Altar Boy Latin in 1927. Wartime marriage in St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1944. Latin translation evokes a new meaning. The meaning had escaped the author for 82 years.
Copyright 2013 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr. (Some of this moves the action into the 21st Century)
A Revelation of Joy; how I learned to say the Latin for Mass, and how long it took me to appreciate a meaning
/s/ Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
In the summer of 1927, during a weekly series of "instructions," I sat on the back stoop of a home on Monroe Avenue, in the Village of Brockport, New York. Sister Emma was teaching me Latin phrases so that I could begin Altar Boy training for serving Mass in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The new church was near completion next door on Main Street.
That back stoop consisted of wooden steps, warped and devoid of paint, at the rear of a well worn 'convent' of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who were the teaching sisters at the town's Parochial School a few blocks away. My buddy, Howard Simmons, who lived across the street from me on South Avenue, was being brought up Baptist by his grandparents, Elwood and Ida Simmons. Howard attended Bible School all summer at the nearby Baptist Church. We Catholic kids had summers off from school. That is, except for Altar Boys in training between their First and Second Grade years. Anyway, I only had to go once a week. Howard had to go every summer week day.
Sister Emma began with the first Priest-Altar Boy exchange in the Latin Mass:
Priest: "Introibo ad altare Dei." "Intro-eebo odd ahl-tahray Dayee."
Altar Boy: "Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam." "Odd Dayum cuee layteefeecot
Sister and her student made their way each session through the nine beautiful exchanges in the Latin Mass. When the sun would boil down, Sister would retreat into the convent kitchen to bring out cold milk and home-made cookies. Not bad for stimulating learning in a little boy. (I would check later with Howard and discover that there were no cookies at Bible School.) Sister did recite the English translation for the Latin she was teaching, but the English words would fade away. The Latin words were my assignment. That first exchange, and its beautiful translation, will return at the end of this story.
I discovered that Sister and her convent companions, Sister Lucida and Sister Josetta, wore their habits even on Saturdays. All were wonderful teachers. Sister Mary Joseph, who had taught my Dad in Nativity School just past the turn of the century was 'in residence,' and she would come over to the 'new' school for special occasions. I would revisit Sister Emma in one room of our 4-room brick 1915 school building, when she and I would meet for Grades 3 and 4 in 1930. Later, in the village High School, I learned that Sister Emma had been teaching me a Latin spoken with the soft Italian pronunciation, in contrast with the German pronunciations of Latin I encountered in High School.
Fast Forward: In the winter of 1944, my U.S. Navy destroyer returned from Anzio, Italy to Bayonne, New Jersey, to have its main-battery 5" 38 cal. gun barrels re-lined. This was the second time we had worn out a set of gun barrels. It meant a little more time in a U.S. port than usual, between Mediterranean assault landings.
I had three days leave. Marguerite Parker and I were to be married. The ceremony took place at 5 p.m. in the Our Lady chapel of St. Patrick's Cathedral, on April 1, a Saturday before Palm Sunday. It was snowing. My New York State political Uncles somehow found an official to issue us a marriage license on a Saturday in New York City, and then got the Catholic Church to marry us in Lent! The Rector of the Cathedral, Msgr. Joseph Francis Flannelly, officiated. No flowers. No music. But Peggy had managed to find a simple but beautiful dress and I was in the uniform of a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy.
I do not recall much of the wedding Mass. I was barely aware of the Latin words I had used so many times serving Mass, in Brockport, later when I was enrolled at Niagara University, and even later when serving Army Chaplains ashore in Sicily, or a Navy Chaplain on the bow of a U.S. cruiser in Naples Harbor. My thoughts were on our three-day honeymoon, and the thoughts warfighters usually tried to keep from their minds, returning to the combat zone.
The message of joy that Sister revealed from Liturgy was still beyond my vision of life.
In the winter of 2009, Peg and I found ourselves in Alpharetta, Georgia, two years into a new life situation that had been preceded by a 45-year span in one home in Massachusetts. We now lived in the home of our son Michael, a physician, and his wife, Maureen, a nurse. Maureen had spent the year before we came to Georgia for creating complete apartment privacy for us, bedrooms, bathrooms, and living room.
