Sunday, September 11, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt five)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

The non-mercenary part of the attraction of being, as an altar boy, a kind of mini-priest, was not exactly religious, but it was to do with ritual – the sonorous secret language of call-and-response Latin formulae; the candles and incense; the luscious whiff of the altar wine; the dazzling white of the sacred host, transformed from sticky unleavened bread into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. There were also crumbs from the table of power. I got to officiate at weddings, to be vicariously a part of other people’s happiness. Even amid the adult grief of funerals, holding the holy water for the priest to sprinkle over the coffin made me feel serious and important – rare feelings for a child in those days.

This sense of importance was not confined within the church. Its writ ran in school, too. One morning, our teacher was absent and we were messing and talking loudly in the classroom. The head Brother burst in, dark-browed and furious and roared at us. As we sat terrified, he asked: ‘Do any of any of ye even know what saint’s day it is today?’ While the others cowered, I put up my hand: ‘Saints Zachary and Elizabeth, father and mother of John the Baptist.’ ‘Stand up’, he said, and as he came towards me I thought for a moment that I had said something wrong and he was going to hit me. He put out his hand and shook mine, as though I were not a boy but a friend. ‘Now this is a true Christian. The rest of ye are pig-ignorant heathens.’

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