My Mom came from a family of 10 girls and 1 boy, all of whom were raised as good Catholics; and, as such, had large families of their own. Most of their kids had 3 or 4 themselves, and many of those have also since propagated. The Family Tree on my Mom’s side is the size a giant Sequoia. One of my first cousins has recently started a Facebook Page for posting old family photos and such; and since there are probably thousands of us by now, it will eventually have more fans than that gel-haired kid from Twilight.
So, even though I haven’t seen the vast majority of this horde of cousins and second-cousins since I was twelve years old, and probably wouldn’t know one if they mugged me in an alley, I thought it would be a hoot to post some old pictures. These are photos that I’ve been meaning to scan into the new computer anyway, as they will be crumbling into dust any day now. Here is a great one of me, my Mom, and my second-oldest brother, Paul, outside of church. I can’t remember the occasion for my Mom’s outfit, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a wedding. People like my parents who, at that time, had seven kids all under the age of ten, didn’t get a lot of wedding invites in the mail.
Her dress in this shot was what she used to call a “formal,” probably worn for an Altar Society function. The Altar Society is a group of parish women who volunteer to do things around the church like dusting the statues, replacing flowers, candles, etc, and who also would go in and clean the Rectory. The Rectory was what they called the house where the priests lived, that was attached to the church. So, yeah, with 7 kids and a husband at home, this is just what my Mom needed: an opportunity to go clean another house for a bunch of men.
As we lived quite close to the Church, my 3 brothers and I were a ready-to-go Altar Boy labor pool, and as such we often got called in on weekends to do weddings and funerals. Weddings were always cool, as cash tips from The Best Man were usually involved. They were pretty straightforward, usually involving a “Full Mass” service, about a two-hour affair. Guests and the members of the Wedding Party were safe, as they got to sit and relax between reps of “Catholic Calisthenics”: Stand, Kneel, Sit. Stand, Kneel, Sit. But the Bride and Groom, on full display up near the Altar, had no chairs, and got only the Stand and Kneel options. So there was always the very entertaining possibility of a frail bride fainting dead away from standing so long, and going down like Jerry Quarry in the third round.
Funerals were another deal altogether. First off, attendees were often so distraught at the loved one’s passing that tips for the Altar Boys were often forgotten. Rude. Plus, there were two jobs for Altar Boys at funerals: holding the Holy Water bucket and the little wand used to sprinkle same, and holding the Sensor. Both were used alternately by the the Priest several times each, to anoint the casket as he led the procession at the end of the ceremony, down the center aisle and out to the front of the Church, where the hearse was waiting.
The Holy Water gig was cake: bucket of water and a wand. The Sensor was this hot, smoking, heavy steel orb filled with burning incense, hooked to a 6-foot chain. Some priests would lift it, swing it lightly back and forth in front of them as they turned toward the casket; some would use the full length of chain to swing it like a pendulum from side to side, fanning the coals to white hot. Then they would hand it back to the Altar Boy who would solemnly hold it in front of himself to wait for the next anointment. By the time this ceremony was repeated three or four times, the smoke would be coming out of it like a three-alarm house fire. It would rise directly into your face, making nose and eyes run like the Kentucky Derby. You would smell like incense for a week. I am pretty sure this is where the term “incensed” came from, as it always pissed me off. And as the youngest of four brothers I was the de-facto low man on the Altar Boy Totem Pole at my house. So guess who always got Sensor Duty at funerals?
Being an Altar Boy was also my first job as a Server. There was the duty of moving the Book, The Catholic Missal, which even though it was a different spelling, we thought was a pretty cool name. It was as big as I was, and had to be lugged from one side of the Altar to the other at a specific point in the proceedings. We had to present and pour the water and the wine into the Chalice just before Communion. Monsignor Jackson would always admonish my stingy pours on the wine, giving me the palm out flat, fingers flapping, “Bring it!” gesture. Then I would get the arm extended-with-palm-towards-me “Whoa, Nellie,” when I poured more than a couple of drops of water into his 7:30am Sunday Morning Eye Opener. There was also the serving of the Host at Communion, the little wafers so tasteless they actually had negative flavor. Looking back, what I wouldn’t have given then for a little White Truffle Oil and some Kosher Salt. I think more people would convert to Catholicism if the routine went, “Body of Christ….and would you care for Fresh Cracked Pepper?”
Oh, boy. I hope there really is no Hell because if there is, I am heading straight there. As you have probably surmised by now, I am a “recovering Catholic,” a survivor of 12 years of Catholic Church and Schools, Stations of The Cross every Friday during Lent, rosaries and novenas, and Benedictions with the chanting that seemed to go for hours on end. After being made to confess at 7 years old, to a grown man, while sitting in a pitch-dark booth, about all the times I had cursed, or looked at a Playboy, I have given myself license to tell stories like this. And the joke about how difficult it would be for Jesus to eat M&M’s.
Bless me Father for I have sinned…and can’t you just tell, by the look on Monsignor Jackson’s face, that he knew it?