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Saturday, June 28, 2008


So, you think priests learn everything they need to know before going on the job? Well, maybe some do. However, I think many of us tend to get most of it, but not all depending on the emphases or biases of our teachers. Being a new priest is kind of on-the-job training, especially if like me you're offering mass in a variety of places (I offered mass in Frankfurt, Germany tonight!). Every place does things a little different. And, things that have fallen out of fashion in one place, may be all the rage in another--the beauty and complexity of the Church Catholic!

Last week, I offered a special mass in somebody's home and needed to borrow a few things from the local parish. The sacristan was nice and accommodating, but also a little suspicious, me being a Jesuit and all. He wanted to be sure that I didn't do anything liturgically incorrect. Which I appreciated, because I was hoping the same thing. When, at his insistence, we had collected more things than I really needed, he asked whether I also needed a pall.

This left me a little confused, as what I know as a pall is what you put one somebody's coffin at a funeral. So, I asked politely, "what's that?" He was . . . do I have to say it? You can fill in the blank. The pall, it seems, is that square thing that is sometimes placed on top of the chalice. So, the cat's out of the bag: I haven't mastered all the lingo.

I explained to him that I really wouldn't know what to do with it, as we weren't trained to use it. And, frankly, at least in the places I've been to mass most of my life, I haven't seen it used all that much. But nonetheless it will probably be fodder for the next discussion of how poorly Jesuit priests are trained. Asi es la vida, as they say.

That said, save for that gaff, my experience of saying mass in most places I've visited in the last two weeks has been basically positive. And all my masses have been received quite well, even lacking a pall.

There are probably many more sacristans out there just waiting to stump me. And I'll be the first to admit that they might very well succeed. But I'll also be thankful for having learned something in the process. Like you may just have as well!