Altar serving used to just be for boys. I remember my mom saying that one time she saw a girl altar serving and thought “Oh, they allow girls to do it now”, but then she realized that it was really just a boy with long hair. But at some point they did change this policy and open it up to allow girls to be altar servers as well. Which I suppose is a good thing, a step towards more equality between the sexes? But personally I wish they had just kept it to boys only. Or at least waited a little longer before allowing girls to do it. This has nothing to do with sexism or anything. But if they had left it as is, then I would never have had to be an altar server.
I don’t know why I was. I was terrible at it. Why did I sign up for it? Did my parents make me do it? I don’t think so. They must have given me a choice in the matter. But I ended up altar serving throughout most of elementary school. Okay, it wasn’t that bad. I mean really there was nothing wrong with it. And it certainly wasn’t dangerous, as my misleading title would imply. But somehow it just wasn’t right for me. Or I wasn’t right for it. Or a bit of both, I suppose?
When you’re an altar server, everyone can see you. Because you’re up at the altar. Sitting, standing, walking, holding a candle, pouring the water, holding the book. All eyes are on you. Okay well not really. But people can see you more so than say, a random person sitting in the crowd. And for an awkward and introverted kid like I was, this was unpleasant. It’s not as if there was a lot that you needed to know, but I would still get paranoid about screwing something up. Or tripping on my robe or dropping something and just being an embarrassment. I worried about these things anyway, but to have to worry about them up at the altar was even more nerve wracking.
And I didn’t like the robes we had to wear. Especially in the summer, it was always so hot. But we were told that it wasn’t so bad, as the priest had to wear even more garments than we did. It was also difficult to get the size that properly fit you. You didn’t want to wear one that was too long, because you could trip over it. But you also didn’t want one that was too short, because then it would look bad and your pants would show. We had a rope to tie as a belt, and I somehow wasn’t very good at tying it properly. That was annoying. The robes were also unflattering. I mean, I wore a lot of ugly outfits at that age anyway, but in the altar serving robe, everyone could see me. And I think I had an ugly haircut too, and a generic altar serving robe would draw more attention to my hair and my face which was not a good thing at the time.
I remember one of the priests we had commented to my mom one time that I was always so serious whenever I was there. Yeah, I suppose I’ve always had that look about me. But imagine a little girl sitting up there at the altar, looking angry. Maybe I was angry about my bad haircut. But yeah. I’m pretty sure I looked angry when I wasn’t altar serving as well, but people were less likely to notice.
There wasn’t a whole lot to remember. But being awkward as I am, I did screw up a few times. I don’t think I ever fell down though. Which is surprising seeing as I’m sort of clumsy and really don’t have the greatest sense of balance. There’s a time during Mass when two servers bring the water and the wine to the priest, and he pours them into the chalice. The altar servers then bow to the priest before walking away. I’ve never been good at bowing. How do you fail at bowing? Well, trust me to find a way. One time I just didn’t bow enough, so it was more like a quick head nod, and so realizing I hadn’t properly bowed, I tried bowing a second time to make up for it. The result was a sort of double head nod bow combo, which I’m sure looked as awkward as it felt, possibly more so. I seem to recall a few people in the pews who knew me noticing and laughing.
I also never learned the proper way to set the altar. Only the altar server who was holding the cross had to do this. The two with the candles were off the hook for this task. But I reluctantly found myself in the position of the cross bearer a few times and didn’t really know what I was doing. The napkin had to be folded and unfolded a certain way, the chalice put in a specific position, and the book placed in a certain way. I was never sure of any of it. One time I just left it as is, and let the priest rearrange it. If I’d just done it how I thought it should be, he would’ve had to correct it anyway, so what was the point?
One time I forgot to help clear the altar after communion. I don’t know why, it just slipped my mind. Instead, I just went back and sat down, oblivious to the fact that I had not finished fulfilling my altar serving duties for the moment. One thing I think I was good at was holding the book while the priest read from it. I don’t think I ever managed to screw that up. Except one time for some reason there was a bigger book and it was heavy. But I still managed. Good for me.
It was awkward sometimes holding the candles. Because there are two altar servers who hold them together. But I was always significantly taller than the other person. So it looked odd when we both stood there, with the candles at different heights and sort of out of sync. But what could we do? I think I got roped into holding the cross a few times just cause I was tall. And then I had to spend the whole time dreading the moment when I would have to set the alter. It wasn’t fair.
I think my favourite part was putting out the candles when Mass was over. I don’t know why, I just liked it. Maybe because it was the last thing I had to do? And it was just fun to put the candles out. I can’t remember what that thing it called that we used to extinguish them. No, it wasn’t an extinguisher. It was this gold curved stick thing with a cup like thing on the end that fit over the candle so you could put it out. Now that’s going to bother me. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?
Even though I was probably a terrible altar server, I stuck with it throughout my elementary school years at St. Paul’s. I suppose it wasn’t that bad. I think they had an appreciation barbeque for us every year as well. And I think I may have got a certificate or a card? Or maybe not. I’m not sure. But in any case, our services were appreciated. And I think we’re all really lucky that I never managed to burn anything by accident, considering all those candles at the altar.