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Title: Kyrie Eleison
Author: Kyra Cullinan
Summary: Angel was Catholic once.
Disclaimer: Angel belongs to the nice people who made him and Catholicism does not.
Author's Note: Inspired by a Kickstarts challenge, my first Angelfic, which even I'm surprised to be writing. Thanks to s.a., Gabe and Julie for betas, and to my hopelessly Irish Catholic childhood. Latin translations at the end.
Feedback: kyrac [AT] sympatico.ca
Things have changed; he knows this. The language itself, the direction of things, everything softening to fit this modern world. It's a feeling he knows well. He doesn't remember when or how he found out about the upheaval in the half century since -- probably during all the commotion at the time -- but it's only the latest chapter of a story he likes to keep aware of in general. Immortality brings an appreciation for the constants, whatever they may be.
It's one of the things he remembers best from those increasingly hazy years before, from the life he led as Liam. Memories bred into him by years of repetition, the comforting routine of In nomine Patris, the feel of hard wood digging into his knees, flickering rows of candles, the communion plate clutched beneath his chin. These things became as much a part of him as the soft, perpetual rain; pressed into his very skin, for all that he wasn't particularly devout. That wasn't what mattered in those days anyway, and years of childhood rituals couldn't be entirely erased by his later predilection for things less religious. It had been part of his life, as much as the smell of horses, the taste of potatoes, the color of his mother's eyes.
But unlike them, the Church was not something he could destroy or deny when he turned. The taste of power glittered on his tongue along with the blood of his family as he tore a great, gaping wound through his village, laying waste to everything from his past while Darla beamed with pride. It was the first of countless nights reduced in memory to a haze of blood and fire, but he remembers laughing, a giddy, disbelieving sound bubbling out of him as the demon spurred him onward into the reckless freedom of total unrestraint.
The doors of the church stopped him short, shocked him utterly. He was startled to find himself hissing and recoiling from the cross carved in the thick wood, and bewildered at the sudden alienation of something so familiar. It was a feeling as strange to him as the sudden lust for blood and violence and he hated it instantly. Hated the fact that something opposed his new power like he might have hated the sun, but this was an enemy far more personal and complex.
He became obsessed. Darla alternately humored him and praised him. She encouraged his fascination, his desire to overcome, to defeat. He carved crosses on his victims cheeks and marveled at how he could create the very symbol which repelled him and how it could do so even while smelling of blood and pain, his delights. Sometimes he'd turn his prey to watch them scream and claw at their faces upon reawakening, tearing themselves apart over the impossibility of two such opposite things existing in the same body. He wondered if this was what it would be like to turn a Slayer, or a nun.
He got his answer to the second question later, with Drusilla. Her lovely dark eyes inspired in him the same division of fascination and revulsion as did everything else pure -- which he knew, of course, was why Darla chose her for him, just as she'd given him his name. The fear and trust in her voice filtering through the confessional's screen had held promise as sweet as the blood of the priest limp in his arms, both tinged with the perverse joy of sacrilege. She was the receptacle into which he could pour all his hatred of the Church, the mirror of his own experiences magnified to perfection.
The iconography, he discovered soon after being turned, becomes routine, part of the undead existence equally familiar whether in life one was Muslim or an atheist or an altar boy at Saint Brecan's. It made it difficult for him to explain what transfixed him so, when any vampire could attest to having been repelled by a cross, perhaps burned by holy water. What they didn't, couldn't understand was the absurdity of it all. He could remember so clearly the dampness of that same holy water on his fingertips, its trickle down his forehead like a benediction, the comforting smell of incense, the cool weight of his mother's rosary in his hand. Drusilla, he thinks, understood it better than any of the others could, better than Darla whose bitterness had let her reject God long before being turned, better than Spike with his vague Church of England upbringing. Drusilla knew the strange and unwelcome ache of knowing that your cold, undying flesh was once baptized by holy water which had cleansed rather than burned. The peculiar anguish of recalling purity while remaining so far from it.
He used to whisper to her about the day of her First Communion, making her see the white-clad little girl as something twisted and evil in memory, until she had worked herself into one of her fits, screaming and rocking. Not even Darla telling him off for setting her going could tear him away from the lusciousness of that control. He's always wondered how much of Drusillas insanity grew from his torment of her, the shock of her family's murder, and how much of it was her mind being torn apart by the dichotomies of consecration and damnation twisted into her being.
And then. Romanian woods, an everywhere chanting in a language that wasn't Latin but was close enough to make his skin crawl, his soul sliding back into place after so many years and he, bewildered about what to do with it --
Buddhism astounded him. Its long silences, its solitariness, its focus on an escape from physicality were all in such drastic opposition to everything he knew of Catholicism, of religion at all, that it was almost more shocking than the strange new feeling of his soul scratching up against the demon. He stumbled over its strange structure, its insistence on meditation when what he wanted was penance, its offer of reflection rather than absolution. But it welcomed him without the barriers of symbols designed to hurt him and let him create a peace within himself. For that, he became increasingly grateful. At nearly two hundred years old he began to discover spirituality, in a way he never had before. He was surprised to find that somewhere along the way it had let him find peace with Catholicism, too.
He is not Liam now; even with a soul he often feels more removed from that life than he does from Angelus's existence. It's been centuries since he rose before dawn to walk to Mass, blowing plumes of white breath ahead of him into the cold darkness. He can barely recall the feel of the wafer on his tongue and the details of the priest's robes grow hazy in his mind. For all intents he is so sullied by his crimes, by over two hundred years of being saturated by demonic energy as to be more distant from the Church than the most secluded heathen oblivious to its very existence. But he feels now a deeper connection than he could have fathomed as an Irish peasant, an understanding he never achieved in all his years of experiment and torture. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa he thinks, remembering the fluidity of the words in synchronism with his fist knocking against his heart. My most grievous fault. Words which now have a weight even Latin couldn't give them three centuries ago.
And he cannot help but draw parallels. Comparing the life he first knew with the one he knows now. The wine as blood. The gnawing hunger of a full night's fasting. The exclusivity, the mythos, the dim light of candles flickering on stone walls. The feeling of belonging to something greater than one's self. And in these later years, the pleas for mercy, for peace, for grace. Kyrie eleison, he thinks. Christe eleison. Mercy. Forgiveness.
Everything is so much more complex now; he's got the Powers to somehow work into his understanding of things, alongside Catholicism and Buddhism. It's a puzzle he tries not to worry over too much. He'll understand it someday, and he's okay with waiting for that someday, with using the patience of his age to bide his time for it and all the others. One of those somedays, he knows, is going to change things forever, and while that's one he really tries not to think about, in the back of his mind there's a list of things he's going to do. Sunlight figures into it, as does ice cream. But he's reserved a spot for burnished wooden pews and genuflection, and when he closes his eyes he can almost hear Confiteor Deo omnipotenti ringing out.
In nomine patris - 'In the name of the Father'; the opening words of Mass.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa - 'My fault, my fault, my most grievious fault'; part of the Penitential Rite
Kyrie eleison - 'Lord, have mercy'.
Christe eleison - 'Christ, have mercy'.
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti - 'I confess to almighty God'; the opening lines of the Penitential Rite.
The events mentioned in the first paragraph are part of the changeover to Vatican II, a massive restructuring of the Mass and other elements of the Church, which took place in the early 1960s.