Thursday, August 16, 2007

Confounded Conservator of Candlelight

The infamous fan, our relief and our nemesis

As I mentioned last night, tonight was the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, and I was scheduled to assist as crucifer at the St. Michael's 6:30 PM Mass. To an old lapsed Catholic like me, that name for Jesus's mother doesn't sound quite right, but this entry will not be about the nomenclature or theology of Mary, the existence of God or any of that stuff.

No, it's all about the candles.

In the summer especially, we tend to be shorthanded when it comes to acolytes to carry the cross and the candles or incense, or to ring bells and pass certain things to the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer. Kids graduate from school, families go on vacation, and some people just go off someplace where it's not 110 degrees. Proscovia, our Master of acolytes, takes stock of whoever has shown up on any given Sunday, how many we have on hand and who can be pulled out of the congregation to help out. Often she will either reassign us to better match the tasks to the available people, or tweak things so that one person is handling one role during some parts of the Mass, and taking on a different one at other times. I haven't had a week off from assisting at Mass all summer, and often I've either had to swap my cross-carrying for torch bearing, or done some of each. That's what carrying one of the candles during Mass is called: "torching," and the candle-on-a-stick is called a torch, and so is the person who carries it. No angry villagers, though.

Fast-burning candles are evidence of the moving air nearby.

The church has a swamp cooler or something of the sort, but not proper air conditioning. In the summer the sanctuary gets so hot that I've actually been sick to my stomach and felt feverish because of it. I always wear a sleeveless shirt to church, knowing it will almost certainly be covered up by the white vestment I wear, called an alb. That helps a bit, and so does the recent addition of a couple of fans at strategic points in the sanctuary, including this white one near where the crucifer and torches sit.

There's a problem, though. It's almost impossible to aim the fan so that it cools the acolytes without putting out the torches, or at least causing them to burn quickly and drip messily. I frequently have to cup my hand around the candle flame to protect it, and sometimes end up with wax on my hands or clothing. Despite these efforts, the flame seems to go out at least once a week. The first time this happened to me, ironically, was on Pentecost Sunday, the one day of the year that's most germane to the candle-bearing ritual.

Still, we can and do relight the candle when it goes out, using a match lit off the other person's candle (there are either two torches or, occasionally on major feast days, four of them). But what happens when both candles go out within seconds of each other? We carry the matches loose in the bowl of the candlestick, so there's nothing to strike them on. When both candles go out at once, as they did this past Sunday and again tonight, someone has to sneak off to the sacristy and bring back the matchbox. You can see the matchbox in the top picture above, left over from one such emergency in July.

So okay, I guess we can live with cupping a hand around the flame during the Eucharistic Prayer or the Gospel, and any other place that one of the fans is providing a bit of ventilation. But there's no excuse for what happened tonight. I managed to safely set my torch down in the rack, only to brush by the flame with my hand afterward, and accidentally put it out! Then I helped my fellow acolyte with the other torch, and promptly put that one out with the sleeve of my alb! I tell ya, I'm just no good at this torching stuff! The twelve year olds who do it on a regular basis are at least as good at it as I am. We sit and chuckle conspiratorially at each other as we struggle, and fail, to keep the candles lit.

But if Heirs of Mâvarin ever gets optioned as a major motion picture, I'm going to use part of the money to buy that church some decent air conditioning.

Speaking of Mâvarin, I am now over halfway through my edit and rewrite of Mages. I'm on Chapter 10 of Another Mâvarin, the 21st chapter overall, page 328 in the second volume and the 636th page out of (currently) 1178 pages in the nominal trilogy. Tonight I did two and a half chapters, finished two half-written scenes, double-checked a timing issue and corrected several chapters accordingly. I'm up to the following notation:

<--Wil Masan talks to Prince Talber. (finish)

Um, okay. But not tonight!


1 comment:

Wil said...

I remember the problem as though it were just yesterday. Back in my misspent youth I was frequently required to serve as an acolyte and lector at the school chapel as I was usually one of only two or three senior high school age students available on weekends when the remainder of the students went home. Spring and fall often saw us sweating miserably with nary a breath of air stirring on the altar save the exhaust from the back of the pipe organ. We'd actually flip a coin to see who'd get to work that side of the chapel if two of us were assisting the priest that day...