Monday, July 14, 2008
The Post-Mass Letdown
It's especially acute, I think, because I'm somewhere where I don't really know anyone very well. But, nevertheless, I expect this is an experience many priests probably suffer from.
Presiding at liturgy is not only a moment of intense personal prayer, it is an even a more intense communal experience. Different priests probably have different levels of awareness of the people they are praying with, but I haven't found myself getting so lost in the mass that I forget there are several hundred people there praying with me. This is probably a good thing. I started singing in choral groups and choirs from a young age, and so I still simply by habit look at people when I am singing (in this case also praying), not only looking straight ahead, but looking around. I take note of the faces, and have to take care not to get too distracted by the many things going on out there! I am also very conscious during my homilies of whether the community seems "with me" or not. My experience as a member of the congregation has been that some priests manage to be blissfully unaware of whether or not this is the case. But I hope I never get there.
So, this means that when we come to the end of the mass, I've just had an intense experience of community. I also find it important to be there to greet people as they leave, so that experience continues even after mass to a certain extent. But then comes the moment to head back to the sacristy and get out of my vestments. I'm left alone, while everyone else has gone off to do whatever is next. It's not hard to feel suddenly very lonely, especially here in a city where I barely speak the language. That doesn't mean the people here have been completely inattentive. I was invited to join some of them for dinner after my first mass here. And, the weekend before last, one of the ladies in the parish just outside the city where I also celebrate mass (almost as if somebody knew I was feeling this) offered to bring me to a local festival, which I enjoyed very much.
One of the things that exacerbates this, no doubt, is the shortage of priests. After my first mass on Sunday morning, the people gather for coffee and refreshments, and then some pretty regularly go out together for breakfast afterwards. I'm not able to join them, however, because I have to rush off to the next mass at another church. I don't resent it, and I'm glad I'm able to do it, but this prevents me from getting to know the people at either community as I would like to. But since I suspect I'm not the only one experiencing this sort of thing, I thought it might be good for people to know. If the priest at your parish doesn't have to rush off to the next thing after mass, maybe he would like to join some of you for breakfast or lunch! It wouldn't hurt to ask.
In the meantime, I'm thinking I just might have to be proactive as well and make some plans beforehand to meet up with some people after mass!