It was a card table covered with a white cloth in the back bedroom of our Manitowoc, Wisconsin home that served as my sacred altar. 10 years old with no audience (I mean congregation) allowed to participate. 11:00 a.m. every Sunday until high school I honored the obligation to praise God on Sunday.
A tablecloth over the table along with a dictionary (Sacramentary), my oldest sister’s graduation ribbon to mark the pages, paper hosts carefully cut out and used every Sunday, my mother’s milk vase that served as a Chalice.
The piece de resistance for this third grader was the plastic vestment my parents bought for me from Columbia Magazine. It was a chasuble, stole and manipule (no longer worn) and for me it completed my imitation but mindfully authentic reenactment of what I was forced to attend each day through school and Sundays with my parents.
I mumbled through most of my solitary Mass which the priests did in Latin but I said in gibberish hoping that God would either forgive or accept my lone yet aspiring offering reenacting what I saw enacted by the real priests each week.
Being an altar boy I carefully weighed the priest’s every movement because during those days one move amiss would miss the action and the presence of Christ would not arrive. One arm lifted higher might have caused a crisis for the real congregation and a sudden pause in this youngster’s mind in his sister’s bedroom. The sacrifice needed to be done right and you only had this one opportunity to do it. (It was my sister’s bedroom and she needed to use it soon, of course….ohhh, those laity always getting in the way?!)
My sermon was reading the Sunday bulletin I had received from the real Mass. Since I was unable to unravel the beauties of the Scriptures with my thoughts geared toward 4th grade looming largely, the Sunday bulletin was a wise solution.
I’m not bragging but I was truly faithful. I allowed my sister to be an altar boy (acolyte was not invented yet) but only perhaps on High Holy Days. She knelt dutifully but I’m sure she wondered what I was doing in my sister’s bedroom and how long this would take.
To add to my imaginary imaginings, we had a dead light switch in the hallway that I would turn on as if to alarm the bells and the world that I was about to preside at this sacred reenactment where you take the “re” out and have a 10 year old wearing plastic in front of no one yet imagining everyone.
35 years later, the marvel and wonder has only sometimes left me. I smile now at the acolyte (now a Catholic word) carrying her cross at the entrance of Mass knowing that she has no idea who’s walking behind her. She will have dreams of her own that hopefully will be honored and fulfilled.
Plastic has been replaced with cloth and the feelings are same for me – people listen, people watch (I can talk and preach to them as best as I can), the hosts are not made of paper and that young dedication and enthusiasm of a 10 year old continues.
How could it not continue? It was never about me in the first place?