My religious fervour soared to sublime heights at the end of Grade One. We had dutifully memorized our Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s with Sister Mary Owen. We had dutifully memorized our catechisms line for line, word for word, lest we suffer a baleful frown, or worse, from Monsignor Valschen himself. We had committed the entire Latin mass to rote with patient coaching on the part of Father Mecklenburg, and then we’d prepped and crammed some more to clear the final hurdle before First Communion: a perfect Act of Contrition in recitation.
Saturday mornings were reserved for the confessional. I anticipated those mystical mornings in a mostly empty church as my best chance to maybe spot the Holy Spirit fluttering around in one of the darkened corners of St. Dominic’s vestibule. I’d sit alone in a centre pew for the longest while, watching the light play on the gloomy-even-on-a-sunny-day purply greenish stained glass windows. In winter, the wind would whistle around the lead window latches, beseeching to enter God’s house. Aging timbers would moan. Joe Grauman’s old steam furnace would groan and belch from the basement, setting the tidy pattern of sculpted metal radiator grates along the outside walls humming in vibrating harmonies.
Tentative feet would shuffle intermittently along the gleaming floorboards at the back of the church, the heavy purple confessional curtain opening and closing with a muffled frump, a pale, tiny white bulb clicking on as each new supplicant knelt to spill the beans to Father Kristoffel, who at the moment was no longer Father Kristofffel eavesdropping on your most private moments but God masquerading in priest’s vestments and a receding gingy halo. You didn’t dare to strain to make out the whispers.
I’d linger, transfixed by the serenity, the mystery and solemnity of it all. I was especially enthralled with the agonized sculpted postures and expressions depicted on the painted plaster-of-Paris Stations of the Cross, mounted north and south along each side of the sanctuary. A prayer vigil candle would flicker here and there in the metal stands provided at each of the two side altars up front, Joseph on the right, Mary (doing a much brisker business) on the left. A nickel was the going rate for a candlelight supplication back then.
Finally sated in all this reverential dawdling, no conjuring of Holy Ghosts to report again this Saturday, I’d bite the bullet, duck into the darkened booth, purple drape whooshing left then right. Take a knee. Click. Showtime.