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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Liturgical Pet Peeves: The Mouth-Wipe

Spoiler alert: Once you become conscious of this, it might drive you crazy. So continue to read at your own peril.

Recently after breaking up a fight about liturgical colors on my Facebook page, I was chastised by one of my Facebook friends for not using the moment to speak out against "liturgical abuses." Putting aside the fact that I really hadn't researched whether or not dark blue was approved in the U.S. for Advent or not, and that I'd never seen anyone even wear a dark blue vestment during Advent, I really didn't see it as my duty to serve as the liturgical abuse policeman at that moment. Besides, people treating each other with Christian charity is of far greater concern to me than what color Fr. Joe the Plumber chooses to wear at mass on the Second Sunday of Advent. I have limited tolerance for such conversations, and I'm also concerned that for some looking out for "liturgical abuses" can become an unhealthy obsession. It can cause one to forget the reason they might have become concerned about such things in the first place--the importance of the Eucharist.

That said, there is something, not quite an abuse, but more of a bad habit, that I might be willing to mount a campaign against. It involves the misuse of the purificator. Living in a community of priests, or concelebrating mass, one often finds oneself faced with this. The presiding priest drinks the wine, and before handing the purificator and wine off to be shared, wipes his mouth with the purificator! Now, that same purificator which he just slathered his germs all over, will be used to wipe the cup after each person has received the wine, making the practice seem somewhat pointless. Little wonder than that so many people choose to forego the cup. I know that I consider the possibility after witnessing this, but I usually don't have much of a choice.

However, this is all just another reminder of what I realize even more clearly now as a priest. Those searching for that perfect liturgical experience are headed for a life filled with despair. Despite my best efforts, my masses are rarely as perfect as I would like them to be. Already I know that I have inadvertently worn the wrong color, left out a prayer or two, used vessels that are illicit according to the GIRM, etc. Part of this is the reality of being a religious priest and not having control over the norms of the particular parish where you are saying mass. Unless the local variants are particularly egregious, I really don't have much say about how the externals of the mass go (my job is not to go into somebody else's parish and tell them how they should be doing things). Most of this, on the other hand, is just a matter of being human. We all make mistakes, and we do interpret what is permitted and what is desirable a little bit differently. Sometimes the norms are not so clear, and even seem to contradict each other (the GIRM and one of the major documents on the liturgy, for example, seem to say different things about what kind of bread should be used at mass). Though there are some priests out there who clearly just do their own thing, most of us are trying our best.

Though, admittedly, I wish some would try a little harder not to use the purificator to wipe their mouth! Nevertheless I do take care to try not to let that distract me from what is really important at that moment--the Eucharist.