As I write today, I am preparing to head over to the local Primary School to have a chat with the children who will be making their 1st Reconciliation next Monday. Father Gareth will call over to the other local Primary School to do the same tomorrow. Over the next couple of months, we will also be celebrating 1st Communions and Confirmations. While there are still some restrictions in place, it’s good to be celebrating these Sacraments once again.
I celebrated all of these sacraments in St. Simon’s in Partick, while I was attending St. Peter’s Primary School. Some memories still remain. For 1st Confession, as we called it then, I can remember hoping that it would be the young curate who would hear my 1st Confession. We had three priests at that time, all of them good, holy men, but the parish priest and the senior curate could be a bit stern, while the junior curate was cheerful and gentle. We had prepared and practiced well. On the day, when we were lined up outside the confessionals, and my turn came, it was the senior curate who became free and my heart sank. As it turned out, he could not have been more helpful, and I left the box feeling well cleansed of my sins, and even looking forward to the next time, not minding who the priest would be.
I can also remember the first time I heard a Confession as a priest. I had only been ordained in St. Mungo’s two days before by Cardinal Winning. At some time on the Monday after, the doorbell of the Retreat rang and was answered by the receptionist. She announced that there was a priest looking for Confession and, the then parish priest of St. Mungo’s, the late Father Michael, asked me to look after it. I panicked immediately and protested that I didn’t even have faculties yet, to which Father Michael replied that he had called Cardinal Winning that morning, and it was all sorted. As I entered the priests’ Confessional room in the Retreat it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t yet know by heart the words of absolution, and so I had to excuse myself for a minute, and run up to my room to find a little card that had the words printed on it, and then come back down to do the needful. I can tell you, hand on heart, that from that moment on, the words of absolution, long and short form, have been indelibly printed on my brain. I wonder how many Confessions I have heard since.
What I remember most about my 1st Communion, apart from receiving the body of Christ, of course, was the black blazer, grey trousers, white shirt, blue tie, and shiny black patent shoes, that were probably the nicest clothes I’d ever worn. There was also a lovely, pale blue sash draped perfectly from my left shoulder to my right hip. Afterwards we went to St. Simon’s Hall for a Communion breakfast, which seemed to consist of stone-cold sausage and egg, with some hot toast smothered in butter, and milky tea. Unlike today, there were no stacks of pound notes being pressed into my, or any other child’s hand, but still, I remember it as a very special day, a day when I felt very holy, and very close to Jesus. After making my 1st Communion, I became an altar server in St. Simon’s, and very quickly was being asked to train other altar servers, so I must have been reasonably good at it. The Mass was still in Latin then, of course. The same three priests were in the parish, and when I would be waiting in the sacristy for the priest celebrant to arrive, I still hoped it would be the young curate. My memories of Confirmation are not quite as strong. I remember the clothes were different, and the tie and the sash were red. Shortly afterwards my family would be leaving Partick and moving out to Drumchapel. I still commuted from Drumchapel to Partick to finish Primary School before accepting a bursary to move on to St. Mungo’s Secondary, an even longer commute, but I never did become an altar server in my new parish of St. Lawrence. However, something deep had been planted by the Holy Spirit, and here I am today. Come June, when the Confirmations will be celebrated, and, as we still await a successor to the late Archbishop Tartaglia to be appointed, I will have the privilege of conferring the Sacrament in his stead. So, as ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.