by J. R. Practix
Acolyte: (n.) a person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession.
I make no judgments on traditional religious practices which I may or may not consider to be part of my lifestyle.
Yet some of the more humorous events have happened to me while watching young and old try to walk down to the front of the church and light the ceremonial candles.
We call them acolytes. They are usually young people who have been convinced they have been granted an honor by sitting through a couple of classes, hearing an over-explained description of an age-old process, which appears to be VERY simple until Sunday morning arrives and they are put in the position of being the fire-starters.
One of my favorite visions is the young acolyte wearing the ceremonial robe with a pair of dirty tennis shoes sticking out of the bottom. I won’t even go into the symbolism.
I recall being at one church and an acolyte came forward to light the candle, only to discover that his magic fire stick was not making connection with the wick. For some reason the thing would NOT ignite. So in a moment of humanity, he proclaimed for all to hear: “Aw, shit.”
Laugher ensued (even though I am sure folks sought absolution later.)
I DO like it when there is a hovering grown-up presence off to the side, nervously watching the youngsters go up to light the candles, like a mother hen concerned that the chicks will not know how to receive the nourishment of the grain being thrown by the farmer, breathlessly anticipating a fiasco–nearly apoplectic.
And of course, you can’t forget the acolytes who come forward dragging their feet, completely disconnected, barely able to get through the process before collapsing, exhausted, on the front pew designated for their position.
I know that the lighting of the candles is a symbolic portrayal of “bringing in the light of Christ” to our spiritual gathering. But like most human attempts to honor divine concepts, it is always laced with inadequacy, comedy and apathy.
I am not suggesting we should train and pay acolytes who are more professional in their approach.
But in conclusion, my favorite of all the events was when one of the deacons at a church realized that the trainee acolyte was having difficulty lighting the candle. The deacon ran up to the rescue, tried to light the candle himself using the apparatus, was equally unsuccessful, and so reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarette lighter, leaned forward to complete the job, had his cigarettes fall out of his pocket, bounce on the altar–and scatter all over the top of the prepared communion.
In the seconds that followed, you could sense the man’s horror. There were probably countless revelations about his character revealed through this single action–and speculation on whether it would be appropriate to remove one of his cigarettes from the holy goblet, nearly rendering him paralyzed.
At length he gathered up his smokes and retreated to his seat to languish in his humiliation.
Being an acolyte is another one of those rites of passage that you have as a young person, which older people tell you is very, very important–but no one ever really mentions … after their eighteenth birthday.