Saturday, February 20, 2010

Serving at the Altar

The picture above doesn't exactly portray my experience as these altar boys are serving a Tridentine Mass. As I was born in 1966, I did not become a server until after First Communion which I received in the third grade at St. Patrick's School which would have been about 1974. The mass was now the Mass of Paul VI which was firmly in place in the United States by 1969, sometimes know as the Novus Ordo. However, later in life I did purchase a Tridentine Altar from an old Catholic parish mission for the convent in Jay, Maine. That altar was actually shipped from New England to 27 Canterbury Lane in Florida and then moved via Beltman Movers to Maine.

I do not remember how I learned to serve Mass or exactly how I became an altar boy. I assume we were trained in a group but have no recollection of it. At St. Patrick's, I would have served the Masses said by either Father John Baitens or Monsignor Herbert Winterhalter. In fact, Father Baitens got out the old Catholic Encyclopedia and helped me look up the various monastic communities. I don't have many memories of Monsignor Winterhalter because I believe he was ill at the time. The monastic inquiries into the encyclopedias were great fun for me at the time and still occupy some of my leisure reading in the form of the history of religious life and its great heroes.

Well apparently I was very zealous about serving Mass because although St. Patrick's had plenty of altar servers, apparently other parishes did not and I served at St. Joseph's and St. Benedict's downtown. I do not remember the priests there but I remember they were Franciscans and were quite impressed that I would ride my bike across town so early to serve Mass at their parishes. I remember that I, being a budding Benedictine, was just scandalized that Franciscans were at St. Benedict's Parish. I loved St. Benedict's church the most. It was the largest or at least it seems so from memory. It looked huge to a 9 or 10 year old both outside and in. Inside I was moved by the amount of space which seemed endless and mystical and warm.

Shortly after all my parish altar serving had been established, my mother who was a nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital in Terre Haute told me she was caring for a Carmelite nun who was quite ill at the time. My mother got permission from the Mother Prioress for me to visit and I did. I met my first cloistered contemplative in St. Anthony's Hospital; her name was Sister Marilyn of the Holy Trinity. She was very kind to me and eventually I began to serve Sunday Mass at the Carmelite Convent in Terre Haute with Mr. Lundstrom, the brother of the principal of St. Patrick's, Ms. Lundstrom. Mr. Lundstrom was a member of the Discalced Carmelite Third Order and he would pick me and take me to the convent to serve Mass on Sundays. After Mass, we sometimes went to Denny's for breakfast. I'm not sure as to the reasons behind it, but on many Sundays I rode my bike all the way out on Highway 41 to Allendale road to the convent to serve Mass.

In the fifth grade, our apartment caught fire from a neighbors and my sister and I went to stay with our maternal grandparents in Michigan City, IN. During those months and in eighth grade while I was a student at St. Mary's Grade School, I served Mass at St. Mary's Immaculate Conception parish on 11th Street. I served Mass at St. Mary's for Father Zimmerman and Father Pogozelski.

In high school in New Buffalo, Michigan, I served Mass at St. Mary's of the Lake and was a member of the People of Joy, a charismatic prayer group affiliated with the parish.

Upon entering the monastery and later going into seminary, I served Mass on occasion as the need arose or as it was my turn. The early days of serving in Terre Haute hold the simple joy of being close to something very sacred. I had a sense of a reality that could only be perceived in the quiet of those cold dark churches, in the early mornings, before the lights were on, putting on the server's cassock and surplice, lighting the candles and awaiting the priest's acknowledgement to head out the sacristy door (ringing a small bell on the entrance way from the sacristy, as we did in those days).

On the humorous side, as a seminarian we went home during Passiontide and served the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels back in Gary, Indiana. The Chrism Mass is for each parish pastor to return to the cathedral to obtain the holy oils used in the sacraments for the coming year. It is a very impressive concelebrated event. On this occasion they over consecrated the wine for the service and after Mass it needed to be consumed. Several chalices were shared among the seminarians, who were also employed in filling the Chrismatory sets for each parish. The large cathedral ambries, from which each set are filled, were leaking to a minor extent and given the wine the experience took on a rather non-sacred scene. Picture a slip-and-slide in cassocks!

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