Legendarium

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Once upon a time, in the ancient and venerable Brotherhood of Saint Gregory, there arose a tradition. During the reception of communion, as the brothers would join in a line to receive communion from the two sides of the choir-- at the juncture where they joined in a single line -- each brother would bow in reverence to the senior brother who would receive before them. An act of respect.

After a time, it was merely a part of the ritual that was taken for granted during the reception of communion, or during other rites. The reverent bow, the offering of respect to the senior. All of the brothers were diligent in performing the simple act of respect. Or honoring the brother who came before. Except, perhaps, for those senior brothers who after many years in community, perhaps because of a bit of laziness, and by virtue of their seniority no longer felt humble enough to bother.

Except...it didn't really happen this way.

One day, during the Mass, a brother who was relatively new, decided to bow during communion. It was perhaps due to the fact that he was intimate with a culture where bowing was a sign of respect. Soon after, those who were behind him in choir repeated the gesture. Because it was done by a senior brother. Because it was lovely. It felt right.

It took no time at all for the legends and reasons to accrete to this practice. It was ancient. Those who didn't couldn't be bothered anymore. The gesture was so lovely, it was never questioned. It has ever been thus. It was duly handed down to all who came after.

One day, the senior brothers realized what was going on behind them. What a curious thing! Where did this come from? It was strange! How did we not notice until now?

Those who inherited the tradition were surprised that it was merely a few years old! "Has it not always been this way?" The senior brothers giggled.

"No," said the brothers who had come before. "This is a new thing."

How we long for the means to honor one another. In small ways that belie the large ways in which we don't. This is a story of the way holy moments give us the chance to honor one another in seemingly spontaneous ways that have huge implications.

I am, according to legend, a senior brother who could no longer be bothered to show this respect anymore. I laughed when I discovered not just the practice, but the legendarium around it. I marveled at how a small group of newcomers to the community inherited and embraced the tradition within a few short days. I wondered at the means by which it was subtly communicated to them or verbally that made it imperative within days that they enact the tradition. To honor it. How easily it happened!

I am a jaded old brother who never knew the tradition until it was handed forward to me by those who came after. As bizarre as it seems to me, any tradition that has been created to offer more honor to others rather than not is a divine gift. And I hope it continues for ever as part of the ancient and venerable practice of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. It makes me humble. And it gives me joy that I, for a moment, caught a glimpse of the future where religious life strives as always to more deeply honor the dignity of every person. Even if by a simple bow that was reclaimed from ancient practice by diligent young brothers determined to live true to what they'd promised. To honor the dignity of every human person.

What a gift of human folly.