Mike and Maureen had a fortieth wedding anniversary party in 2008. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting their many friends and celebrating with them. This celebration jogged my mind. In just a few weeks it would be April 1, 2009. That would mark our 65th wedding anniversary. We had celebrated our 60th with Mass in the Our Lady chapel, where we had been married, and some of our eight children and spouses had been able to attend. A wonderful young Priest from Sri Lanka, attached to St. Patrick's, celebrated the renewal Mass.
In our 64-plus years together, Peggy had been the keeper of dates, the faithful organizer of celebrations. Helping daughter-in-law Sally annotate more than a thousand color slides she was converting to digital media, reminded me of the countless times Peggy had risen to the occasion of birthdays, graduations, marriages, even deaths. That Wedding Mass at St. Patrick's in 1944 had given the breath of life to 18 grandchildren, and then 18 "greats." A partnership? Well, a one-sided one for sure. The 'she' had far outperformed the 'he.'
There is, in our faith, the concept of 'grace.' Peg has it. She was now hobbled a bit with loss of near term memory. But a tiny infusion of her grace must have begun to seep over to me. It was time for me, to do,.... something! I decided to hold an 'event.' We would celebrate our 65th wedding anniversary by inviting some folks to a restaurant for lunch after Noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Roswell, Georgia. Father Chito Palang would celebrate.
I began to sense the little wave of joy that Sister Emma had launched as I made preparations for the Mass, the restaurant, the guests, and music. Words came back:
"Introibo ad altare Dei." "I go into the altar of God."
"Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam." "To God, who gives joy to my youth."
"...joy to my youth." Could that phrase have meant more than a six-year old had understood?
The question came as a revelation.
From the first hours with Sister Emma, and in thousands of Masses reciting the Altar Boy's beautiful Latin words, that first response to the Priest's first words were understood by me as an extension of the Priest's own introductory phrase. The Priest intoned: "I" (pause) "go into the Altar of God." Then, the Server responded: "To God, who gives joy to" (pause) "my youth."
The "my youth," of the response, I had understood to mean the Priest celebrant's youth, with the Altar Boy simply completing the Priest's own thought. For 82 years I had been comfortable, happy, with that understanding.
But, on this day, a few days before April 1, 2009, contemplating the celebration of my wife Peggy's and my 65th wedding renewal Mass, it came to me that the Altar Boy's "my" in the 'my youth' response, could mean me! "To God, who gives joy to my youth."
The phrase took on a whole new meaning for me. I had an ascendant appreciation for the joy in my youth. Sister's teaching. I'm sure she knows.
recounted by Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.; Feast of All Souls, November 2, 2009
Note: "laetificat" can be a challenge. It means 'give joy.' Think of Laetare Sunday in the Church Year, the mid-Sunday known as the "to rejoice" Sunday of Lent, close to the Church Calendar date of our Lenten wedding in 1944.
Feedback to the author, from "M," who reads to elderly ladies.
"Juventutem meam' played well with the ladies.
My mother explained that she'd been married in circumstances similar to yours.
About two months before your wedding (this would make it Feb. 1944), my mother's recently-widowed mother took mother cross country to New York, the destination of her own honeymoon in 1915. My father was doing something with the radar for the coastal defense artillery and obtained a three-day pass. His bunkmate had gotten married somewhere in NY city, recommended the church for its accessiblity to the train line, and Dad took the subway to the church to make arrangements. He got off at the wrong stop, somewhere in Harlem, walked into a church and made the arrangements for a quick wedding. Wrong stop, wrong church. No problem, there were many such weddings. The newly minted priest had never celebrated a nuptual mass although it was surely printed out right there in the book, albeit in Latin. He commented that with Lent a week or so away, he'd not be likely to do one again for awhile. The tiny wedding party performed, the organist sobbed in the balcony and the party retired to corned beef sandwiches with the priest.
And yes, when we first learned what 'juventutem meam' meant, it made no sense to us either. What could be so great about being a kid, after all?"