Christmas Without Christ – Part II

by Catherine Doherty

Continued from Part I published on December 20, 2021


One day it happened! It happened in church. It was an old church with a cold stone floor—without lights, except for the tabernacle light and two slender candles.

It happened right after the consecration, while the priest’s hands were still raised high to allow us all, who were living under a “sentence of death” as it were, to behold Him who died for love of us, and to give us courage if the need arose, to try to die as gallantly for the love of Him.

White were the hands of the priest. White was the Host, shining white were the candles—dark and dim the church—when suddenly the side door opened with a bang and rough voices shouted “Stand still!”

The priest froze with the Host still lifted high. We became statues of immobility lost in the dimness of the church. Soldiers! For that is who they were. Red Army soldiers.

One of them slowly lifted his rifle and slowly took aim.

One shot rang out. Only one. The priest quivered, swayed and fell sideways. The consecrated Host rolled down, down the steps, onto the floor, coming to rest, still and white, on the dark floor by the altar railing—in two pieces.

Silence took over, only to be broken and shattered by the rhythmic steps of the hobnailed boots of the soldiers walking toward the tabernacle, then vaulting over the railing.

Triumphantly their voices suddenly rang out while one of them crushed the consecrated Host under his heel: “There is no God! We have crushed Him.”

Silence wrapped up his voice and killed it. Silence.

The silence of Golgotha entered the church. It hung—even like Christ on the cross—only to be broken again by the thin, reedy voice of an old, old man who spoke from the intense shadows of the church. “Father, forgive them, even if they know what they do.”

The silence came back once more—a new silence of mercy and pardon. The Red Army soldiers shivered a little and slowly slunk away through the sacristy. Their hobnailed boots made dragging sounds that were like a dirge. A door slammed in the back. A moan went through the church—our moan of pain and horror.

Slowly, the old man arose. He was a patriarchal figure, with a long white beard and flowing hair. Reverently he gathered the crushed pieces of the consecrated Host.

Slowly he bade us to come forward and to receive them in our last communion. Maybe our viaticum. We did.

Then we got holy water and scrubbed the floor. And we stayed on, to pray in reparation. We buried the priest secretly. He was the last priest in town; there would be no Mass, no sacraments.

The familiar streets were still filled with danger and death for us. We didn’t mind them anymore, because we ourselves were filled with such desolation, a desolation that no one knows, in countries where there are so many churches and so many priests.

All this happened just before Christmas. And so it was a Christmas without Christ in the tabernacle—without Mass—without confession—without communion. Just the same, it was my most memorable Christmas.

Since they had closed all the doors against His coming, He chose the humble stables of our pain-filled hearts in which to be born anew that strange, lonely, cold Christmas of the first year of the Communist Russian Revolution in 1917.

Sometimes it seems to me to have been the most blessed Christmas of all because, from that day on, I knew that, when all the rest had been taken away from me, nothing mattered but His inner presence in my heart.

Yes, we would have crawled on our knees that Christmas—through the strange and fearsome streets, filled with dangers and death—if only we could have participated in just one more Mass.

Excerpted and adapted from Donkey Bells, (2000), pp. 108-113, MH