The monk was out walking. The only time he left his enclosure was to visit the cave that Mass was said in.
It was his turn today to say Mass.
The cave was quiet, dark. He lit a small oil lamp. Walking further into the cave, he found the vestments on a small wooden table. He put them on. He set the altar to say Mass, lit the candles, set the oil lamp on the side table, and quietly began.
As he prayed, he thought about his time on retreat, what he’d encountered, the amount of time he’d slept, rested, and was in prayer.
He thought about his family, his friends outside of the monastery. He thought about life in his home town, the farm where he grew up, the smell of the barn in the morning.
He didn’t notice those who’d joined him in the beginning. He had been so focused on preparing the sacrifice, preparing himself, that he’d not noticed until he’d turned to face them, hear the responses.
Adjutorium nostrom in nomini Domini…..
He began his confiteor. He recalled that which he was grateful for, then thought of his faults, all those things which had kept him bound from his love of God, of Christ. He beat his chest, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. Through my most grievous fault.
Slowly, as he read from the missal, recalled what he knew from memory, the world outside the cave began to fade; he began to fade. Until he was face to face with the bread, his body lowered, his mouth close to the host. He whispered:
Hoc est enim corpus meum.
He bowed, raised the host over his head, lowered it back to the altar, bowed again.
He felt his cheeks damp with tears.
He grasped the chalice, said the words of consecration, bowed, raised the chalice, lowered it back to the stone altar, and bowed again.
Quietly, he ate and drank. Quietly, he gave communion to those in his community.
There was silence in the cave before he read the communion prayer. A deep, warm silence filled with memories of laughing infants, dew on blades of grass, the smell of lilac flowers, the radiant reds and blues that hit the floor of the church in the monastery, the smell of the incense, the bells.
They all left, silently, the monk last of all, after he had prepared the sanctuary for the next day’s Mass, the next monk in line who’s turn it was to read.
As he walked back to his hermitage on the side of the mountain, he could hear voices in the desert, voices of his brother monks, singing through the moonlight.