a chapel resting on stilts…perhaps it thought the voice of the choir needed reinforcing! And there was a nearby donkey which seemed to have been trained to bray loudly whenever the priest started to preach. Which voice should have been given the chance to be heard?
As for birds in church, once one enters the church every eye follows it and the preacher loses the attention of his congregation. The same was true when a frenzied hen dashed across the sanctuary as an acolyte stalked it with a six foot long stick with a brass candle snuffer on its end.  And I always delighted in the evening solemn procession of bats entering the church through one window and making an orderly exit through another.  But then there’s the myriads of termites, silently munching away at any piece of timber, craftily starting from the inside, until it’s held together only by a lick of paint? Then, unexpectedly, your seat collapses or the roof falls in!
What am I to make of the liturgical involvement of these beasties?  Well, the Bible tells us that simply by being themselves they proclaim the glory of God, their maker. So, when Daniel was spared from the flames of the fiery furnace, he sang, “…All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever,” (Dan. 3. 80-81).   It is for us people to put into words the worship they give to their maker, simply by being themselves.
Tertullian (160-225) expresses this beautifully in his Treatise on Prayer, “All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer. What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honour and power forever and ever. Amen.”
So what right have I to consider the Lord’s creatures intruders when the Psalmist tells us the Lord makes them welcome, Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.”  (Psalm 84.3).  Surely I’m meant to welcome all God’s creatures in His house –provided they don’t make a mess and threaten to sting me!
A final, sardonic thought.  With all these beasties coming to church, making it their home, where are the People of God?
Isidore O.P.

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