16 March 2009

A Reflection on Genuflection

When I attended Our Lady of Grace Parish Grammar School in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago in the 1950's we started each and every day by attending 8:am morning mass. From the fifth grade on I was an “altar boy” and I often had the honor and the privilege of assisting the priest at morning mass in full view of my classmates. Sometimes I even had to assist at the 6:am mass and return at 8:am to attend mass again with the rest of my class. Getting up at 5:am and trudging through the snow of a Chicago winter to assist at the first morning mass must have been a character builder because most people who know me will attest to the fact that I am a real character. In those days the job of being an altar boy was quite special and it was usually offered to the boys whom the nuns and priest thought might have a priestly vocation. I actually did think about becoming a priest one time...for about ten minutes, and then I shrugged it off. Not long after the time that I became an altar boy I encountered puberty, and puberty is a powerful vocation killer.

In those days an altar boy, or “monaguillo” (mohn-ah-GHEE-yoh) as they are known in Spanish had much more to do that the altar boys or "altar girls" do now besides looking angelic. We had to act as the voice of the people and answer the prayers of the priest in Latin. I still remember much of the Latin and especially the beginning of the mass. The priest would begin by saying:

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. I will go in to the altar of God.

Then the altar boy(s) would answer:
Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
To God Who giveth joy to my youth.

How beautiful that is! I still say that when I enter a church and walk towards the altar. It takes me back to the joys of my youth and brings peace to my heart.

To be a good altar boy you needed to be able to genuflect ramrod straight. The job demanded it and there was no getting around it. The nuns were always watching and woe to the altar boy who slumped or who didn't keep his hands with palms together and with fingers pointing directly to Heaven right over his heart. In order to genuflect properly you must look at what you are genuflecting toward, bring your the right knee all the way to the floor close to the heel of your left foot, keep your back and your neck straight, and then come back up...all in one fluid motion. If there are two of you side by side you must do it exactly together.

People don't seem to genuflect much any more. Nor do they bless themselves with holy water from the holy water font. In fact you don't often see holy water fonts any more, at least not with holy water in them. When I was a kid people even had holy water fonts in their homes (we had one) and whenever someone entered they would dip a finger in the holy water font and make the sign of the cross. In fact they used to tell jokes about Catholics entering a room and reaching automatically for the holy water or genuflecting in a movie theater before they entered the row of seats. Well, I still like to genuflect when entering the pew before the God of my joy and my youth. When leaving I usually wait, however, until most of the people have already filed out so I don't get trampled on. Besides that I am no longer ramrod straight in my execution and am a bit slow. In fact, the other day I went down on one knee like usual and then I had a hard time getting back up. This really threw me into a panic. Could I possible be getting old?

I decided that I needed to take some positive action and start working on my genuflection ability. I began practicing at home with the aid of a couple chairs going down first on one knee and then on the other. I decided that the two chair maneuver was not the answer and that what I really needed was a big stick that I could plant firmly in front of me and then if I needed help getting back up the stick would allow me to use my arms as well as my legs in a much more efficient manner than the chairs. I went to Home Depot and bought a section of banister railing that would do quite nicely. When my wife Gina saw it she asked me what it is for and in a moment of divine inspiration I told her that it is “Dickey the Stick”. Those of you who are old enough will probably remember the old Johnny Carson routine about “Dickey the Stick” and “Suzy the Rope”, the toys that never need batteries. Well, now I have one and it works very nicely. In no time at all I should be back in good altar boy form and this time I am going to stay that way. Dickey the Stick works just fine and it still doesn't need batteries. I highly recommend it!


Tancho said...

I remember that Latin also, amazing that stuff the nuns beat into us, still is with us.....
My Nun was Sister Mary Ambrose, the classes were two in one room, 1-2,3-4, 5-6, 7 & 8 grades in the same room. Now they complain when there are more than 30 kids. I think we had about 60 total.
In the Blues Brothers movie , the nun was the same like the ones in my school.....a perfect stereotype!
I don't think they do all those things any more, like the old ruler on the hand slaps....

Bob Mrotek said...

Yes, we had sixty to a classroom too. Whenever one kid came down with the measles or the chicken pox we all did. I'll tell you something though. As tough as those old nuns were, I am glad that we had the discipline. I wouldn't want to go through the same experience again but I wouldn't trade having gone through it for all the tea in China.

GlorV1 said...

What a wonderful and vivid description of your altar boy experience. You are a well disciplined man and now I know why. That was a wonderful learning experience you went through. Look at you now.

By the way Bob, thanks for the info on TIN, but it actually was COPPER that I am working on. :( I don't know my mediums from a hole in the ground. I just hope I don't have to get a booster working with copper. Do I? Take care.

Babs said...

Ahh Bob, the memories! I remember etting sent to the principal for raising my hand to go to the restroom at a time the nun didn't want me to - or the time I got my knuckles rapped (don't even remember why) but the most traumatic was finding out that they ate "human food" like Cheerios. Oh my gosh.
In the 2nd grade I was to carry a bouquet of flowers up to the Bishop who was visiting Immaculate Conception Church in Chicago. He was supposed to be up at the front and for some reason I couldn't find him so I turned around in the aisle and walked back out of the church - much to the horrification of the nuns, my parents and everyone else. It was the beginning of my "independent stage" Ha....

Unknown said...


jajajaja....¡Qué monaguillo tan curioso! I learned a new word from you. "enuflect ramrod" ¿Podría Ud. traducirlas al inglés?


Bob Mrotek said...

Querida Gloria, Muchísimas gracias.

Ah Babs, another survivor of Catholic grammar school :)

"Genuflect ramrod straight" quiere decir hacer una genuflexión con espalda recta. ¿Qué pensaste tu?

Unknown said...


Lo que pensé no se puede escribir, jajajaja. No se crea. Pensé que sería algo así como una alabanza con golpes de pecho. Pero ahora que usted lo explica, lo entiendo.

Gracias Bob.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.