Any honest priest who knows his altar boys will tell you they’re prey to mortal sin, especially as they pass through puberty and their fervid imaginations evoke that which they have yet to experience firsthand – stern admonitions of wimpled catechism sisters notwithstanding.
I was one of those altar boys in Morrisville in the 50s. We often caucused to share euphemisms for our particular sin. We’d stand around before mass, looking nervously at our palms and suggest such vocabulary to one another that would hopefully elude the hearing of our father confessor in a rapidly stated litany of otherwise venial sins.
Altar boys must take communion and one cannot partake unless one is in a state of grace. Thus to decline the sacred host is to announce one’s self in state of mortal sin. The aforementioned sin of lust is indeed mortal, consigning one either to purgatory or hell depending on the number offenses. It was therefore critical for each of us to get to confession immediately before mass to obtain absolution. Saturday afternoon confessions were risky, as who knows what cheesecake our imaginations might summon up on a lonely Saturday night at home?
On this day, I was running late to the 8 AM mass and feared missing confession and therefore communion. Finding the indicator light still lit over the confessional, I slipped behind the curtain. The small panel slid back and I began my confession.
I immediately sensed trouble. It was not our parish priest who was used to our impieties, but the deaf priest from Hyde Park filling in.
“You did what again?” he bellowed. “Did you touch her?” he thundered, missing entirely the confidential import of my confession.
I was mortified and considered spending the rest of my life inside the confessional. My worst fears were realized when I emerged with a lengthy penance. All the beady eyes of the faithful were on me as I rushed in to don my cassock and surplice for mass.
Throughout the service, I tried to appear penitent and bear the judgment of my neighbors staring at me and wondering what I had done and to whom, even though my sin was one of emission not commission.
The good news is I received communion and again could count myself among the found, at least until the following Sunday.