Tales from the Altar

This week’s assignment for my writing class was to write a piece of dark, transgressive humor that pushes the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable. Our teacher provided us with some Sarah Silverman and George Carlin videos as inspiration, and encouraged us to be “outrageous” and really go for it.

I guess I’m a total prude, because I found this extremely difficult.  I worried everything I said was too offensive. Eventually, I just said f*&k it, and came up with the piece below.  Admittedly, I PG-ified it a bit for you – but in the event that I still offend anyone, I’m sorry. Breezy don’t mean no harm, y’all.

And Mom: Please, please do not disown me over this. I love you and I know you have done everything in your power to prevent me from turning out this way.

Enjoy!

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Whenever anyone asks me about my religious proclivities (or, if I just want to make things really awkward at a dinner party), I tell them that I am a lapsed Catholic.

A lapsed Catholic, at least in my case, is someone who was raised Catholic, in a good Catholic family, was baptised, received First Holy Communion and was Confirmed, and despite all of this, has not stepped foot inside a church for the past five years. Why? Well, how long do you have?

It’s not the whole sexual abuse and rampant discrimination thing (although, that doesn’t help). Or the rigidly formalistic ceremony and all of that damn sitting, standing and kneeling. It’s not even the intense and unrelenting Catholic Guilt (which, of course, I am experiencing intensely as I write this.)No. The real reason behind my estrangement with the Catholic Church stems from my brief, albeit traumatizing, history as an altar girl.

*Not me or anyone I know. Poor bastards.

Serving on the altar was never a role I coveted. I was forced into it by my mother, who, as a young girl, wanted nothing more than to don that miniature white robe herself, but was not permitted, due to her pesky vagina.

But in 1992, in perhaps the only development the Catholic Church as made in the past 50 years (besides installing bulletproof glass on the Pope-Mobile), girls were finally allowed to sit on the altar.

Since my older sisters were already in high school at the time and had aged-out of the “target demographic” (if you know what I’m saying), I alone was left to carry the weight of my mother’s lifelong dreams on my shoulders.

I begged and pleaded not to have to do it, all the while cursing my mom for not having a better lifelong dream, like “being a fairy princess”, or “eating the world’s biggest hoagie”. But resistance was futile. The day after my 10th birthday, she marched me down to the Glebe House to sign up.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, at each Catholic mass, there are between 2-4 boys or girls who sit beside the altar and assist the priest with the running of the mass. They set up the altar, fetch items as necessary, hold the bible open on their heads for the priest to read, etc. In essence, they are basically glorified stage hands. Or towel racks. I remember for some reason always holding a stiff, white towel on my arm. It didn’t seem suspicious at the time….

Soon the time came for me to put on my unflattering, off-white robes (which I’m convinced were actually old curtains from an abandoned convent) and make my altarial debut. I was instantly anxious about being “on stage” in front of so many people. At the age of 10, I was, to put it mildly, at an “Awkward Stage”. I was prepubescent, mildly overweight, and extremely clumsy, and had no desire to call further attention to myself; especially in that get-up. Each Sunday, I would say a silent Novena that I would not spill any wine, trip over my own feet or generally make an ass of myself.

Well that, my friends, is when I learned that there is no God. Every week, without fail, I fucked up. I stumbled up the stairs. I dropped things left, right and centre. Once, I even knocked over a candle backstage and started a small fire. I had to use three spare altar robes and a bucket of holy water just to put it out.

Almost my church.

Another time I had an allergic reaction to the Easter Lilies while on stage. I began sneezing like crazy and clutching my throat in an attempt to breathe, while 2 Eucharistic Ministers rushed to my aid and escorted me offstage.

While the process for regular masses was bad enough, it was even worse during church Holidays. At Easter, we pulled out a massive crucifix that I’m pretty sure had to be air lifted in, and set it up on the altar for the entire congregation to come and kiss Jesus. My job was to stand there, with one of those stiff white cloths I always had, and wipe the lipstick and saliva droplets from Jesus’ emaciated nether regions after each churchgoer was done. (Which, incidentally, is also a form of torture used in many Siberian prisons.)

Another ceremony we had at Easter was what I call the “Fucked-Up Holy Water Parade”. This is how it worked: I carried around a bucket of holy water while the priest dipped a sceptre-like device into it and waved it all over the people in each pew. (I don’t know why he just didn’t just use a Supersoaker. It would’ve been so much easier.)

Like this, only the bucket was allll me

I inevitably got soaked every single time. Looking back, I guess I was just really blessed, but at the time, I only remember feeling damp.

I thought that it would at least be interesting to get a behind the scenes look at the priest; the “man behind the robes”, if you will. But I soon realized that he was just as boring in real life as he was during his homilies. He would breeze in 5 minutes before mass, put on his jazzy robes and get to business, speaking little, if at all, to us kids. Which I guess makes sense, because it’s probably hard to stifle deep-seeded urges and make small talk at the same time.

My career as an altar server was ultimately short-lived. Admittedly, my commitment was pretty lax. Due to my aforementioned childhood obesity, I would rather watch TV or eat Passion Flaikies than actually move my appendages. Eventually, I started doing everything I could to affect my own constructive dismissal. I wore jeans on the altar (a big-no-no) paired with a too-short robe. I skipped my shifts. I started salacious rumours about my fellow altar servers. And, need I remind you of the infamous backstage altar fire of 1997? Enough said.

