Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Above: Joseh Barone, Oct. 13, 1974

Recently, my son became an Altar Server and it brought back memories of when I was an Altar Boy.
When I was in the 5th Grade, you could become an Altar Boy. Many, if not all, of the Catholic boys in St. Joseph became Altar Boys. It was a big thing for us.
Training to learn how to serve was conducted by the moderator of the Altar Boys. Each week, for four or five weeks, we would meet after school to practice and learn about the various items used during Mass.
We would go into the Sanctuary, where the priests would dress for Mass. It was a large room behind the left side altar - behind the "back staircase" (if you were facing the front of the Church), which held a couple of large closets, and cabinets w/ drawers. (There was also a toilet back there too.) These cabinets and closets held various vestments, chalices, books, and other items used during the various Masses throughout the year. Behind the main altar, in the rectory, was a large cabinet which would hold the altarboy albs (white robes), which the altar boys wore for everyday Masses. Every boy was assigned one and responsible for keeping them clean.
Since it was not even 10 years after Vatican Council II, we wore red cassocks and white surplices for the 11am Mass - which was a considered a sort of High Mass, in which incense was used, Latin sung, etc. They were also used during other special days, such as Christmas Midnight Mass, Easter, etc. There were held in small alcove (between the elevator and Sanctuary). Yes, there is an elevator in the Rectory, which would take you to the Church basement, all of the floors of the rectory and up to school. It was one of those with a sliding gate, which you had to close by hand.
Once or twice a week, we would go down to the Sacristy to be trained after school. Our training consisted of practicing the our role -- when and where to sit, stand and/or kneel, when to hold up the Lectionary (or book of prayers), how to help with Communion, etc. We also learned how to set-up for and clean up after Mass. In addition, we had to learn about, including the names, of the various items used: Chalice, Ciborium, paten, purificator, etc. Although these items were usually ready for us before Mass, every once in a while, something our be missing and we had to go and get it for the priest. So, we also had to learn where it was.
Altar Boys were first introduced to the everyone during the Easter Masses. We would usually be part of the procession in and out of the various Masses. We did not do anything, since there were many other older boys.

Above: Fr. Hector Satori (Asst. Pastor of St. Joseph) in May of 1975. He was also the Altarboy Moderator for a couple of years.

Once you had learned what to do, you were assigned for a week of Masses and a Sunday Mass. On the Monday after Easter, I was required to serve the 8am Mass (which means I had to get up early on my vacation). I was scheduled with one of the Maldonado boys (they lived in the Smith Projects -- I think at 54 Catherine). You were always assigned the first time with an older server. As soon as Mass ended, the older boys usually "cut out" and left the younger guys to clean up.
So, you would arrive at least 10 minutes before Mass. You would dress, bring out anything that needed to be set up, light the candles and hang around waiting for the priest to begin. Since it was the weekday, Mass would last about 25 minutes, and there there was usually about 10 to 15 minutes of clean up --depending on how fast you worked together on it.
Now, depending upon the person who cleaned up, one of the things some of the boys would do is to drink the leftover wine. The wine used by the priests is usually sweet with a low alcohol content -- not strong like the Italian red wine. If there was one priest, the wine would be put into a small a small cruet (like a small pitcher), similar to ones you might find holding vinegar or red wine used for salads. They only hold three or four ounces of wine, not a huge amount. And after the priest had used some, you were lucky if there was one or two ounces left. So, some of the altar boys would fill the rest of the cruet with cold water and drink it. You couldn't get drunk on that but it was a big thing. Funny, how when you are younger, these are big things.
As I got a bit older, I and my buddy Jude, would many times be asked to serve the 8am Mass. Most mornings we usually had Fr. Chan. Now, Fr. Chan fled Mainland China in 1949, when Mao and the Communists took control. Each morning he would race in about five minutes before Mass was to begin, with a big "HELLO BOYS". (He lived on the Riverside Drive in the upper 80's/lower 90's, with some other priests who I believed also had fled the Mainland at that time.) We would then help him to vest up and out we would go.
Now, Fr. Chan was well known for speeding through the Mass, except during the Consecration (or when we believe that the bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Christ) which he would slow down. Typically, he would be done under 20 minutes. This was great if you had to serve and then head up to school. If you were lucky, you would be up in your classroom by the first bell. (Once done, Fr. Chan would head up to the kitchen for some coffee, cookies and to read the paper for a bit, before heading back uptown or making the rounds in Chinatown.)
In addition, we would also be called upon to serve a Funeral Mass. Funeral Masses usually started at 9:15am and ended about 10:15am. If the altar boys were given tips, we never got them with one exception. At the funeral of the father of one of the neighborhood boys, who was an altar boy himself, he handed each of us, at the end of Mass a couple of dollars. We were all too embarrassed and attempted to give back the money but he refused. (It was rumored that the sacristan would get be given money to distribute to us, but we never saw any of it.)
If you were a faithful server, meaning you rarely missed serving, you might be called upon to serve a wedding. Now, serving a wedding usually meant a tip -- that was your way of being thanked for faithfully serving. The tips were usually two or three dollars but sometimes it went up to $5.
I remember very well one wedding in particular. The bride was from KV. The wedding was in the early afternoon. The Church was packed. Fr. Moffo was the priest. It was a ceremony only, which meant that it should last about 20 to 30 minutes. The time for the ceremony came, no bride. Okay, some brides are a few minutes late. No problem. We waited. And waited and waited. About an hour later, she showed up. Fr. Moffo was furious. (My mom was wondering where the heck I was all this time.) After the ceremony, one of the groomsmen came in and gave my buddy and I $15 to split. Each of us got $7.50 -- a huge haul. We were talking about it for weeks.
by Joseph Barone

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gosh you are game... I was raped at 11 and am going to testify before the Australian Royal Commission>

May good men and women clam back the church.

Yes read and moderate out