I'm putting together a collection of boyhood memories. Your participation would be welcome. You'll find my email address in my profile. The idea is to describe a particular, intense moment from your boyhood years--the one that pops out with a kind of sparking clarity in memory, and speaks across the years to the man you are today. Just to get things started, here's one of my own memories...
The father stands at the altar, arms raised at either side, his hands facing forward. We see the white length of his surplice from the back, the white rope that cinches it at the waist, the gold-braided green chasuble at his neck.
What we cannot see from here, but intuit, are the luminous effects of the burst of sunlight whose rays filter in through the tall stained glass windows at the east end of the church, illuminating the father’s whole person, his vestments and his face, now upturned toward God. No, what we see is merely the father’s figure, tall, and outlined in glorious luminescence. We hear the euphonious sound of his voice as it intones the familiar liturgy of the Holy Communion, rising high in the chancel.
The son stands behind the father, a little to one side. He is perhaps ten years old. He wears a cassock and a short surplice. He is the server. When the right moment comes, a gesture from the father will beckon him to the small side table, where the wafers await, where the glass flagons of water and wine await. He takes, first, the wafers and offers them to the father, who places them on the paten, between the folds of the pure white cloth. He takes the wine and the water and offers them, one by one, to the father, who pours the precise amount needed into the gleaming silver chalice.
The father will now respond in kind to the reverential bow with which the son has learned to follow this exchange, and returns to the altar to offer the sacrifice of wine and wafer, now to be transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ.
This is the father’s mystery, in which the son must learn to believe. In his heart, he must learn to believe it. It is a mystery, yes. Perhaps one day, when he is older, he will learn what it means.