Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 14

“Now, you know,” said Lady St. Jerome to Lothair in a hushed voice, as they sat together in the evening, “you are to be quite free here; to do exactly what you like; and we shall follow our ways. If you like to have a clergyman of your own Church visit you while you are with us, pray say so without the slightest scruple. We have an excellent gentleman in this parish; he often dines here; and I am sure he would be most happy to attend you. I know that Holy Week is not wholly disregarded by some of the Anglicans.”

“It is the anniversary of the greatest event of time,” said Lothair; “and I should be sorry if any of my Church did not entirely regard it, though they may show that regard in a way different from your own.”

“Yes, yes,” murmured Lady St. Jerome; “there should be no difference between our Churches, if things were only properly understood. I would accept all who really bow to the name of Christ; they will come to the Church at last; they must. It is the atheists alone, I fear, who are now carrying every thing before them, and against whom there is no comfort, except the rock of St. Peter.”

Miss Arundel crossed the room, whispered something to her aunt, and touched her forehead with her lips, and then left the apartment.

“We must soon separate, I fear,” said Lady St. Jerome; “we have an office to-night of great moment; the Tenebrae commence to-night. You have, I think, nothing like it; but you have services throughout this week.”

“I am sorry to say I have not attended them,” said Lothair. “I did at Oxford; but I don’t know how it is, but in London there seems no religion. And yet, as you sometimes say, religion is the great business of life; I sometimes begin to think the only business.”

“Yes, yes,” said Lady St. Jerome, with much interest, “if you believe that you are safe. I wish you had a clergyman near you while you are here. See Mr. Claughton, if you like; I would; and, if you do not, there is Father Coleman. I cannot convey to you how satisfactory conversation is with him on religious matters. He is the holiest of men, and yet he is a man of the world; he will not invite you into any controversies. He will speak with you only on points on which we agree. You know there are many points on which we agree?”

“Happily,” said Lothair. “And now about the office to-night: tell me about these Tenebrae. Is there any thing in the Tenebrae why I ought not to be present?”

“No reason whatever; not a dogma which you do not believe; not a ceremony of which you cannot approve. There are Psalms, at the end of which a light on the altar is extinguished. There is the Song of Moses, the Canticle of Zachary, the Miserere — which is the 50th Psalm you read and chant regularly in your church — the Lord’s Prayer in silence; and then all is darkness and distress — what the Church was when our Lord suffered, what the whole world is now except His Church.”

“If you will permit me,” said Lothair, “I will accompany you to the Tenebrae.”

Although the chapel at Vauxe was, of course, a private chapel, it was open to the surrounding public, who eagerly availed themselves of a permission alike politic and gracious.

Nor was that remarkable. Manifold art had combined to create this exquisite temple, and to guide all its ministrations. But to-night it was not the radiant altar and the splendor of stately priests, the processions and the incense, the divine choir and the celestial harmonies resounding lingering in arched roofs, that attracted many a neighbor. The altar was desolate, the choir was dumb; and while the services proceeded in hushed tones of subdued sorrow, and sometimes even of suppressed anguish, gradually, with each psalm and canticle, a light of the altar was extinguished, till at length the Miserere was muttered, and all became darkness. A sound as of a distant and rising wind was heard, and a crash, as it were the fall of trees in a storm. The earth is covered with darkness, and the veil of the temple is rent. But just at this moment of extreme woe, when all human voices are silent, and when it is forbidden even to breathe “Amen”— when every thing is symbolical of the confusion and despair of the Church at the loss of her expiring Lord — a priest brings forth a concealed light of silvery flame from a corner of the altar. This is the light of the world, and announced the resurrection, and then all rise up and depart in silence.

As Lothair rose, Miss Arundel passed him with streaming eyes.

“There is nothing in this holy office,” said Father Coleman to Lothair, “to which every real Christian might not give his assent.”

“Nothing,” said Lothair, with great decision.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19