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!


  1. I go to a pretty average OF mass and I take a one year old and a three year old with me. I am not distracted by the priest, I can tell you! Mostly I don't even hear what he's saying.

    Some years ago I realized that learning more about the mass was going to make it harder for me to get anything out of it, not easier. So I stopped learning and tried to forget what I already knew.

  2. Pedantic Classicist10:36 AM

    ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

    CC (may I call you this, or is it Claire? or...?)-
    Some good points here. I'm usually not able to attend an EF mass, so I suppose it's comforting in a way that one can get distracted by the priest's personality even there. I dearly love the assistant priest where I go to (OF) Masses on weekdays, but he has a few odd habits (like adding, "and then he said to them" before "do this in memory of me" Why the heck is he adding THAT?!?) that drive me up the wall. I have also taken to closing my eyes for much of Mass.

    I wonder sometimes if "ignorance is bliss" when it comes to the proper form of the Mass. Do you ever wish you knew less, so that the abuses wouldn't bother you? I certainly do.

    Neat blog! I wandered over from Seraphic and have enjoyed reading a couple of your archived entries. God bless you in your academic work.


  3. Pedantic Classicist10:55 AM

    PS- If I may, a (typically!!) pedantic comment. The banner says "Credo ut intelligere." But, in Latin, an infinitive cannot be used in a purpose clause. So you need "Credo ut intelligam." And, indeed, what St. Anselm wrote was, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam, etc." I think this is what you want? Or am I missing something? Just trying to be helpful.

    Pax et bonum, PC (on a MacBook, btw, accessing this site with Safari, lest you think the PC means something besides "Pedantic Classicist!)

  4. PC,

    Thanks for the comment, and my apologies for taking so long to reply! (Life has a way of sweeping us off our feet when we're least expecting it.) Claire or CC are both just fine.

    I do not wish that I knew less. Much as many of the abuses pain me, I don't want to run away from reality. To do so seems kind of antithetical to the whole fides et ratio concept. If I, who am blessed to be studying the liturgy, cannot handle it in its fallen human form, why should I expect anyone to see any truth or beauty in it?

    No, though it would be less painful to attend Mass at certain places, I would not trade the knowledge God has given me. Because as much as it makes life miserable when things are done wrong, that's a suffering I can endure for Our Lord, the tiniest glimpse of how my sins and failings hurt Him.

    (And thanks for the correction. I knew something about that looked wrong, but was just waiting for someone to tell me how so!)


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