We always had "School Mass" on holy days of obligation like Ash Wednesday. Boys in corduroys, girls in jumpers filing into pews. The priest coming down from the Altar for kid-friendly homily. Once the priest talked about Jesus saying we must forgive our neighbors not merely seven times but seventy times seven times. "How many times is that?" the priest asked. "490," an eighth grader volunteered. School Masses tended to be interactive. I was about nine and that kid and Jesus both seemed brilliant to me. We happened to have School Mass the day John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady. Wikipedia says that was March 30, '81. I don't think March 30 is a holy day of obligation. Must have been some special occasion.
Once at School Mass, Fr. DeLucia gave a rousing talk about why people set up mangers at Christmas. Francis of Assisi started the tradition. An Italian invention, don't you know? Homilies at St. Anthony's often invoked the Italian people the way the dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" invoked Greeks. We invented it all. The pinnacle of civilization. This "manger homily" was from the days when both Frs. DeMarinis and DeLucia were at St. Anthony's, right before the priest shortage rendered such an arrangement a luxury. Both priests had names starting with the letters "De." No wonder I entered seminary.
On Ash Wednesday, the homilies discussed what kinds of stuff one might give up for Lent. Candy, pop, fighting with siblings. Mass meant a day without Math or Social Studies. Those underpaid teachers, nun or otherwise, must have loved holy days of obligation. I'm talking about "grade school" here. We just called our Catholic school "grade school" because K-8 was under roof so distinguishing between "elementary" and "middle" made no sense. At Ash Wednesday Mass, every kid lined up for ashes on the forehead. Most boys ended up with black smudges on their uniforms by the end of the day. We also got burlap squares with black crosses on them, meant to be pinned to one's winter coat and worn throughout Lent. I've never seen these burlap pins since. Was that a late '70s/early '80s fad? I can picture dozens of kids at recess, running around in unbuttoned winter coats, little burlap pins above our hearts. I started Catholic school nearly thirty-five years ago and didn't go to a secular, public place of learning until grad school. And in 2012 these recollections rise again from the ashes.