Saturday, April 24, 2010

Priests are People, Too

One of the most humbling things about studying at a seminary is the opportunity to spend time with these men in the weeks just before their ordinations.

At the beginning of the year, they looked forward to their ordinations, sure, but for most that was just because they'd been done with school.  Now that's still a factor (as it is for every student - and most teachers, while we're at it), but there's something different about it now, weeks away from being ordained.  They've long been  just normal guys who speak of the Church with incredibly deep love, but there's an almost imperceptible difference that's crept into their attitudes in recent weeks.  They are, after all, mere weeks shy of their wedding day.

"I can't believe the Church is actually going to ordain me.  Me!  Does she know what she's doing!?"  They speak with the same love and awe of a man who can't quite grasp why his beautiful, talented wife chose him, of all the people in the world.

These men have no illusions.  They know that ordination will not solve their problems or make them perfect.  They're well aware that the life of a priest is not a walk in the park.  But God has chosen them for it.  Who are they to say no?

"It's almost real now.  I'm really going to be a priest in just a few weeks."  There's a deep excitement there, an eagerness to get out into the real world and serve the people in the parishes, but it's hidden beneath a thick layer of reverence for the configuration to Christ they'll soon be given, a layer of awe for the power and responsibility that's about to be entrusted to them.

And it is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time.  Thank you, dear seminarians, for reminding me what fear of the Lord looks like.  I pray that you retain that deep-seated joy and awe at your priesthood throughout your life.  I guarantee that it will bear fruit.

Jesus, High Priest inflamed with zeal for God and souls, have mercy on us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the Personality of the Priest

I've been having trouble at Mass lately.  No matter where I go (and I've spent time at many parishes: at home, at school, and visiting friends), the personal preferences of the priest seem to get in the way of me praying the liturgy.

One priest has such a thick accent, I have to be consciously attentive every second just to understand his homilies.  Another's homilies habitually have nothing to do with the day's readings.  Another speaks aloud prayers that are supposed to be said silently.  Another priest's ars celebrandi is - well, there's nothing wrong with it per se, but it's just not to my personal liking.  Yet another priest is too slow and meticulous (almost painfully so).  Another speaks things that I would like to have sung... the list goes on.

I have often heard the complaint levied against the OF that it gives too much focus on the priest's personality.  And rightfully so - who among us has not experienced the natural evangelizing effect of a priest with great personal charisma, then seen it topple to pieces when said priest was transferred?

The catch: these priests mentioned above? They're all traddy priests, saying the EF Mass!

I've been suspecting for months that one of the attractive features about the EF is that in it, you're less bound to the priest's failings. Father's voice distracts you from prayer (be it his heavy accent, strange pronunciations, putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, or singsongy "prayer tone")? For one thing, he's not speaking your language for very long; for another, even many of his Latin prayers are prayed quietly or silently. Don't like the priest looking at you? Rest assured that never once in the EF is he able to make eye contact. Your pastor's a tenor and you're a bass, and you can never hit the right notes to sing the response to his "Dominus vobiscum"? You're under no obligation to make a sound; a prayer within your heart is perfectly sufficient. Broken rubrics or liturgical ineptitude upset you? You can't see most of the actions you'd be nitpicky about (and, unless you're a Latin scholar, can't hear them either)!

I am exaggerating the divide to make my case, but the reality stands. The distracting voice in the OF effectively cuts you off from the all prayers of the Mass that you're not saying yourself. If someone is making eye contact with you (even only at the distribution of Communion), it takes great discipline not to look back and see the minister more than the sacrament. I can't even estimate how many times I've had to sing a response (or part of a song) down an octave. And you know things are bad if your spiritual director suggests you close your eyes and presume the best at certain parts of Mass.

There are good OFs out there, and we do need more of them. There are also good EFs out there, in ever-growing numbers.  But there's a difference between fleeing to the EF as a refuge and falling in love with its inspiring beauty.  I suspect that most of us have done a little of both.

χριστός ανέστη!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Good Friday Reproaches

I'd never before paid attention to the Reproaches that are sung on Good Friday, during the Veneration of the Cross.  Such a beautiful juxtaposition of God's goodness to our sinfulness!  Consider them the words of Christ on the cross to his chosen people.

My people, what have I done to you? or in what have I offended you? Answer me.

Because I led you out of the land of Egypt: you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God. Holy, mighty One. Holy, immortal One, have mercy on us. (2x, in alternating Greek and Latin)

Because I led you out through the desert in forty years, and fed you with manna, and brought you into a very good land: you have prepared a cross for your Savior.  Holy God...

What more should I have done, and did it not? Behold, I have planted you as my fairest vine, and you have become very bitter to me, for you have quenched my thirst with vinegar, and with a lance you have pierced your Savior's side. Holy God...

For you did I scourge Egypt and its firstborn, and you have given me over to be scourged. My people...

I led you out of Egypt, overwhelming Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and you have delivered me to the chief priests. My people...

I opened the sea before you, and you have opened my side with a lance. My people...

I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you have haled me to the judgment hall of Pilate. My people...

I fed you with manna through the desert, and you have smitten me with buffets and with lashes. My people...

I gave you the water of salvation to drink from the rock, and you have given me gall and vinegar to drink. My people...

For you I smote the kings of the Canaanites, and you have smitten my head with a reed. My people...

I gave you a royal scepter, and you have given my head a crown of thorns. My people...

With great power I lifted you up, and you have hung me upon the gibbet of the cross. My people...
(Translation adapted from the Institute of Christ the King)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Two Sinners

Tonight Anne and I went to a local Byzantine parish for Liturgy.  Much was beautiful, but what struck me most were some of the proper prayers for the day, based on the gospel.

The gospel reading covered both the woman who poured her costly oil on Jesus' feet and Judas' agreement to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Those prayers beforehand drew out the connection between the two, highlighting the simplicity of her costly gift (amid her sinful life) in contrast to his greedy treachery (hidden by his facade of virtue).  I wish I could reproduce the prayers for you here, because I simply cannot imitate the brilliance of the East with which they shone.

Instead I assure you of my prayers for you, and exhort you to keep in mind the model of the sinful woman.

Remittentur ei peccata multa quoniam dilexit multum.
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