Eventually, my name began appearing on the schedule less and less, until one month it was nowhere to be found at all. My mother was devastated; convinced that this was yet another sign of the Church’s developmental retardation. They didn’t really want girls on the Altar. It had all been just a sophisticated ploy to appease the masses. She hugged me and told me to not let it get me down; that despite that awful Priest, girls in this world could still do anything! She insisted that we say the rosary together and pray for guidance. And as I knelt down and began saying my “Hail Mary’s”, I stifled a smug grin of victory into my folded hands.

Question of the Day: How do you feel about dark humor? Do you push the boundaries, or stick to what’s PC?

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27 thoughts on “Tales from the Altar

  1. Great post! I am a firm believer in pushing boundaries. PC for one is not PC for everyone else so I push away! I love dark humor. I can find humor in things that most cringe at.

  2. “And as I knelt down and began saying my “Hail Mary’s”, I stifled a smug grin of victory into my folded hands.” <3
    Your labelled illustration of the various altar items blew my mind and puts my Catholic knowledge of these things to shame. If I were your mom, I'd be pretty damn proud that my daughter was such a firestarter.

    Have you ever watched the movie "Keeping the faith"? You remind me of Edward Norton whose priestly garments catch fire when he's dispensing incense and then throws himself into the baptismal font to put it out.

    • Yesss… I made that illustration myself. All me! haha. I now need to watch this movie to finally gain some peace of mind 17 years later that I’m not the only eff-up on the altar.

  3. To hell with PC! I admit comedians who offend just for the sake of offense aren’t always my favorite, but the masters, who ply their craft without restraint or regard to political correctness, are the best! If there’s a joke or a funny story, let not any false notions of politeness or fear of the sensitive restrain you from fully waxing that ass of a story into a deep bellied guffaw.

    • Very well said! I completely agree. I don’t like it just for the shock value but if it’s part of the flow of the piece and can add something, by all means!

  4. If this happened to me not only would I leave the church I would start an unholy war against it. Why is it everyone I seem to talk to was fat as a kid?

    I’m actually pretty good at “judging a crowd” and what I can and cannot get away with. I find with non-religious people you’re best to talk about sex. With religious people you’re best to talk about race. Religious people think sex is gross so you should avoid it with them but they also think non-white people are gross so it’s okay to make fun of them.

    It took me a while, probably until I was about 20, to realize there’s a difference between being dirty and offensive as opposed to just being honest. Honesty is dirty and offensive. You don’t need to make something up to get the same reaction. A lot of guys never realize this. Poop

    • Makes sense about the fat kid thing..Humor comes from pain haha.
      I think you make a really good point about “judging the crowd”.. you really have to know your audience to see what you can get away with. I’ve gotta hand it to you, you are way better than me at all of this boundary pushing business

      • You’re a lady, have a career you seem to at least somewhat enjoy, and are Canadian therefore care about others. I can’t think of a single reason to ever be nice at all.

    • haha I know, it is pretty PG. I kind of failed. In my defense I had a few edgier jokes in there that I took out.. but now kind of wish I’d left in. Maybe next time ;)

  5. Hahaha- another great post, Bree! Although you definitly outgrew the childhood obesity, the clumsiness still lingers… I remember the fire!

    Here’s to hoping that you and your “pesky vagina” have a safe and enjoyable weekend!!

    S

    • Your comment made me LOL. Aah sister. You were so lucky to have escaped such cruel and unusual punishment!
      My pesky vagina and I WILL have a great weekend, thank you very much. Drink lots of vino for me! xo

      • I, too, was subject to this rite of passage!! You wouldn’t know because you weren’t born yet, but I “served” for over 4 years!! Serve is an apt term…

        There were a couple of robe- trips in my day and I remember how hard I had to concentrate to make sure the bell ring came at the right time! We fought in the vestibule before each mass over who would get to ring that bell… At the time, I was also heavily involved in Tae Kwon Do, so I won the argument most Sunday’s.

        I also remember feeling vaguely stoned on the altar. Must have been the incense…

        Peace

        S

  6. ” Which I guess makes sense, because it’s probably hard to stifle deep-seeded urges and make small talk at the same time.”
    Hahaha,,,I laughed so hard at this!

    I love this kind of humour. It just depends on how you word it and use it. For some reason, I always have just the right timing when I drop these comment bombs.
    I agree with Moose, you have to know the “company” your in. That’s why I love bf so much, he appreciates and likes my “cough, cough” bi-racial comments, at least he says he does (smart man), if he wants to see moi “pesky vajay jay”
    Great post Breezy :)

  7. you’re a sweetheart. really. i didn’t find anything offensive. but sure a few words need to be edited to receive the imprimatur (did i spell it right?) from the church.

  8. Nicely Done! I just have to say that “The Littlest Hobo” is very much like a show I loved when I was a kid, called “Run Joe, Run!” which was about a German Shepherd who had escaped an evil government training facility and went from town to town helping people. He was extremely smart because of his training and experimental brian surgery. The agency was always closing in on him at the end of each episode, so he would be forced to move on, riding trains or hopping into the back of a truck bed en route to his next adventure. Admittedly, I still look for him :) Thanks for bringing back that memory. Who knows — maybe Joe and the Littlest Hobo met up somewhere?

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