Attending a Catholic elementary school and being the son of old school and very conservative Catholic parents, like my brothers before me, I became an altar boy. Little choice, really. More of an expectation. As a seventh and eighth grader, I was selected by Sr. Gwendolyn as the head altar boy. Not much of a title. Not much of any frills either, at least that I can remember. Mostly, I was to set an example, organize who did what before the major liturgical celebrations and ceremonies, but as I recall, Sr. G and Father Konezney did that anyway. So in retrospect, it was a title without any clear expectation and certainly not any privilege.
Back in the old days, there were three times we rang bells during the mass. One set of bells covered the actual consecration before and after, while we rang another set as the host or chalice was raised up. It had a higher pitch than the other. It went low, high, then low. Two altar boys rang the bells.
During one mass, I’m not sure what I was thinking or if I was thinking at all, but I rang the high pitch bell first. No big deal I guess, but when I tried to correct my mistake, I rang it again when the host was raised up along with the other bell rung by the other altar boy. It didn’t go low, high, low, but instead when high, low-high together, and then low. One heck of a lot of bells going off at the wrong time. And, as the head altar boy, I was to know better.
Now I have to tell you, Father Konezney had a temper, but mostly, he had a wry wit and a sarcastic bent that most everyone found funny. Sr. Gwendolyn, on the other hand, seemed to have a bad temper about most everything that only got worse when things went wrong. About ten times worse.
I was the server who helped at communion. Again back in the old days, the altar boy held a gold plate under the communicant’s chin in case the host fell. I followed Fr. K to the distribution line and as I stood next to him he muttered something to the effect, “A lot of bells, Mr. Lewis. Kind of pretty. Weird, but pretty.”
Now I have to tell you, I relaxed a little, but only a little, because in the congregation that day was Sr. G. I was not looking forward to any conversation with her at all. After all, I was the head altar boy and I had to set a good example and I should have known better.
After we cleaned up from the service that morning, after the cassocks were hung up and everything put away, I found Sr. G waiting for me on the sidewalk between the church and the rectory. The other altar boy who was walking with me stopped in his tracks, turned around and left me to face the consequences alone. But just about the time Sr. G raised a finger to begin her diatribe, Fr. K came out of the church and said, “Well hello, Sister. Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She nodded and agreed with him. Then he stood next to me, placed his arm around my shoulder and then placed me in a very mild headlock and said, “I told Mr. Lewis here that the bells were a nice change pace today, don’t you think so?” Sr. G just stared at him, but lowered her pointed finger. “It was a mistake, and I’m sure he won’t do it again, but I kind of liked the sound, didn’t you?” Sr. G remained silent. Then Fr. K released my head but his arm remained on my shoulders and he said, “Joe, why don’t you see if you can get some guys together this afternoon and I’ll open the gym and we’ll play some basketball.”
Sr. G nodded at us, glared at me, and left. Fr. K smiled after her, turned to me and said, “Joe, mistakes happen all the time. Little ones. Big ones. Things happen. Best we can do is learn from them, right?” I responded with a, “Yes, Father.” He laughed and said, “Once a bell is rung, you can’t unring it. Just move on. Learn and move on.” He patted me on the shoulders and walked away.
Unring The Bell.
You can’t. It happened. It happens. Best we can do is learn from it and move on no matter what it is.
I think many of us ring bells at the wrong time. Some of us ring the wrong bells at the wrong time. It happens every so often and for some of us, it happens quite often. Like Fr. K said though, we can’t ever Unring The Bell. Best to learn and move on. And by the way, a bunch of us went to the gym that afternoon and played basketball and had a great time. And as I recall, leaving the gym after locking up, Fr. K gave me another headlock and asked if I was okay. Yeah, I was more than okay. Something to think about . . .