Monday, November 29, 2010

Frannie the Altar Server

It has always been my philosophy never to seek out trouble; unfortunately, trouble seems to have a particular affinity for me.  Here's a case in point:  I was in my early teens then, hanging around with two of my pals, both boys, when a strange priest called us from a balcony, discovered that we were Catholic, and told us that we were to serve the Holy Mass that was to start in ten minutes.  Now I was a compliant child, and was in the habit of following without argument whatever the priest de jour wanted; had he decreed that I wear my swimsuit with the little fishies  on it for the procession, I would have done so without argument.
Now the friends both had experience as altar boys, and they knew the lay of the land that I did not.  They had a streak of mischief that I envied, somehow, but rarely expected it when it showed itself.  It turned out that they knew that curé (assistant priest) was nearsighted but too vain to wear glasses, and that the bishop wanted only boys as altar servers.  But I did not.  (I had been wearing a wind-breaker and a billed cap that day, and this might have inadvertently contributed to the confusion.)  Anyway, I donned a surplice and we formed for the procession facing away from the priest, who was praying.
Since I didn't know what to do, my friends told me to carry the cross, while one carried the altar wine and water, while the other carried the insense gadget (I don't know the word).  So there I am, a girl of 13 years, tall for my age, leading the procession while carrying the cross, followed by my two male friends, and with the nearsighted priest bringing up the behind of the procession..   
Anyway, the four of us do our stately procession down the aisle, with me in front carrying the big cross, and I perceived a murmur from the few in attendance, a stir.  I did not know what to make of this....
Now we get to the front, and I try to put the cross in its proper holder.  It tips to the side, but I catch it.  Good move.  Titter from the audience and the other servers.  The priest cleared his throat.  Then things settled down.
Soon it's time for the Gospel.  My task, one of the friends told me, was to hold the Book in front of the priest while he proclaims the Good News.  Now, finally, I'm close enough for him to see me,  The priest reacts with a start when he sees his Crucifer altar 'boy' up close.  He looked first at my long hair and makeup (spread on thick, I was just learning then), then at my chest, and asked my name.
"Françoise, Father."
"Mon Dieu!  You're a girl!"
"Yes, Father."  I look down demurely.
It's too late.  The die is cast.  The Mass must continue! 
But it was too late.  He went ahead with the Holy Gospel, but with a slight tremor.  I spent the rest of the Mass quaking, knowing that the bishop would pass all kinds of anathemas on my head.  I really, really did not know that girls were not to do that! 
At the end of the Mass, he told me to say nothing about that to ANYONE.  The town being what it is, my indiscretion became common gossip because some old witch (or whatever the first letter was) spread the word around.
Things change.  Today girls serve routinely as altar servers.  I'm proud to say that my niece is one.  But I was the first.