Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.
Gerard Moultrie composed these lyrics from an ancient offertory sung on Holy Saturday, a day of silence in memorial of when the Lord’s body lay in the tomb. The hymn sings of the presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, but the command of the first line extends to wherever the Lord is present and speaking.
Recently, I encountered mortal flesh falling silent before the Lord’s presence in the hospital. The tenor of the day quickly changed when a social worker stopped me in the hallway; panic was near her. A wife was requesting a priest for her husband; it was a code blue. The call went out and the timer began to tick.
The passing minutes seemed like an eternity as a battalion of doctors, nurses, and aides piled into the room with machines and equipment filling whatever space was available. The drawers opening and closing, the sensors beeping, and the doctors calling out orders filled the hospital floor with a din that no one could drown out, except the grieving wife in the grip of hysteria.
The frenzy continued in the patient’s room as the doctors struggled to stabilize the patient. Commotion continued in the hallway as we tried to calm the wife. The doctors needed space to work and now was not the time for her to be in the room. Talking seemed only to fill the air with more tension. We had to wait quietly. “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Is 30:15).
In the midst of our struggle to calm her and bring peace to the scene, we began to pray. She let out a prayer from the depths of her heart, “Lord Jesus, save him!”
When the priest arrived, it did not matter that it was his first day on call or that he was recently ordained. He stood in persona Christi. The wife requested the Anointing of the Sick, and the father entered into the cacophony of the patient’s room.
Situating himself at the head of the bed, he began the rite. Someone began shushing, and soon the whole medical team and all present fell silent. Stillness entered, and the only remaining sound came from the priest, with the oil in his hand:
“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
This young priest administered the sacrament of the Church, and in it Christ descended upon the tumult, quieting the frenzy in the hospital room. Peace entered into the heart of the wife, and she was allowed to pray silently next to her husband as the doctors patiently continued their work. The change in the atmosphere recalled the quieting of the storm. “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27).
Christ, the Divine Physician, descended upon the hospital that day bringing peace and mercy. All of us present fell silent.
Image: Nicolas Poussin, L’Extrême Onction, Les Sept sacrements.