The thief of notre dame



I went to a catholic elementary school from kindergarten through the third grade called Notre Dame. The boys were required to wear light blue polos and dark blue pants and the girls plaid onesie-skirt situations with white blouses underneath. 


My best friend Jason lived down the street from us and threw a tear-filled screaming fit in the drop-off line nearly every morning of kindergarten, wailing as he was pulled from his car like he was being sent off to war. Six minutes after his mom drove away he’d be fine, and years later when the public began to find out priests the world over had been using their positions of power to have sex with children, I thought of those early morning meltdowns differently. Not because I ever heard anything happened at Notre Dame, but because it could have and all of our moms drove off, blindly trusting their children would be safe in the care of this suburban church.


My dad has told me stories of his Catholic school and how they were required to attend mass daily, patrolled by the nuns as the priests delivered the service in Latin and with their backs to the congregation. Because nothing holds a small child’s attention more than the back of an old man’s head as he drones on in a dead language for hours. Needless to say, my father left the church as an adult and as far as I know, hasn’t looked back.


Luckily, our masses weren’t daily and were delivered in English, but I missed most of what was being said because I was too busy wishing I was an altar boy. They got to wear crisp, floor-length robes cinched at the waist with colorful rope and performed all sorts of important looking functions during Mass. My favorite moment was when they became a human podium, hoisting an oversized and ornate bible high over their tiny heads for the priest to read as they blessed the wafers we weren’t allowed to eat until after Confirmation. Why the priest couldn’t just put the Bible on the the actual podium made perfect sense to this theater obsessed kid — everything was carefully choreographed pageantry and I. Wanted. In.


The biggest perk of being an altar boy was getting to go backstage before and after the service. While the rest of us plebeians were herded back to class, they were granted access to this inner sanctum where I imagined post-show notes were delivered and new choreography was workshopped. Next week, let’s try a box-step while we’re taking out the Eucharist. Ready? 5–6–7–8!


I never did get to be an altar boy, which was probably for the best, but I did make it to those back rooms for reasons I can’t remember. Maybe I was putting something back for class or maybe I just snuck in? Either way, in the short time I was there I managed to smuggle out a packet of those forbidden, flavorless wafers. 


Once home and safely in my room, I promptly delivered an incredibly moving mass to my stuffed animals. Holding the circular wafer high over my head as my stuffed monkey limply propped up an Encyclopedia Brittanica in front of me, I surveyed my flock and solemnly declared the wafer the BODY OF CHRIST, before shoving the entire thing in my mouth and discovering the body of Christ could use a little salt.


To be clear, I’m not blaming the Church for turning me into a petty thief, but I am saying none of this would have happened if they had kept the services in Latin.


This is post #13/30 in a 500 Words-A-Day Challenge. Read them all here.