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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.