Happy Good Friday! It feels weird to say "happy Good Friday" because the holiday -- in case you're not up on your catechism -- is "celebrating" Jesus' long walk up the hill at Golgotha and subsequent crucifixion. Needless to say, not a lot of presents are given out on Good Friday.
Now if you're Catholic, the "celebration" is even extra-special. Because Catholics are such gluttons for punishment, Good Fridays are celebrated with a special Mass that includes "the Stations of the Cross." And it's just as fun as it sounds.
It should come as no surprise that Leonard is a feminist. And Leonard has been a feminist since she was a little Leonard. And little Leonard went through 12 years of Catholic school. During grade school (1-8), we had religion class everyday. The lessons were made up of things like our Catholic sex ed (called "New Creations," deserving of a blog post all its own), creating masses (once you were in 5-8 grade), and once a week one of the parish priests would come in. In our parish, the priests were like the Sith: there were "always two, a master and an apprentice." Usually the apprentice got stuck with job of religion classes.
What kind of things can a priest (even the young, "hip" ones) say to grade school children for an hour? I have no idea; I'm pretty sure I blocked most of it out. But I do recall that little Leonard made things quite difficult for both priests and teachers by asking annoying questions like, "Why can't women be priests?"
"Why can't a woman be the pope?"
"Why can't girls be altar boys? I saw another church in Colorado, and they had girl altar boys?"
"If Jesus says to love everyone, why can't [X] people do [blank]?"
"If a pope has to approve an annulment for a couple to get divorced, does that mean there's still a chance my parents are married?"
and then later "Doesn't an annulment just mean the couple never consummated their marriage? My brother and sister and I are clearly proof they did, so is the annulment no longer valid?" (My parents divorce and Leonard's dad's subsequent remarriage to the step-monster psycho bitch from hell made up a large part of my contention with the church.)
But over and over again, little Leonard continually called the Catholic Church on their misogynistic bullshit, much to the consternation of authority figures all around. So when the time finally came that a female acolyte (because we can't call them "girl altar boys," naturally) could be chosen for a Mass, everyone offered up little Leonard's name in hopes that she would STFU.
A Mass! I can do a Mass. I've seen the [altar] boys do it all the time. It doesn't look like that hard. Walk in with the group, walk out with the group. Hold up some books, hand some stuff, the hardest part will probably be tying that stupid rope around my waist.
So my thoughts went. And a typical Mass isn't that hard to serve in. And the boys (as I was the only "acolyte" a.k.a. girl altar boy for Mass that day, and probably ever in that parish's history) helped me with the white robes and stupid rope. And then they instructed me that I'd be holding a candle. A candle in a large earthenware bowl, to be exact (our current "apprentice" had just come back from his mission in Bolivia and was all about handmade items from the people there).
Okay, I can hold a candle in the bowl. No problem. Oh wait, today's Friday? Today's Good Friday??
I was not serving in any ordinary Catholic Mass (which runs about an hour long, by the way). It was "Stations of the Cross" day for Good Friday, so a normal Mass, plus the stations, is around 1.5-2 hours. But it wasn't just the length of the ceremony, oh no....
There are fourteen different "stations" (the "traditional" ones can be found listed here). And the priest and his entourage walk to each. and. every. one.
Because, yes, they are physical stations, each commemorated with a plaque or painting or, in the case of this church, stained glass windows, depicting each of the (increasingly gruesome) scenes of Jesus' (supposed) final hours.
So we had to traipse around the length and breadth of the church for the fourteen stations and at each. and. every. station. a prayer is said. The "leader" (priest) says something; the congregation gives their monotonous and poorly enunciated reply. Fourteen times.
All while carrying my burning candle inside a heavy earthenware bowl.
The bowl felt heavier and heavier with each passing minute. 8th grade Leonard weighed all of ninety pounds and had no muscle mass whatsoever, let alone upper body strength. Arms and hands began to shake. I swore the congregation was taking more and more time with their stupid responses.
I tried to breathe through my nose, to find some inner strength, but that only made the scent of church incense that much stronger, so now I was tired and nauseated. But I couldn't stop. I couldn't drop the candle. If I failed in any way, I just knew they'd never let another girl altar boy help again. I was carrying a candle and the weight of thirteen-year-old feminism. As we matched the steps of Jesus struggling and carrying his burden (as much as white Midwestern people can match the struggle of a middle-aged Jewish man in the desert on the verge of death), I, too, was struggling with my burden. At least Jesus had help along the way (see station #5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross); scrawny little Leonard had no one.
So, shaking, sweating, nauseated, and exhausted, I made my way through the ceremony. I didn't drop the candle; the flame didn't go out. The earthenware bowl didn't fall and break. I didn't stumble, trip, or faint (ha! Take that Jesus! [see stations 3, 7, and 9]). Feminism would not fall on my watch!
They did not ask Leonard to help again; Leonard did not volunteer. During my freshman year of (Catholic) high school I realized the bullshit and stopped participating in Masses all together.
But as you celebrate your Peeps and chocolate bunnies this year, fellow feminists, remember that I did it for you!