I must be getting old because, recently, simple experiences have evoked some quite nostalgic memories. For example, two Sundays ago, I sallied into the sacristy in St Roch’s before the 11.45 a.m. Mass, to find our two young altar servers waiting there patiently for the priest to arrive. I was immediately transported back, over 60 years ago, to when I was an altar server in St. Simon’s in Partick. Growing up in that parish in the 1950’s, small though it was, we had a parish priest and two curates. We were very blessed in that each of them was a wonderful priest in their own rite but, as you can well imagine, each of them was very different. The old parish priest (he probably wasn’t that old) could be quite gruff, but there was a kindness beneath his stern exterior. I remember many a Saturday morning being spent in a parlour in the chapel house, usually with my older brother, who was also an altar server, polishing the brass candlesticks and other items under his watchful supervision, afraid to make a mess of anything and get a telling off. However, there was always a little reward of juice and biscuits, as well as a little money which would be put by for us, which would then be given to us for our annual altar servers outing to the Kelvin Hall for the circus and the carnival. It was the same if we got money for serving at a wedding. We weren’t allowed to keep it, but it would also be put aside for the outing, and we would be almost bursting with excitement as January approached, which was when the said outing would usually take place.
The senior curate seemed to us to be very holy, very clever, and very strict. He had quite an aloof air about him, and we knew he was a very gifted musician. He celebrated Mass with great dignity and precision, which made us terrified that something might happen during Mass to make one of us snigger, which would then set the other server off sniggering too, thereby puncturing the solemnity of the Latin liturgy. But again, when such eventualities did occur, as inevitably they did, we would more likely be met with a cheeky grin in the sacristy afterwards, than with a telling off. I think, a lot of the time, with his apparent airs and graces, he was just winding us up. And then there was the young curate whom we just loved. He was always very cheery, chatty and encouraging, and he was a big football fan, a follower of Glasgow Celtic as his senior team, and a follower of St Anthony’s in Govan as his junior team, both of whom played in the green and white hoops. As my father had been born and grew up in Govan, we also had an affinity with St Anthony’s, better known as the “Ants”, and this curate would take us to games whenever the opportunity arose and, whenever we served devotions on a Wednesday evening, which was just about every week, if there was a game on at Celtic Park, he would whisk us into the car afterwards, where he knew of a gate where we could get in for free to watch the second half. Magical days.
The memory evoked two Sundays ago, was of being in the sacristy before Mass in our tender years, wondering which one of these three priests was going to appear as the celebrant, as each one would evoke quite a different reaction in us. Naturally, we usually hoped it would be the young curate. And that made me wonder about these two altar servers in St Roch’s. Are they doing the same each Sunday? Are they waiting there wondering whether it will be Father John, Father Gareth or Father Frank who is going to come through the door? And what might the differences be in their reaction to each of us? I hope they are okay with whichever one of us it is, and they are both excellent altar servers that we are very blessed to have. Altar servers are a bit thin on the ground, both in St Roch’s and in St Mungo’s. As we prepare for 1st Sacraments in both parishes, hopefully we can encourage a new batch to come forward. All I can say is that, for myself, I look back on those days with great fondness and gratitude.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.