The Altar Ego

Posted: September 7, 2015 in Humour
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Altar Boys2

As I get older, I like to reflect upon things I have done over my lifetime, good or bad, that either were formative events or at the very least ones that marked me and made a difference. And for sure, there are plenty of those. We all have them. Times when you rose to a challenge, or times that made you stronger, or even times that made an indelible memory for both you and your loved ones.

There are, however, times that you wished you could forget. This is one of them.

Back when I was 8 years old, I was just your typical little miscreant. I hung out with friends. Went everywhere on my bike. Built forts, dreamt of greater things, threw rocks, played street hockey and ice hockey, walked in the woods, ate junk food, all the things young boys like to do. But there was one thing, odd when you think about it, that I REALLY wanted to do: be an altar-boy.

Okay….I know it’s kind of weird. Most people aspire to greater things. But at the time, that was something I wanted to do. We would go to church every week, and I would see these other boys in their altar-boy robes, up front on the altar, looking like they’re all that, getting extra points with the Big Guy. I would watch them perform their duties, thinking that I could do that too. And so finally I asked the priest if I could try it out. To my surprise, he said yes!

Oh boy!! My dream was going to come true! Yes, there would be training involved. Sure, there was a learning curve, but I suddenly felt I was making it to the big leagues. Obviously I needed to get a life. But I didn’t know that! I actually thought this was fantastic.

Altar boy training went fairly well. It was intense. So much to learn!! But to my dismay, the one thing I didn’t get to do was ring the Sanctus bells. If you have any experience with Catholic mass, the bell ringing took place during a particular prayer. This was the job of the head altar boy (well, altar boy or girl). And so I had another thing to aspire to.

It took an entire summer of going to mass, working my way up the ranks of the altar boys, the dog-eat=dog world of religious politics. The training, the wearing of the robes in the heat, getting to church early, leaving late. But my persistence was paying off. Before long, I was assistant to the lead altar boy. It wouldn’t be long before the bells were mine! And sure enough, before school began, I got the call…..the following Sunday, I was lead altar boy…..I would get to ring the bells!!

All week, I practiced the bell ringing in my mind. It was all about timing. You would get to ring them three times. You had to be patient, observant, timely, and pious. Your ego had to be in check. This would take place when the entire congregation was silent, when they were intently listening to this most crucial part of the mass. No screw-ups allowed.

Sunday finally arrived. We got up and had a big breakfast to celebrate my accomplishments. The breakfast was epic. Lots of bacon, eggs, potatoes, beans, milk. Sated, we made our way to our parish. I went to the back, put on my robes, reassured the other two altar boys that they would be fine….you know, making sure my ‘peeps’ were okay and all. We made our way to the front with the priest, and the mass began.

The mass was a blur, really. Everything went by so quickly. By the time we got to the bell ringing part of the mass, I was a bundle of nerves. I was all sweaty in my robes (good thing I was naked under them, although I would later find out that this was a joke they played on me and I was supposed to keep my clothes on). My stomach was in knots. On our knees for this part of the mass, I girded myself for the big moment. And finally, it came.

The entire church was at its most silent. I bent to pick up the bells to ring them at the right moment. And just before I rang them, the beans kicked in. The congregation were treated to the one-two punch of a beans/nerves fart then a ringing of the bells. The stunned looks on everyone’s face was nothing compared to mine. We all managed to get by this moment….somehow. The mass quickly ended, and after I got dressed the pries reassured me that this kind of thing happened to everyone. My family applauded me cheekily as I made my way out the doors and to the family car.

It’s a good thing we moved not long afterwards.

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