April 14, 2006

a not-so-good friday

Despite its serious religious significance, Holy Week was a bit of a hoot back when I was in Catholic school. Well, the beginning of the week was at least. Like every other holiday, Easter came early at school. Construction paper crucifixes and papier mache bunnies were made, Easter eggs hidden and found, paper baskets woven and copious amounts of candy consumed despite the Lenten season and its intolerance of such indulgences.

We were dismissed early on Holy Thursday and given Good Friday off so that we could prepare ourselves for the biggest of big holy days -- Easter Sunday.

Everyone else at school looked forward to the long holiday weekend. I didn't care for the extra days off so much myself. See, every year, my mother gathered up her four girls and shuttled us off to church. Yes, while my friends were out playing and basking in the sunshine, my butt was in a hard wooden pew in a darkened church.

Holy Thursday services weren't all that bad though. They were really long but I kind of dug the whole oil and incense thing and all the Latin and the reenactment of the Last Supper. Watching the pastor of the church washing the feet of select members of the congregation -- my father included -- always struck me.

Of course, part of my curiosity was about the temperature of the water being poured on those people's bare feet and wondering if those people all remembered to clip their toenails before Mass. I also pondered if the priests discussed the state of their parishioners' feet at social gatherings.
"It looked like old So-and-So's feet haven't touched water since last Holy Thursday! Hardy har har!"
But then again, maybe there's a certain amount of confidentiality surrounding foot washing similar to the seal of Confession. Like, no matter how manky the feet or how atrocious the sin, the priest has to keep mum. Any religious scholars care to weigh in?

It was the Good Friday services that I really dreaded. Every year, I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach hoping that my mother wouldn't make me go to church. It wasn't even because the Mass ate up a good chunk of my day or because of the REALLY long Gospel that we had to stand all the way through. My discomfort stemmed from one thing and one thing only -- the Veneration of the Cross.

In the latter part of the Mass, the priest stands in the front of the church with a big crucifix and invites the congregation to come forward to kiss or touch the cross. While I can't remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, I can remember exactly what the priest said during this part of the service:
"This is the wood of the cross on which was hung the savior of the world."
And then the congregation sang in response: "Come let us worship!"

Except me.

See, that's when my freak-out really kicked into high gear. I sooooooooooooo did not want to go and worship. My palms got all sweaty and my legs felt leaden and stiff. Kissing the cross was the last thing I wanted to do. I often considered touching it but I never saw anyone else do that and I didn't know how long I was supposed to touch it or where exactly. So kissed the cross, I did... and every year I walked back to my pew with a flaming red face and slightly skeeved out that I had just put my mouth on something where many others had been. It was even more embarrassing when some of the boys in my class were the altar servers. They'd smirk at me while I trudged forward in line waiting to pucker up. I wanted to flip them off in the worst way but even I'm not that irreverent.

I realize I wasn't supposed to be thinking of such things because, what was it that my mother said again? Oh right... Jesus died on that cross and his suffering was far greater than mine and I should be ashamed of myself for even being embarrassed and I should go say a good Act of Contrition for being so silly on such a solemn day.

My younger sister loathed the cross-kissing practice as much as I did. She too felt awkward and self-conscious and experienced similar smirks from her altar-serving classmates.

One year, she was the first of the McDimples in line to venerate the cross. In her haste to do a quick buss and bolt, she somehow made a really loud smooching noise with her lips. If she was in a cartoon panel, the dialogue bubble would have read: SMMMAAAAAAAAACK!

It was unreal! A wave of snickering and stifled laughter rolled backwards on the procession line starting with my older sister, then the second oldest, my two cousins and then finally, me. We were trying to be discreet but not doing a very good job of it. However, it did make me forgot about my cross-kissing panic. But, in my attempt to simultaneously kiss and conceal my swelling laughter, I banged my tooth on Jesus' foot, at which point I yelped, "OW!" and then realizing how loud it was, I gasped and then cupped my hand over my mouth, turned around and then proceeded to giggle all the way back to my seat.

A spectacle was made.

And my mother witnessed the whole thing. The ride home from church was NOT fun, let me tell you. But, she had the last laugh because as I recall, my basket was really light on the Cadbury Mini Eggs and pastel candy corn that year.

Have a Happy Easter and Passover! And try not to chip any teeth.