Essay Sunday

The dawn of visions

/ 07:49 AM December 22, 2013

For the past several days, the wife and I have been waking up at three in the morning, a bleak and merciless hour. To make sure that we would not miss it, I set the alarm on both the radio clock and my cellphone.

Usually I respond to the alarm first. Perhaps I am the more nervous one. Indeed, I am the first to be alerted by sound, such as the barking of our dog Eve (which has a repertoire of varied styles, depending on the intruder) and the romp and caper of rodents on the ceiling. After a couple of stretches and one long yawn, I sit on the edge of the bed to pray (mindful of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s comment that God must have the first word upon one’s rising). I then turn to the wife to wake her up.


This happens only at this time of year, beginning on the sixteenth of December, when the traditional nine-day Mass begins, the Misa de Gallo, which ends on Christmas Eve morning. For this year, we have chosen to attend the Misa de Gallo at a multi-paneled chapel by the sea, a drive of downwards of ten minutes from our home.

Getting out of bed was hardest on the first morning. Ordinarily we hit the sack towards midnight and rise up after six o’clock. Although, for the first morning, we made it a point to retire early, so that we would not lose any sleeping time, our bodies were not attuned to the change, and even now, after several dawns of the new schedule, we have to prop ourselves up with firmness of purpose.


To be sure, there are rewards once we succeed and we are out of the house in accord with the timetable. The cool, dawn air lifts the sleepiness off the eyes and soothes the face and limbs, and one breathes nothing but freshness. The ride offers a different view of the same road, quiet, whose stillness is however alive with another life, that which thrives in the dark, into which as it thins the joggers dissolve.

For three or four days in succession there was a moon, which attained fullness on the second night, and thereafter became part of a seesaw, setting as the sun was rising, giving the wife and me ample time, after the Mass, to have a selfie or two with at the back of us a white host in the sky.

A hallowed Catholic tradition in this country, the dawn Mass is a way of preparing for Christmas, by way of honoring Mary, the Mother of God, to be celebrated, as directed by Pope Sixtus V, well before sunrise to allow the farmers thereupon to repair to the fields and harvest the mellowing rice.

Dawn being the time when dreams abound, I have a problem keeping steady during the Mass, but on the whole I emerge victorious in my struggle to pay attention to the rite, although I sometimes lose a skirmish and slip into a slumberous state. In somewhat such a condition, an angel appeared to Joseph, telling him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This was because Mary was found to be with child, and Joseph, a virtuous man, had resolved to send her away quietly, so as not to embarrass her. Matthew writes that, “[w]hen Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…”

Sleep, then, is as important as waking, for who knows when the Lord will speak. At one time, during the Mass, I swayed on my feet and was tempted to think in this manner and to just let go, but checked myself in time and averted a collapse. I was about to be conscience-stricken when I realized that the Gospel that the priest was reading was about Joseph’s dream.

But my elation was not without a little unease. I recalled what Peter said during Pentecost about the last days, “[Y]our young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Instinctively, I straightened up, and listened fully to the readings. I waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, convinced that, rather than having dreams, I really should be seeing visions.


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