Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Smiling Angel and a Tradition Passed On

When I was a kid, my brother and I were both altar servers. We went to a small church and there weren't a lot of kids, so we served pretty often.  And mom always made sure that we were there when we were scheduled.  Sometimes, when schedules were really busy, we'd go straight from one activity to Mass.  I remember many, many times, serving with my soccer uniform under my alb.  I don't remember minding too terribly much.  I actually liked serving for the most part.  I think it gave me something to do during Mass, besides just sit there. And I liked helping the priest by holding the book for prayers and cleaning up after Communion.

There was a man at my church who approached me after a Mass I had served one Sunday.  I did not know him or recall having ever met him before. He looked to me to be older than my father. At that time (I was about ten) people were either my age, my father's age or my grandfather's age.  I pegged him for someone my grandfather's age (though he's really not).  As I said, he approached me after a Mass I had served to tell me thank you.  He had a bright smile on his face that looked like it was always there, but he told me that he had been having a bad day.  He said he looked up on the altar during Mass and saw an angel smiling at him.  It took me a few moments to realize he meant me.  

We came to be friends after that. I learned that his name was Jim and he had a wife named Rose.  I saw him frequently at Mass and could never help but smile at him.  How could I not, after the comment he had made!?!  I learned that he does a spot on impression of Donald Duck.  As I grew and went away, first to college and then to the "real world," I would seek him out on my return to my home parish.  He always had a big smile and a hug for his "angel" and a duck impression more often than not as well.

When Frances made her First Communion two years ago she was really excited.  She was excited for all the implications in terms of her belief system: she felt ready to receive Christ, she felt she was old enough to participate fully in the Mass; but she also was excited because receiving her First Communion meant that she would soon be able to be an altar server.

She was a little disappointed to realize that many of the server duties were still a few years out for her.  She isn't tall enough or strong enough to carry the cross in the processional.  I still get a little bit nervous when I see her try to pick up the tray full of chalices for Communion, because it looks so heavy and she looks so small. The Sacramentary (book of prayers) that they practiced with during training turned out to be significantly smaller than the actual Sacramentary used during Mass. The first time she served and had to pick up that book, I cringed because I felt sure she was going to drop it!

Frances has served quite a few times since that first time.  She has subbed in when someone else didn't show up. (She's been replaced when we were running late and she didn't get there in time.)  She's served a few Holy Days and recently she served for a funeral/memorial Mass.  Our friend had asked her if she would serve, and Frances hesitated with her answer.  This friend has a wonderful habit of treating kids like human beings (what a novel concept for some people!) and told Frances she could take some time to think about it.

I told Frances that it would be her decision.  I didn't want her to feel pressured into doing something she was uncomfortable with or not ready for.  I will admit that I was a little bit worried that her hesitation was because she didn't want to go to Mass again (we were there a lot for the Christmas season).  After I gave her some time to think about it, she came to me and told me the reason she had hesitated.  She was worried because she had never served by herself before and she knew she wasn't totally ready to do all the essential details by herself.

I was actually quite proud of her for thinking it through so thoroughly. I told her that if the cross and chalices were her only concerns that we could fix that.  After than she readily agreed to serve the Mass. And she did an amazing job.  I love to see her up on the altar, serving the priest in a way that I remember being so fulfilling from my childhood.

When we go up for Communion, the boys look for her and wave. She smiles and waves a tiny little wave from her lap.  I flash an "I love you" and she flashes one back.  After Mass people come up to her and tell her she did a nice job.  She grins and ducks her head.  And I swell with pride as I pass on one love of my childhood to her.

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