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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where am I? What am I doing? What mass is this?

One of the nice things about being a religious priest is that you frequently get to celebrate mass with several different communities. This, however, can also be a challenge. If I remember, I remind myself before mass about the specific practices of a particular parish, or even a specific mass at the same parish, because sometimes they do things differently on weekdays and weekends. However, it is often the case that I have to take a moment in the course of mass to stop and think, especially if I've been on a "roll" and have spent several weeks doing the same mass. This forces some improvisation at times, either on my part, or the part of the liturgical ministers. If I've poured all the wine, and I wasn't supposed to, that can make it difficult to offer communion under both species as planned. Or if the wine is already poured into separate chalices I might forget that the wine in the main chalice is for me alone, and pour too much. One parish offers communion under both species. One doesn't. One does on the weekdays, but not on Sunday. Each community has its own way of distributing communion, so I try my best to be in the right place, but that doesn't always work either. And, of course, there are the times when the "last-minute recruit" ministers get confused, so that while I'm trying to hand one my ciborium after communion, she instead hands me hers!

Trying to keep this all straight can be even more of a challenge those weeks, like one I had a while back, when I find myself saying mass in six different places in one week! I depend on people when I arrive to tell me what to do, how they do things, etc. This at times takes a little coaxing because many are apt to defer to me and say, "whatever you want, Father." After which I have to convince them that what I really want is to do things the way they are accustomed to doing them. It usually gets worked out. However, we still don't always get things straight. Recently, after a music director told me they were singing "everything," we had a very awkward silence when it came time for the "Gloria." As we discovered, once I asked in the middle of mass, "everything" meant "everything but . . ." Most recently, when offering daily mass somewhere for the first time, the server whispered to me halfway through mass, "Do you know we have adoration after mass?" No, I said, nobody told me that, just tell me what to do . . .

You only have to be a priest for a little while to realize that those that obsess over everything in the mass being "perfect," are doomed to be disappointed. As much as everyone involved makes the effort to ensure that it is reverent, prayerful and perhaps even inspiring, there will always be those little gaffs which remind us that our worship, as our lives, is beset by human frailty. And I expect this is as it should be.

Now, where am I?