Friday, September 30, 2011

What's A Priest to Do?

There was a funny anecdote circulating on the internet a while back about the “perfect” priest.
The Perfect Priest: The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.
     The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.
     If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.
     One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.

I open with this anecdote to say that I do greatly appreciate the challenges faced by priests and bishops. I appreciate the thankless job they do, and I appreciate the seeming impossibility of the tasks set before them. I am not unaware of their burdens; as a wife and mother, I face some of the same challenges!

There are several points I could (and will!) make about this anecdote. For today, I would like to focus on this:

There are lots of “special interest” groups who want the priest to cater to their needs and desires. How is a priest to balance all of these needs – some of which conflict with each other? One way would be to make a decision based on what the Church expects of you, and of us as the Body of Christ, rather than on what parishioners demand of you. Liturgy committee members may have their own agenda (“Why can’t we have the children do a dramatic presentation of the Gospel at Christmas Mass?”), and musicians may similarly have their desires (“Why can’t we sing the Beatles song ‘Let it Be’ for a Marian feast?”). The Traditional Latin Mass fans are clamoring for the extraordinary form of the Mass, or at least some Latin to be included in a Novus Ordo Mass (“But,” the priest reminds himself, “I don’t know Latin!”). The youth leaders want a youth Mass. The Hispanics want a Mass in Spanish (“But,” the priest reminds himself, “I don’t speak Spanish!”). The women want a Women’s Mass. The men…well, the men don’t really care what kind of Mass they have as long as it’s over in 45 minutes.

So, what is the priest to do? I suggest that he look to Holy Mother Church.  What kind of Mass does the Church say we are supposed to have? What does the GIRM say about celebrating Mass? What do the rubrics say? What do the Vatican II documents say? (No, no, no. I mean, what do the Vatican II documents really say?) One priest of my acquaintance accused me of being too much “by the book”. I protested, “But…that’s why we have a ‘book’!” I should say “books”, I suppose. If one looks at all the pertinent documents, then we see that the Mass is not subject to the whims of either the priest or the people. And it is supposed to be universal. Why would we have a “special” Mass for youth vs. women vs. “progressives” vs. “traditionalists”? Mass is Mass. The rubrics are laid out for the priest. The music is mandated: Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony hold “pride of place”. There is no mention of OCP in Musicam Sacram.

But I’ve found few priests who are convinced that the rubrics, the GIRM, the pastoral letters, the papal encyclicals, and the various instructions are actually meant to be more than gentle suggestions.

I found a letter about a priest who took a stand, though. I don’t know the date of this post, but I know it’s been at least a year. No matter, it’s a great statement, and I wish more priests would act this way:

Father Jay Flaherty, the pastor of Holy Cross Church in Pigeon Forge, gave a heartfelt message on Jan. 2 so profound that it’s worth repeating. He said “I am no longer Father Jay, but Father Flaherty.”

He began by explaining the Catholic Church’s rules for Mass and the Eucharist, and addressed parish volunteers. He reminded us of God’s presence in the tabernacle. There’s a family-life room for visiting, eating, and unruly kids, with Mass on TV.

He spoke of growing disrespect for the host, such as the time one was found with a cough drop stuck on it. One must fast for one hour from food, drink, or chewing gum before taking Communion, Father said. “And if I or the eucharistic ministers see any of this, that person will not receive Communion. Don’t leave early; stay until Mass ends!”

Father addressed respectful attire, especially for ushers and those on the altar: ties, long pants, dresses, and no shorts. Latecomers must wait outside until after the homily, because “I do not use notes, and I get distracted.”

He ended by saying, “If you don’t like these changes, you can go worship elsewhere. You can complain to the bishop or go all the way to the pope.” As a priest, Father Flaherty is accountable for how he leads his flock to God. You could have heard a pin drop during his homily, but the congregation applauded at the end in agreement.

He had hit the nail on the head. I hope his message resounds throughout the diocese.

I’d like to see it resound throughout the whole country.

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