I was young when I first saw them, first saw her, standing on the altar behind the priest. I was surprised to see her standing there and tugged on my mothers’ coat to explain the image I saw.
‘Ssh’ was her response, but I was insistent because the woman had just appeared and stood there smiling in a vapour of cloudy obscurity. I could see her clearly, but I could also see through her. She was like mist and light wrapped into one. I tugged once more.
‘What’ came the quick response.
‘Do you see her? Do you see the lady behind the priest?
My mother glanced quickly at the alter and shook her head. ‘No, I don’t, now try and listen to what he is saying.’
She didn’t reject what I was saying or tell me to stop being silly. All she did was confirm that maybe I was the only one who saw the lady standing on the altar. My mother placed her arm around my shoulder and glanced at me from time to time.
I cannot say that I was scared by what I saw, but I was confused. My young mind could not correctly decipher the image before me. I stared at the lady for a long time with occasional tugs from my mother to kneel or stand. I heard not what the priest and deacon said, for my focus was on the lady.
The image I viewed was gray, there were no colours, yet I imagined if there were, they would be filled with blues and whites and the soft hues of flesh tones from another land.
She faded in and out and was easier to see when the priest was at the altar, but she followed him. She didn’t walk; she was simply behind him wherever he was, as if connected by an invisible thread.
When it came time for the priest to consecrate the host and the wine, she seemed sad, yet she smiled. When he was done, she looked up and right at me. She smiled and then vanished. She had known I was watching her.
I sat and pondered what I had seen for the rest of the mass. Such pondering as only a young child can do with a curious mind. I wondered if I would see her again or if I had even seen her at all. Was it all my imagination, or was it real? Questions filled my young thoughts.
When we were back at home, I looked at my mother and asked, ‘Do you think it was Jesus’ mom?’
She didn’t ask who or question what I was talking about. My mother just looked at me for a moment and said, ‘I don’t know.’ It is funny how that statement was so soothing. My mother believed I saw something, or that perhaps I believed I saw something. She shared her own sighting as a child with me, which provided comfort and naturally generated a lot more questions (a story for another time).
It wasn’t the last time I would see her, the lady standing on the altar. She wasn’t the only one I saw either. Over the years, I have seen many people from all different walks of life. Sometimes after funerals, I would explain what I saw, and the person mourning would explain who it was. It seemed to bring comfort, but there are times I keep the images to myself as they are not all comforting.
The lady has appeared a few times more with one specific priest. When he left our parish, I wrote him a note to tell him how much he would be missed and how I would miss seeing Mary standing over his shoulder. I’m sure he thought I was nuts, and he has never mentioned it in all the years since. I attend mass occasionally where he is, although he is now a Monsignor. I believe it is Mary who comes to him, but we don’t talk about it. She always smiles at me before she disappears again.
Once when he said mass, in the school where we held service until the new church could be built, I heard a whisper, ‘whenever two or more of you are gathered…’ It didn’t finish, nor did it need to. I looked up and in the material over the makeshift alter, I saw the image, the beautiful divine face of Jesus. This time I said nothing. I sat and smiled and stared as the image faded.
Perhaps because I was older, I understood this sighting was just for me and no one else. I’ve not talked of it until now, but now is the time for sharing. The world needs to understand we are never abandoned or alone.
I’ve seen many misty images over the years and expect I will see many more. None will hold as tight to my heart as that first image of the lady, whom I now believe to be Mary, standing on the altar.
If you liked this faith story you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.