Thursday, November 29, 2007
I thank those who have addressed the matter of the role of those in the presbyteral order raised in Steve’s posting.
I largely agree with Susan’s priest friend. Moreover, to confirm what he has said, we need to take stock of N. 93 in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which states:
93. A priest also, who possesses within the Church the power of Holy Orders to offer sacrifice in the person of Christ, (Note 81) stands for this reason at the head of the faithful people gathered together here and now, presides over their prayer, proclaims the message of salvation to them, associates the people with himself in the offering of sacrifice through Christ in the Holy Spirit to God the Father, gives his brothers and sisters the Bread of eternal life, and partakes of it with them. When he celebrates the Eucharist, therefore, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ. (Italics are mine)
Note 81 refers to two important passages from the Second Vatican Council on the same issue, i.e., Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, no. 28; Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 2.
Readers of and contributors to MOJ may also want to read the informative article in the current issue of America Magazine by Rev. Michael Kerper [HERE (it may be necessary to have a subscription to the magazine to read the entire article)]. While he describes his ministry in the Mass of John XXIII, I think these words of his apply with equal force to the priest who is celebrating the Eucharist in the Mass of Paul VI. These words of his are especially instructive:
The old Missal’s rubrical micromanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant. When I saw a photo of the old Latin Mass in our local newspaper, I suddenly recognized the rite’s ingenious ability to shrink the priest. Shot from the choir loft, I was a mere speck of green, dwarfed by the high altar. The focal point was not the priest but the gathering of the people. And isn’t that a valid image of the church, the people of God?
The act of praying the Roman Canon slowly and in low voice accented my own smallness and mere instrumentality more than anything else. Plodding through the first 50 or so words of the Canon, I felt intense loneliness. As I moved along, however, I also heard the absolute silence behind me, 450 people of all ages praying, all bound mysteriously to the words I uttered and to the ritual actions I haltingly and clumsily performed. Following the consecration, I fell into a paradoxical experience of intense solitude as I gazed at the Sacrament and an inexplicable feeling of solidarity with the multitude behind me.
Even as I cherish this experience, I must confess that I felt awkward, stiff and not myself. Some of the rubrical requirements, like not using one’s thumbs and index fingers after the consecration except to touch the host, paralyzed me. As a style, it doesn’t really fit me (I also can’t imagine wearing lace). But as a priest, I must adapt to many styles and perform many onerous tasks. Why should this be any different? Perhaps we have here a new form of priestly asceticism: pastoral adaptation for the sake of a few.
My reluctant engagement with the Latin Mass has not undermined my own priestly spirituality, born of Vatican II. Rather, it has complemented and reinforced the council’s teaching that the priest is an instrument of Christ called to serve everyone, regardless of theological or liturgical style. Ultimately it means little whether Mass is in Latin or in the vernacular, whether I see the people praying or hear their silence behind. For sure, I have my preference, but service must always trump that.
I share Fr. Kerper’s view that as one who shoulders the duties and responsibilities of the presbyteral office—I must never forget this: it is not about me; it is about Thee! RJA sj