Microfiction #writephoto: Losing it

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto writing prompt.



Turn off the lights, the priest muttered in his head. Turn off the damn lights!

The church had been refurbished and modernised against his will. The parishoners had raised most of the money and the diocese had donated the rest. They’d all rallied round big mouth Gallagher when he’d come up with the idea and there’d been no stopping the fund-raising events, one after the other until they’d hit their target.

Father Collins thumped his way up the stairs from the sacristy, eyes cast down to his feet, refusing to look at the flashy new brickwork and the new skylights with the ridiculous tinted glass. He had been a young priest, fresh from County Cork when Vatican II had turned things upside down. Letting the men and women sit together was a great mistake, and forcing the priest to face their thick faces to say the office. It stripped away all the mystery of the Mass, brought the words out into the open. It had been so much more sacred when only the priest heard the holy words, only the priest spoke to God. Now every last eejit in the parish bawled out the responses, watched the gestures and the ritual, as if he understood it at all! And where did that leave the priest? What was left of his special role as mouthpiece, the ultimate final power to forgive or condemn?

Now they inflicted this on him in his old age. Like Las bloody Vegas, it was. They’d taken away the beautiful statues of the Virgin, Saint Anthony, Saint Francis, Saint Jude. Even Saint Patrick had gone. They had symbolic shite now with lights, and tacky pictures the children from the primary school made, God help us!

He pushed open the door into the nave, if it was even called a nave anymore, more like the social club without the bar. He glared at the congregation, the benches set in a semi-circle round the altar, stepped so that even the idle beggars at the back who crept in late could get a grandstand view. His face darkened as the electric piano chimed in, and the fecking awful din of the massed recorders from Junior Four.

Godless, he thought. God is in the holy darkness and the secret Latin words, the incense, the silent awe and respect. There is no God here.

He went through the office mechanically, while the recorders whined, the people bawled, and Michael Gallagher gazed with smug pride on his efforts. God drifted further away, further and faster than an old man could follow, while outside, the blackbirds sang, and the cats dozed in the sun as if nothing else mattered.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

34 thoughts on “Microfiction #writephoto: Losing it”

  1. What a great story! Lovely voice – just perfect for the old priest – and you can’t help but wonder if this is what they think, word for word, since the old mass was done away with. I remember my dad talking about Vatican II, how everything had changed, the Catholic church talking just a few hundred years longer to come round to ditching Latin than the Protestants!
    Really cracking story

    1. Thanks Lynn! The changes took quite a long time to be put into practice as there was consumer resistance from many priests. I have vague memories of the priest standing with his back to the congregation, muttering to himself, even though there was a temporary altar put up so he could face the other way. I think they really hated letting go of any of the very real power they held over the parish. Such a very weird set-up altogether when you think about it.

      1. That was always the way with priests going back to ancient times – they held all the power, go betweens, the ones in direct contact with god. I’m sure they thought their worshippers weren’t smart or worthy enough – from Ancient Egypt right up to the present

      2. They must have thought/still think that they make the sacrifice of not having a life outside their religious function, so that religious function has to give them the same kind of satisfaction a job and a family would give them. In cultures where the father exercises absolute power in his household, I imagine many priests thought they would be exercising the same sort of power over their entire flock.

      1. Oh, I stopped querying the day I received an email from a reader saying they loved my writing. It was the same day I got a random rej. letter from.an agent. It was easy after that. ^_^

  2. I can well imagine that when the changes occurred within the church like anyone else there would have been priests who resisted..people are so often naturally resistant to change and I can remember the changes that came in things like the nuns who taught us didn’t have to wear the starched wimple and the mass was in English…..being the last of the Latin speaking alter boys I often felt a bit ripped off after all the months of preparation we put in learning to recite the responses like the little parrots we were. Most interesting response Jane.

    1. Thanks Michael! Apart from the biggies like doing away with the Latin, there were so many details that had to be changed that said so much about the ‘old’ church—the men and women sitting on opposite sides of the church, women’s heads having to be covered, the priest giving the sermon from the pulpit—probably common to every big religion, hang overs from the dark ages!

      1. Yes and don’t forget blind allegiance to whatever the priest said for fear of mortal sin. For some years I ran the Passion reading at our local church and I used to have a guy play Christ and carry a cross down the length of the church. One year when the part come where Christ fell I had the actor fall over in the middle of the church…boy but did that raise some eyebrows…needless to say the right wing fascists within the church had me replaced as the director..

      2. What? Wasn’t he supposed to fall down? Or is this some new version of Jesus as Superman who carried that great chunk of wood as if it was a bag of laundry? That was an innovation in our church, to simply read the Passion with a couple of members of the congregation. It used to be the priest doing all the parts in the old days. Needless to say, the priest got to be Jesus, and there aren’t any female roles so he didn’t have to rant and fume about women being allowed to set foot beyond the altar rails (except the cleaning lady of course, because you couldn’t expect a man to do a cleaning job, could you?).

      3. Well I broke that rule too about the priest being Jesus, one year he was happy to sit it out. Needless to say that didn’t go down too well either..I think after that my days were numbered….

      4. Well let’s say I ‘lost’ the job. Interestingly the priest never objected as he didn’t like having to read so much. But I hold it as an achievement.

      1. Well, I would hope “some” of them are in the position because of faith and wanting to serve, but I’m not Catholic or religious, and I don’t know any priests, so . . .

      2. There will be some, I’ve no doubt. There was a time, when there were lots of priests and Catholicism was still going strong, that boys went into the priesthood because they were reasonably bright at school and there was nothing for them on the land. It was an economic option not a religious calling. Not surprising so many of them went to the bad.

  3. This is a perfect encapsulation of what many people consider has happened to the church. For me, it was the removal of a truly awesome white marble statue of the crucifixion, set against and azure background, behind the altar. I like that the altar faces the congregation, but can still recite the Latin responses! Great story – made me smile!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s