March 8, 2008

September Midday Mass

The tall old priest entered the half-lit sacristy,
fresh from his usual Tuesday morning studies.
The fair-haired acolyte with the bad complexion
was ready, vested, standing in the dimness
quietly. The old priest noticed he was sniffing
and his eyes were red. A failed romance,
he thought; but keeping his own rule on chit-chat
in the sacristy, vested silently.
The old familiar motions and the prayers
displaced whatever thoughts he might have had;
the only dialogue to break the stillness was
the rote exchange of formal preparation.

Then, in one motion as he slipped his hand
beneath the pale green veil, the other hand
upon the burse, he lifted vested vessels,
turned and followed in the sniffing server’s
wake. Eyes lowered to the holy burden
in his hand, he failed to notice that
the chapel for this midday feria —
on other days like this with one or two
at most — was full of worshippers; until
he raised his eyes, and saw the pews were filled —
but undeterred began the liturgy:
the lessons and the gospel from last Sunday,
his sermon brief, but pointed, on the texts.

It wasn’t till the acolyte began
the people’s prayers, and choked out words of planes
that brought a city’s towers down, and crashed
into the Pentagon, and plowed a field
in Pennsylvania, that the old priest knew
this was no ordinary Tuesday in
September —
not ordinary time at all,
that day he missed the towers’ fall.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
March 8, 2008


Erika Baker said...

This had me in tears - thank you.

susan s. said...

This brings me closer to what actually happened than all the repeats of the collapse of the towers we saw on tv. After the 3rd or 4th time, all I could think was 'Why do they have to show this over and over?"

Thank you again, Tobias.

Fran said...

Oh my. This shook me to my core Tobias... In a way we must all be shook at various times.

Thank you.

Ellie Finlay said...

My goodness.

That is very, very powerful.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

i posted a link over on my own blog, so much did i love this.

what i think i love most about it is its fundamental rightness, that somehow the priest in the poem did things exactly right on that day, despite the outward appearance of having cluelessly missed something, the reality was he was where he needed to be and that made all the difference. at least, that's how i read the poem.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments and encouragement. This is one of those things that just popped into my head yesterday morning, and more or less wrote itself in the afternoon. I'm still unpacking what it means (as I find is often the case with poetry, even when I write it!) but I think Thomas is on to something -- that blessed cluelessness that finds one at ones work regardless, and that the work itself is both work of God and work of and for God's people.

It struck me later in the day that it would, imho, make an interesting short film -- imagine Hal Holbrook and say, Michael Cera as the priest and server. You would need an actor with a face like Holbrook's to catch the wordless expression in a tight closeup on his face as the prayers are read...

Unknown said...


Thank you for this poem, just wonderful, I too have posted it on my blog (with attribution), thanks for sharing this powerful piece,


Anonymous said...

You brought back some interesting memories. Most notably, crossing the Potomac River on a D.C. Metro train on the Yellow line, and how all chatter stopped as we turned to watch he Pentagon puffing billows of acrid smoke.

Silence, pain, disbelief.

Pray for those lost, and those who loved them. Lord, hear our prayer.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Beauty and heartbreak.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I have read this several times, because it moved me so, but I did not know what to say, however, Brother Thomas says it for me:"

what i think i love most about it is its fundamental rightness,

Doug Worgul said...


RFSJ said...


At first, I confess I thought it was poetic history, that it actually happened and you set it to verse. I had to read the other comments to realize that it was even more poignant than that. I remember that day quite well - I ended up driving to church that afternoon because it seemed right to be there. We were doing a Vigil of Psalms with whoever was present - we started at 1 and went through 150 and kept it up. that Evening there was an interfaith prayer service that packed the place. I imagine many parishes experienced the same, particularly in the NY area.

I was down in the Financial District today, on Broad Street, down from the NYSE. I of course took the PATH in to the WTC station. Odd how I don't usually consciously notice the Hole that is right there for all to see, but I keenly felt and saw the barriers for trucks and pedestrians that dot the streets around the exchanges. Not the churches, of course, just the financial exchanges.