Seeing the altar boys during midnight masses reminds of the time when I, too, served as an altar boy in pre-Vatican times. I would outwit other altar boys to be one of the priest’s “sakristan” in morning masses and do the best I can so the priest would choose me again the next time around.
Looking back, it was all about status and power – the status of being the priest’s assistant and the power of being close to the divine. Status and power came with costume, as in wearing the altar boy’s white robe; with props, as in handling sacred objects like cruets, missal, chalice, paten, bells, and if one was lucky, a taste of host and sweet wine; and with language, as in answering the priest in Latin, a tongue which I hardly understood but which sounded like secret incantations that only you and the priest shared.
One’s proximity to the tabernacle, the consecrated host, the candles, and the flowers, added to the sense of status and power. So did the act of serving communion, holding the golden communion plate below the chin of communicants as they stick out their tongues to receive the Body of Christ.
For a young man, nothing beats the sense of privilege accorded to those who served as altar boys. It was like being very close to God. And it was to me, then, a better source of status and power than scoring the most points in a basketball game.