Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time served -Adventures on the altar

I missed Mass Sunday.  Well I went, parked the car, and sat in the pew, but I zoned out for a whole part of the Mass.  I guess I got up in my head a little too deep, and when I returned, I had missed a whole part.  Does this ever happen to anyone else? During my wanderings, I remembered my time as a Altar Server at St. Mary's and thought I would share those musings....

     I served on the altar from around the 4th grade right into High School.  I approached this duty as I did a lot of things back then, irreverently, half-assed, and with as little effort as possible.  I usually served with my brothers, Rob, John and Rick, but for some reason Bill Scharr and I got teamed up quite a bit too.  Bill and I usually got the 6 am Mass duty together.  We quickly figured out that 2 servers was overkill for the usual attendance.  We devised an every other day swap schedule for this Mass, so one of us could sleep in while the other served God.  My mother, of course, would never allow me to shirk my duties like that, so I would pretend to leave, go around the house and reenter in the basement and watch Felix the Cat until enough time had passed to make it seem like I had gone to church, served, and come back (I can imagine a lot of folks after reading this are shaking their heads and saying "Oh that's how he turned out like that, more cartoons than catechism!", and they are right).  The single server plan was brilliant and it helped create some of the following memories.

     As much as I hated to get up for 6 am Mass, there was another person who hated it more.  We had a priest for a while, that had some issues with the bottle, and he was no fan of any morning, much less the ones that started at 5:30.  He was miserable to serve for, always barking orders, and making you feel inadequate in your service, no matter how you performed.  I've had bosses like this too, but probably dealt with them better than I did back with this priest.   One of our first duties, upon arriving, was to count the number of parishioners in the pews, so Father could count out and consecrate the correct number of hosts.  Canon Law says that the consecrated hosts must be "renewed frequently and consumed properly", so Father would have to finish the hosts that remained after the last parishioner had taken Communion. I've had my share of mornings with dry mouth, so I can imagine why he hated the chore of finishing several bland wafers at the end of Mass.  He hated it even more when I would purposely exaggerate the count of the parishioners (sometimes by 10).  To my 12 year old mind, this seemed like a reasoned response to his verbal abuse, because after all, wasn't he getting more of Jesus in him?  I still feel bad about this (Catholic guilt), although I did hear he was able to get sober later in life.  One of the funnier moments from the 6 am service was the time I kicked the bell trying to get up from kneeling.  We rang a bell during the consecration in those days, so it had to be near you.  I went to get up and swept the bell with my foot and launched it in a perfect semi-circle pattern, loudly clanging all the way.  Because it was heavier on one end, it rolled in the large arc, but then came right back to me, where I picked it up and placed it down like nothing had happened.  I was sure that the 11 people in attendance that morning were convinced the Rapture was upon them, but probably not as much as the people in attendance the time we smoked out the church.

     My brothers and I were called upon at the last minute one Saturday to serve a Benediction.  None of us had ever served one, so we were given some hasty instructions on what to do, including loading the thurible (incense carrier).  We were told to light the charcoal disc, and then to put a spoonful of the incense crystals on top.  We did as instructed, but no smoke came out.  So we added another spoonful, then another, then another, then oh wait it started to smoke.  We hung it up behind us and the priest and started to serve the Mass.   It was used mid-service so there wasn't a reason to get it prior to then.  Within a few minutes we could sense from the faces in front of us that something was amiss.  We saw worry, fright, fidgeting and even the beginning of panic.  The priest stopped Mass and turned to look behind him and us.  The charcoal had continued to get hotter and ignited all the incense we had shoveled in.  There was an immense wall of smoke that had formed.  It completely obscured the view of the altar and everything behind us (Anyone ever see Backdraft?).  Apparently one spoonful would have been enough, six caused the priest to send us out to the parking lot to dump the thurible and to open the side doors to evacuate the smoke.  It was the last Benediction ever served by the Yarger Boys.

     I had many other humorous incidents involving my service.  Try as I might, I never caught a dropped Eucharist with my gold plate on a stick, but I did scar some people.  I stole the emergency candy stash of a diabetic priest on a field trip one time.  There were numerous trips and falls and dropped items (You would be surprised at the number of things that clang when they are dropped on the altar).  I guess the way I served God on the altar was probably a good indicator of how I would serve God in the future.  I get the instructions wrong a lot, I judge by my own standards, not his, I try but sometimes fail, but I attend regularly (unless I hear Bill Scharr is going).

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