An Altar Boy of the Tridentine Mass

Introibo ad altare Dei

will go in unto the Altar of God.


As a boy in the early 1950s I was an altar boy – of the Tridentine Mass.   Yes, now they are referred to as alcolytes but in 1950 the common term was altar boy.  Those of you familiar with my posts probably find that hard to believe!

The mass of course was still In Latin.

Every movement and response studied and practiced until it was just so – correct in the eyes of God and his church in every manifestation.

Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

To God, who givith joy to my youth.

St. Rosalia’s R. C. Church

I served Mass at St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church on 14th avenue in Brooklyn. The church had been founded by Italian immigrants in 1902. I wore the traditional black cassock and white blouse and recall serving early morning masses on Sunday and before school on weekdays. Seven AM masses were usually attended by the elderly in the neighborhood and I remember a number of the scheduled services were in Italian.

But of course the Mass itself was in Latin. Studied and practice till you got it right.

Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.

May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.

Old Catholics, both currently practicing and not, remember the Tridentine Mass with the priest and servers facing away from the Congregation and the daily Roman Missal with Latin translations.

Deus, tu conversus vivificabis nos.

Thou wilt return, O God, and bring us to life.

Et plebs tua laetabitur en te.

And Thy people shall rejoice in Thee.

I don’t know why I became an altar boy. My family was not particularly religious except for Grandma Laura who attended those early morning services during the week.

I attended public school and every Wednesday at 2 PM we were given “released time” in order to attend religious instruction classes across the street at St. Rosalia’s school  on 12th Avenue and 65th Street

A number of my classmates were altar boys so maybe that is where the idea got its start.

But getting to be an altar boy required work. Study, Dedication.

And of course, showing up on time no matter what the weather. I had no ride. Mom didn’t drive and we only had one car anyway – and dad took it to work.  It meant early morning walks – like a mail man – rain or shine.  You also had to wear good shoes since, when you were kneeling at the altar the congregation could see the soles of your shoes.  Mom always reminded me.  “Don’t embarrass me!”

We studied ordinary “low” mass.  As we got proficient we learned  “high mass”.  Weddings and a mass were the best.  Funeral mass was the worst.

In early 1942 after the beginning of war with the Axis (inclduing of course Italy) the Congregation committed to building a great basilica, Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) Shrine if their children survived the war.

Kyrie elieson.

Lord have mercy.

I remember when construction started on the great shrine. I was there for the blessing of the corner stone on August 29, 1949. And the dedication of the Regina Pacis Shrine on August 15, 1951.

The church is a magnificent Italian Renaissance building of Indiana limestone with massive bronze doors on which appear the sculpted shields of Pius XII. Carved in bold letters above the doors:


To the Blessed Virgin Mother of God and Queen of Peace in fulfillment of a vow.

borough park 030

“Altar “boys” at the Shrine tended to be more grown up than me, especially the first years after the dedication. When I was about 13 I got a frantic call to come to the Shrine for Mass – they were short one altar server due to illness.

I remember it was a very proud moment for me.

Adjoining the facade the 150 foot tall belfry is a replica of the belfry at the Marian Shrine church in Pompeii. At the very top a huge cross with the word PAX on either side. Three massive bells ring out at 9 PM each evening.

The interior is a masterpiece of Italian craftsmanship and art from the ceiling paintings to the marble arches and mosaics.

If you can’t get to Italy and happen to be in Brooklyn, this is the church to see.  Watch the slide show on the link and see for yourself a jewel of Italian religious art in a neighborhood church.

The little church of St. Rosalia in this two church parish still serves as an immigrant church welcoming all comers in their language  – now mostly Spanish, Italian and Chinese.

Iube, domne benedicere

Per omnia saecula saculorum

Grant, O Lord, Thy blessing.

World without end.

Even if you no longer believe, you will never forget the words.




About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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1 Response to An Altar Boy of the Tridentine Mass

  1. Paul S. says:

    toritto – Thank you for this beautiful reflection and story of Regina Pacis Shrine. It definitely looks like a treasure of Brooklyn!

    In your new region, it looks like the Tridentine Mass is offered at Incarnation Roman Catholic Parish. Across the state, there is a young adult group, Juventutem Miami that is organized around the Traditional Latin Mass and which will be working to train new altar boys near Naples, this May.


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