Let me tell you about eight-year-old Gregory. He lights the candles before Mass. They are as tall as he is. He must take them off the upper part of altar, place them on the floor, get out the electric lighter, and then place them back. It is quite a balancing act. The lectionary with stand attached is very big, and he is able to carry it from one side of the altar to the other multiple times and not drop it. He was holding the bells for consecration, and they were tinkling when they should not be. I had to squelch my laughter. When he lifts the chasuble, his left arm extends as far as it can, and he holds on with his left hand and onto the bells in the right hand. Dextera means right hand, and at that moment little Gregory becomes ambidextrous.
He stands to the right of the priest and deftly holds the communion paten under the chin of every man, woman, and child (must be at least seven) and never tires. A Low Mass is a little more than an hour. There are at least 100 who receive, and he must almost run to keep up with the towering priest. The priest held the chalice below the altar itself for Gregory to pour in the water so that the priest could wash it clean.
Gregory is allowed to serve by himself because he memorized all the Latin and learned every move he must make. When I asked him, he gave me my first tour of the sacristy and explained everything. I let him think I didn’t know anything, but he is smart and knew he was not talking to a neophyte. He has a younger brother who has autism, so we shall see if he can to do what his older brother does, maybe not alone, but it would be edifying to see him helping his older brother. The layman who trains the altar boys is strict.
Here is one of the prayers Gregory memorized in Latin. He repeats it after the priest and then again a second time right before receiving communion, which is before we receive. Of course, we are praying the Confiteor silently. Gregory and the priest say it quietly:
I confess to Almighty God,
to blessed Mary ever Virgin,
to blessed Michael the Archangel
to blessed John the Baptist,
to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
to all the Saints, and to you, brethren,
that I have sinned exceedingly
in thought, word and deed:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
all the Saints, and you, brethren,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
When he gets home, he must fall into bed without saying his prayers, because he has said enough to last for days. Now I understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” Gregory’s innocence and the innocence of all the children I have tutored forces me take a hard look at myself and what I lack. When I see his mother next, I will ask how often he serves.
Years ago, when I was driving on a long road trip and my 10-year-old niece was in the back seat, I told a scary story I had once heard. When done, my niece said, “Don’t stop!” I made up a bunch of stuff and didn’t stop until I ran out of ideas. That was the moment when I knew I could tell a story.