The dangerous lives of altar girls

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.

Why I hate alphabetical order


My last name is Vaz.  Which starts with a V.  Anyone else who has a last name which starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet will probably share my dislike of alphabetical order.  We’re always last.  And it isn’t fair.  I was last in enough things in school, like 3 blocks runs and being picked for group projects.  Did I really need the additional misfortune of being last for things simply because of my last name?  Apparently.

I’m taking a class right now at UBC, which is what reminded me of this today.  At the end of class, our assignments were handed back.  And our names were called out so we could go get our assignments and then leave.  And of course they were called out in alphabetical order.  What else is new?  And so I sat there.  Wanting to leave.  But unable to.  Because the people with C last names were still being called.  It was going to be a long while…

I’ve had to go through this in all my years of education, ever since I can remember.  When lining up for things, we would do it alphabetically.  Which meant you were always stuck in between the same two people in the line up.  And if you didn’t like those people, well, that was just too bad.  And sometimes that would be how groups or partners were assigned.  So if I didn’t like the kid who’s last name started with T, or the other kid who’s last name started with V, it didn’t matter.  We were stuck together.

When tests and assignments were handed back, I would always have to wait, much like I had to wait today.  And yes, people say that sometimes the teachers would mix it up and go in reverse alphabetical order instead.  But I feel like that rarely happened, if ever.  I cannot recall a time when it did.  Maybe my childhood memories are just biased and blocking out the few good experiences that may have occurred?

So I had to wait a little longer for certain things, so what?  Would I have really done anything important with those extra minutes that I spent patiently waiting?  Probably not.  But that’s not the point.  It’s the principle of the matter.  And sometimes it wasn’t just time that I missed out on.

In elementary school, we would have “hot lunch” every so often, maybe once a month?  This was basically when the school allowed us to order food, since there was no cafeteria or place to buy food and we would always bring it from home.  For hot lunch, we would have to bring in money and check off what we wanted days in advance.  They would order from places like Subway or Pizza Hut, or sometimes it was just hot dogs, catered from I don’t know where.  When the lunches arrived, guess what order they called them out in?

So I had to wait longer before I could eat.  But that’s not all.  You would also have the option of ordering a drink and a donut.  You could specify what drink you wanted, but the donuts were just a first come, first served thing.  And everyone wanted the long johns.  But there weren’t enough long johns to go around.  So when it was finally time for the girl with the V last name to get her food, there were only jelly donuts left.  And I didn’t like jelly donuts.  It wasn’t fair.

I suppose things could have been worse.  There were always kids with last names that started with W and Y.  But were pretty much in the same boat.  But at least since they were there, I was never dead last.  I guess at least that was something.  I think if I were a teacher and I was handing back assignments, I would just mix them all up and read them out in a completely random order.  That way no one is at a disadvantage.  Although then you wouldn’t know when to listen for your name.  At least alphabetically, you knew when it was going to be your turn.  Damn, I guess it is the most efficient way.  But still.  It wasn’t fair.

The things I missed out on.