Every so often

Every so often someone approaches me after I have celebrated a Mass to inform me what I have done wrong in the ritual. It is in those moments that I have great empathy for the physician who resigns themselves to  listen to a patient reveal their self diagnosis based on what they have discovered on WebMD. Given the ubiquity of the internet I suspect every profession has similar moments. On one hand it is good that patients and clients inform and educate themselves; on the other hand there is a reason medical school, internship, residency, and specialty fellowships take a bit more time than an internet search. As a doctor/friend once offered, “There is a reason it is called the ‘Art of Medicine,’ – the human body is beyond complicated in all its possible reactions.”Maybe a better comparison would be the practice of law. Simply reading a book about law does not one a lawyer make… but then again, in the Navy we had the expression “sea lawyer” to describe a self-proclaimed expert willing to hold forth and opine on matters a good bit beyond their formal training and perhaps competency. The parallel would be, reading the General Instruction on the Roman Missal a liturgist does not one make. Reading the Code of Canon Law does not make someone a canonist. But there are a few “sea lawyers” out there willing to offer their dogmatic interpretation of what is or is not to be done.

To be fair, I am “going on” about something that has rarely happened – not that I am a perfect celebrant of the Mass – but more likely people are forgiving of my flaws. So, what brought about this train of thought? It was today’s gospel where the host of the dinner (a Pharisee) is totally focused on the external conformance to the Pharisaic understanding of the what is/is not to be done. My experience is that when being informed of the flaws in my celebration of Mass the standard by which I am being judged is “what Monsignor used to do.” Occasionally it actually has a reference to the General Instruction. As near as I can remember, in those cases, the questioner was incorrect. I also remember being saddened that this person has spent time and energy recording and brooding about some detail of the celebration – and missed the deeper meaning of the celebration itself. It made my wonder about the emphasis on the external elements to the point of missing the deepest meaning of the Eucharistic celebration.

Don’t get me wrong. The majority of my adult life was spent “in the pews” and I have seen my share of “creative celebration” that was a distraction. About 10 years ago after a Mass, a person approached me (I was pastor) and asked “why Father X was so disrespectful of the Eucharist in his celebration of Mass.” When I inquired about the details, the reply was that Father X elevated the host with only one hand “like they were doing a basketball layup.” The person was clearly agitated in the moment and remained so even after Mass.

What is true is that most priests elevate the host with both hands. What is not true is that the instructions in the Missal requires both hands, it simply directs “He shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the paten, and genuflects in adoration.” When I asked the person why they thought both hands were required, the response was they had watched the Pope celebrate a public mass (online) and that is what he did.

When I inquired as to why they had not simply approached Father X and inquired about why he only uses one hand, the response was it never occurred to them – perhaps this was egregious enough that it must at once be raised up to the pastor’s attention! If they has asked Father X he likely would have told them that before he entered the Franciscans he had stopped on a wintry night to help a stranded motorist and was struck by another vehicle. After 2 months in the hospital, several more in rehab, the following years of developing arthritis, he simply is no longer able to use both hands to elevate the host. What he can do is reverently celebrate the Eucharist.

A Pharisee observes Jesus not washing his hands and misses the opportunity to see more deeply into the One who is the promised Way, Truth, and Life. Instead of having an amazing opportunity to ask questions, he judges. The Pharisee maintains his own observance of the Law and misses meeting the One who is the fulfillment of the Law – the Lawgiver.

5 thoughts on “Every so often

  1. Hi Father,
    This reminds me of the time you left the homily and came back in your underwear. Did anyone raise a fuss about that? I often wonder.
    I hope you are well, that you’ve gotten used to your new Parrish and that you have made good friends. Your friar musings have improved, less obtuse, more direct.
    Pax at Bonum
    Jerry DiFabrizio

    • Hmmm..Wow, Jerry, that is going back in history! But “underwear”…?? I thought about simply removing the comment, but….
      I remember the homily of which you spoke. But for the record it was hardly in my underwear. Yikes. For those who are wondering, “what the heck!” – here is the what Jerry refers to. I was preaching about the many level and layers of roles we must manage in our daily lives – all of which need to shine forth the radiance of the light of Christ in our lives. I looped through the sacristy to take off my chasuble, alb, etc… while someone brought out into the sanctuary a coat rack with a full Franciscan habit, alb, stole and chasuble. When I re-emerged into the sanctuary I was wearing what is normal for me (esp. in Florida!) under my habit: regular shorts and a tee-shirt (boring and simply white). I continued to preach noting (a) there is the me that is son, brother, friend, everyday person [shorts and tee] who need to be the light of Christ. (b) There is the Franciscan brother [as I put on my habit] that has the same duty inside and outside the fraternity, and (c) there is the priest that has the same duty in a different role [as I put on the alb, stole, and chasuble]. My point was that everyone has different roles (son, friend, husband, father, manager at work, parishioner, etc…) – and in each setting one clothes themselves differently, but in each setting we are called to radiate the light of Christ….
      You ask did any one file a complaint or raise an issue? No, it was a homily that people, 10 year on, have told me that it was so powerful and image and homily that it continually comes to mind.
      …and for those reading this… I am not given to theatrics…I am a rather “regular” homilist. pax et bonum

  2. Brilliant as always Fr. George. Thank you. 👍For sure I am not always happy with some priests but I know it’s my problem and I’m only in church for Eucharist and I try to ignore my quirks and pay attention to the real reason I’m there. God Bless you in your new assignment and so happy for your blog🙏🏻😇

  3. At 72, I can look back at many favorite celebrations of the Mass by many different priests. I will confess that I prefer an altar rail. But as an older person and an RN, I tealize how hard it may be for an old priest to walk back and forth 50-100 times at an altar rail and how difficult it is to kneel or even geneflect for many parishioners. I also really lived the elevation of the Eucharist when the priests back was to us. It felt to me more like we shared in his priesthood and adored together. But later, I came to love the look on a certain priest when he elevated. It was so glorious it caused my youngest daughter to sigh out loud. We had a dear chubby priest, getting older and full of ailments that could not elevate. Sometimes I was distracted by worrying that he might lose his balance and fall backwards. When he retired, we got a young tall priest who elevated so high it brought back recollections of childhood. In Nicaragua , where my daughter was a missionary for 3years, i loved to watch Fr. Javier baptise babies. After he would take the baby under the arms from behind and turn to hold the bsy high over his head to Jesus on the cross. Then he would turn slowly and hold the beby in the same way to the entire congregation. It was like a Lion King moment and I always wanted to sing the African salutation from the movie. I got to see this many times during my visits. I also loved the way the children would mob Fr. Javier on the altar at the kiss of peace, while the adults offered peace to others. I have my preferences too. But I also understand why people are comforted by ritual. I feel a bit sorry for those who complain about deviations. They are discomforted by variation. Perhaps nowadays they might be considered on the spectrum of autism. But then i laugh and think that to God we must all be on a spectrum of some sort. Maybe that’s what drew me to become a Secular Franciscan! Anyway, Father, it’s good to get things off our chests. Priest’s as well. Thanks for all you do for God, and your parishioners.

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