I am looking forward to being in the congregation at the English-language service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and I slip quietly into a pew. I’m barely settled when I am extricated from my spot, vested in an alb, and placed into the procession to the altar. All this, before 7:30 a.m., and I’m still jet-lagged. I sigh.
Not a good beginning.
A good service, though, and after the distribution of the elements at the Eucharist, I watch children come to the altar rail for a blessing. I’m asked to assist. Three young girls are the first at the rail, and I place my hands upon their heads and pronounce a blessing. I’m building up steam to move down the rail when the third girl tugs on my alb. ‘Please pray for her,’ she says, motioning to the second girl. ‘She cannot see.’
I do so. And I pause to watch the three girls leave together, the two helping the sightless one back to their pew.
The second service at the Cathedral is the Setswana-language service, with a dash of English tossed in from time to time.
The retired bishop, Bishop Naledi, is the celebrant, and he has Fr. James sit to his left, and me to his right. During the offertory, he leans over to me and says, ‘I don’t know if you were a Scout, but priests are also always supposed to be prepared.’ He looks at me. I respond noncommittally.
‘Do you have your English prayer book?’ he asks. ‘I want you to say…,’ and here he repeats a few phrases from the Eucharistic Prayer that seem familiar.
I do not know that Bishop Naledi has steadily lost his sight during recent years, and he can no longer read. (He has committed the liturgy for Holy Communion to memory.) Thus, unaware, I hold out the prayer book, asking him to point out what, exactly, he wants me to do. He does not look at it.
The good Bishop leans over once more. ‘Just start right after the Acclamation,'’he instructs, ‘and just fire away.’
I smile. I’ve rarely seen ‘fire away’ in my study of liturgy.
Then he concludes: ‘When you come to "Jesus Christ," stop.’