. . . or out of their soutanes. I was one of them – for twenty years. Before I say anything more, I have to remind myself that readers who would know what I’m talking about have to be over fifty to remember these boys dressed up effeminately like miniature clergy, at Mass kneeling on the altar-steps, “serving” the celebrant, he and they with their backs to the congregation, muttering Latin phrases which they, and maybe he, did not understand, moving the big Missal on the altar from one side to the other (God knows why !) for the priest’s reading of the Epistle and Gospel respectively, offering him the cruets of water and wine at the Offertory, ringing the hand-bell or sounding the gong at the elevation of the Host, holding the communion-plate under the chin of communicants kneeling at the altar-rail which separated the sanctuary from the nave of the church, and leading the priest back to the sacristy . . .
Who remembers this spectacle at Sunday, if not daily, Mass ? I do. But I’m almost eighty – and an ex-priest to boot (which many people, outraged and scandalized by my apostasy, have not hesitated to do . . .). Pretty soon only a couple of Bing Crosby movies of the forties will be left to reveal “the way we were” as altar-boys, gone – like Bing – with the wind.
So much the better, I guess. Few of us regret that ancient history. I don’t remember the last time I served Mass as an altar-boy but I will never forget when I said Mass for the last time. I was thirty, an altar-boy who had graduated from the soutane and surplice to the alb and chasuble but had never grown up. I don’t blame anybody for getting me as a child to be part of a meaningless liturgical spectacle, nor later for getting me to make the priesthood my profession and celibacy my way of life. I am sad, though, when I think of my companion Franciscan priests who never found the courage – they certainly had the temptation – to get out of the act, get off the stage, leave the theatrical trappings behind them, get married, get a real job and join the real world.
I have never regretted that I got out in time and gave myself a life. I shudder to think what my life would have been had I not met Marie-Claire. Our children are her, and life’s, most precious gift to me. “Father” Leon became Frank, a real father and the luckiest man alive.