BITS and PIECES # 39

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November 6, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 39

Hello again from Luquillo,

I trust you are all happily recovering from the recent government shutdown and are looking forward to the holidays. To help put your smiles firmly back in place, I offer the following story — yet another of my peccadillos dredged-up from memories of the dim and distant past…

I hope you like it…

A DEFLATED ‘ALTAR’ EGO

In the mid-1940s, I served my apprenticeship as a mass-server (we were still called ‘altar-boys’ back then) at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Like me, my fellow apprentices were young communicants culled by Msgr. Joseph Concannon, our venerable, albeit sometimes indecipherably Irish pastor, from the ranks of nearby Beverly Hills Catholic School. Among my youthful acolyte colleagues were John Considine, Tom Ohmer, Peter Huber, Frank and Paul Vogelsang, Phillip and Dennis Crosby, John Forbush and Jack Kilkelly, all of whom subsequently matured to adulthood and, in the process, succeeded to varying degrees at various professional ventures…

Once we had overcome the difficulties of mastering the many complex liturgical Latin prayer responses that we were required to utter faultlessly during the celebration of mass (yes, the mass was still conducted in Latin back then: ‘Pater noster qui est. in Caelis’ instead of the more familiar ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven’, and so on), and had become skilled in the intricacies of properly donning cassock and surplice — for the uninitiated, an ankle length black linen robe that buttoned down the front, and a white linen tunic that fit over the cassock, extending to the knees. As a side-note, we were occasionally required to bring these vestments home to be freshly washed and ironed — when I first modeled my new ecclesiastical attire for my mother, she dropped to her knees, and clasping her hands prayerfully before her, beseeched her patron Saint Francis to intercede with the Almighty to immediately grant me a vocation to study for the priesthood…

Weekdays and Saturdays, early mass services were offered at 6:00 and 7:30 am — we neophytes were inevitably assigned to these ‘crack-of-dawn’ services. Our first forays were usually composed of a rigorous five-day routine of serving at 6 o’clock mass. Typically, these ‘early-bird’ services were sparsely populated by a troupe of regulars — old folks mostly, with an occasional sprinkling of working people, pausing to worship on their way to film studio jobs. The older folks would alternately doze, heads nodding in sleepy unison, jolting awake suddenly, accompanied by spasms of uncontrollable coughing that echoed resoundingly through the tomb-like hush of the church, drowning-out priest and acolyte’s softly murmured Latin phrases…

Serving early mass had one highly cherished outcome — after mass, and before we re-mounted our bikes and headed for school, Sister Eutropia, the school’s august principal, would welcome us to the spotless kitchen of the Sisters of the Holy Cross nunnery, adjacent to the church, plying us with steaming mugs of marshmallow laden cocoa, and plates of cinnamon toast — which made getting-up early to serve mass much more desirable…

Our cassocks and surplices were hung carefully by size (short to long) on a rack in the back of the sacristy…

One early weekday morning, I had slept late and thus sped to the church on my bike, arriving only moments before the mass began. I hurriedly grabbed a cassock from the rack, not taking time to check its length before donning it and the surplice and then hastily joining the priest and the other altar boy as they wended their way to the altar — and that was my undoing…

At one point in the mass, the altar boy kneeling on the unforgiving marble steps below and to the left of the celebrant, is tasked with moving the Holy Bible, a massive illuminated tome set upon a heavy, gold-filigreed stand, from the left to the right side of the altar — this procedure involved picking-up scripture and stand, and carrying them carefully in outstretched hands, move back down the altar steps, genuflect, and move back up the steps to cautiously place the precious assemblage on the right side of the altar…

I did just fine until after I had genuflected — as I arose from my knees, the rubber toe of one of my black canvas, high-topped U.S. Ked ‘sneakers’ fouled in the hem of my too long cassock, causing me to tumble backwards, dropping both scripture and stand in the process. When the heavy accumulation struck the inflexible marble floor, it gave off a booming report that echoed throughout the church, such that it caused many of the older communicants to gasp and cry out in consternation, while firmly clutching their chests to calm their runaway heartbeats…

Father Wade, the young mass celebrant, whipped around, quickly appraised the situation, retrieved and reunited scripture with stand, placing it in its proper position on the right side of the altar. He then hastened to help me to my feet, looking relieved when he discovered that I was unhurt and only suffering from acute embarrassment. As calm was swiftly restored to the church, and the mass continued, I noticed Father Wade suppressing a wry grin with some difficulty…

In the sacristy, after mass was over, Father Wade cautioned me to be more careful in the future when selecting a cassock — with a grin he added “or perhaps, until you master that amazing gymnastic achievement, you should keep practicing tumbling while firmly gripping the Holy Scripture and its stand, so that you land on your feet”…

As we were getting on our bikes to head for school, I offered to bribe my altar boy colleague (who shall remain nameless) with a shiny quarter if he would swear not to tell our schoolmates what had transpired when we arrived at the schoolyard — of course he refused, already gleefully relishing his morbid recounting of my liturgical faux pas…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 39

  1. mkhulu says:

    Captain, you are a suposatory of delightful stories.I really miss hearing them in person.

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