A VIGNETTE IS A FROZEN and held life-moment - a tiny scene that begs attention so to find meaning, a little window into history, sensitive observation or some inner place.
In 1965, but before the liturgical changes, I was a helper to the sacristan of my parish. I'd replenish the candles in the blue and red votive glasses, lay out vestments for the next Mass, polish the brass followers which were placed on the tops of altar candles to keep the melted wax from dripping and making a mess.
Holy Thursday came at the end of Lent as a hopeful and happy note: the Church commemorating Jesus' self-gift in the Holy Eucharist. But while there was a theme of joy there was also the start of a long, quiet prayer time around what was called the Altar of Repose - a highly decorated and candle-lit space where the parish "Kept Jesus company in the Garden of Olives" and through his long night in prison and his trial, until three o'clock or so on Good Friday.
That Thursday afternoon the church flowers were delivered from a wholesale greenhouse. They arrived in large, flat cardboard boxes which were placed closed on the floor until parish ladies arrived later in the day to arrange them in vases for the altar.
My parish was was a rather minimalist place, only once or twice a year was there any expression of high style or extravagance. But I remember, bending over and when opening one box there was the suction sound of air rushing in which seemed to me to be a great spicy-fragrant breath, and dozens of extraordinarily fresh white flowers with gray-green leaves were revealed, all laid out in rows, cold and moist from having been kept in the florist's refrigerator.
I don't remember who told me what the flowers were called, perhaps my mother who knew the names of flowers. I've only this week discovered that Stock's botanical name is Matthiola Incana. Of even greater interest is the discovery that the flowers and leaves of the lovely plant have (when mixed with wine) been used as medicine - able to heal wounds and as an antidote against poisonous bites!
The symbolism-of-flowers book says that Matthiola Incana is also a symbol of contentment and the promise of a happy life. So I have that fourteen year old sacristy-scene frozen in my mind and now in hindsight see what I was opening up and uncovering. Fifty years ago, God promising the healing of the wounds and poisonous bites of my youth: sex abuse and the disintegration of home life, parental depression and alcoholism, school failure and loneliness, but beyond all of that, a very happy life, filled with deep healing, good people and faith, Jesus and Mary, saints and angels, beauty and learning, animals and plants, experience and gift. Indeed! "How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me." Psalm 116:12
I found Matthiola Incana in the florist shop of an upscale supermarket the other day. The reminding-scent is filling my home.