by S. Fowler Wright
Tall silk hats are not usually worn nowadays but he always turned out with a tall silk hat. Whether he came to morning Mass or whether he went out on a midnight sick-call he always wore the tall silk hat. As a priest, he was very dignified but on the one day of the year when the school went to the seaside one laddie was deputed to carry round an empty leather carrier for the silk hat and once arrived at the dissipation of the seaside the hat was solemnly placed in the case and out came a most inglorious cap. It was black and had a peak in front just like the caps of the working men except that it was clean, and after the day of amusement and games and sports the cap went into the case and out came the hat for the return journey.
Thus it was my job to meet him in the sacristy every morning of his arrival from the distant presbytery and receive the sill hat and hang it up, than receive the overcoat if it were winter and then the coat and likewise hang them up. Next job was to hold up the cassock and do up the bottom buttons then remove the shoes and with shoe horn glide the buckled sanctuary shoes on comfortably. Before this the vestments had to be in position and also the chalice and there had to be no hurry about the Latin or the Mass. One would assist in the vesting and when all was ready there was the bow to the Cross without a word on either side neither good morning nor thank you and the short procession to the Altar. At the end of the Mass all went into reverse and one handed him his coat hat and umbrella which he took without a word and went. Left alone I would have to put away the vestments etc and lock up the church and take the keys home where they were kept.
Never on any occasion did the word of thanks ever escape his lips. Never did there appear the slightest sign of appreciation or any courtesy of any kind. It never bothered me till one day my boss told me I was fifteen minutes late and that he paid lads to be at the office on time. Unfortunately my good priest was not famous for being on time. Seven o'clock Mass might begin any time till half past seven and often it was a rush to get home with the keys without time for breakfast then a dash for the tramway hoping the car would not be late and no traffic hold ups. But next day there I was again late to be met by an irate boss with the information that I could hop it. What a business! A modern youngster would have hoofed it back to the presbytery with a statement on the mornings events and a request that the holy father take off his silk hat and get me a job. However a job matured without those precious references so essential for an office boy. Did the new employer like the look of my face? perhaps. The new job meant no Mass serving at all since one dropped from the high status of office boy down to counter hopper in a grocery store where work began much earlier so that other people going to business might be able to stop first. And so I wondered and wondered.
Why was there no gratitude on the part of the good and holy priest? Why did he not question me regarding the new job? Why was there no explanation required that one could not serve Mass any more? Nothing. Not one word. There might of course have been a word of thanks for the several years daily serving at the altar but not a word of that. So one mused at the ingratitude of the Church. One looked for a thanks sometimes in the services at the Altar but it nowhere occurs. There is the gratious bow sometimes from the priest to the server but they are few and far between and some celebrants can make them the courtesy of curt nods. Of course there is the Gracias agamus Domino Deo nostro but that is thanks to God not to the altar server. And now, priest in my turn, the seeming ingratitude is remedied. On returning to the sacristy there is always the courteous bow to the servers and also the words "Thank you very much". But is it right? Often one returns thanks to members of the congregation for various work done and after a very big job of work in the parish one has to remember each individual who helped. There it is necessary to mention that special thanks are returned to any who have assisted and have been forgotten. They are left to Almighty God who will render thanks much more effectively than any priest. And there lies the reason why the Church is so sparing with her thanks. By thanking people we may be cutting down that gracious reward that God alone can give, the eternal "Euge serve bone et fidelis, Well done thou good and faithful servant". If we neglect to render thanks how much more grandly will God do it. This kindly bow in the liturgy means "I have noticed your kindness" but it does not imply any thanks whatever. Mother Church does not wish to lessen our great reward with God and gives no thanks here for services rendered as that is the office of our Heavenly Father. This was probably the idea in the mind of our old parish priest who never said thanks for anything. He probably did not wish to lessen the thanks that one day I might receive in Heaven. So now we forgive him his seeming discourtesy. Francis Thompson understood the point "All that they child's mistake fancies as lost I have stored for thee at home. Rise. Clasp my hand and come" My child mistake did fancy it all as lost but You forget Lord to hold my hand tightly.