Look at me. Look at what an easy-going, modest, loveable guy I am.
I’m a feckless priest serving a feckless god - a “no-big-deal” god, an earth-colors and coffee table god, a “sit back and make yourself comfy” god. No point in putting on a chasuble. My god doesn’t subscribe to the Gammarelli (lirturgical clothing) catalog.
Besides, it’s a better tease if I do my own thing with the rubrics, agreeing with some and ignoring others. It shows I’m my own person and throws the faithful just a little off-balance, which makes them uncertain enough to have to pay attention to ME and pick up their every ritual clue from ME, who am the most important Being at this event.
The trick is not to overdo it. If you go overboard with the disrespect people tune out. Better to play off their expectation of a Catholic Mass, leading them on with the familiar and then shocking them with something baffling, mixing piety and impiety. Am I an obedient priest or a disobedient priest? Both. Neither. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that the thoughts of the assembly won’t be going heavenwards – as tends to happen when they get spiritual freedom from the Roman Ritual (yes, that ritual leads to freedom – because once you become familiar with the ritual, it becomes a part of you, and the mind and spirit are free to concentrate on higher things than the ritual itself). Rather their thoughts and feelings are trapped in the here-and-now, within the cage I have built for them, because I’ve mixed up their familiar ritual.
Cute, isn’t it, the way I have the kids elevating the hosts like concelebrants? It shows I’m unconscious of my priestly dignity. It foregrounds my humility, and that’s good. It also trashes the priesthood of the baptized. What – you thought it emphasized it? On the contrary, the priesthood of the baptized is signaled in bringing forward bread and wine at the Offertory, in which our common humanity takes part.
No, by giving the patens to the boys to lift I’m actually making the point that unless YOU have a special and personal role in The “Sacerdotal Show” YOUR priesthood doesn’t count. In fact, the kids get pretty excited the first couple times they take over bits of my duty, and then they feel bored and resentful when they fall back into anonymity in their ordinary parish Mass. And that’s what I like to see. I’m singing a new church into being.
The problem with saying Mass by the book is that it edifies. That’s a word that means “builds up.” When the members of the assembly are edified, they are built up into an edifice which is of no single member’s making; they’re made into the Church - and that in such a way that their differences, far from being a source of division, actually work in a complementary way to form an organic whole. But that organic whole poses a serious obstacle to my personal project, in ways I’d just as soon leave unspoken. Better to blur.
Better to obfuscate. Better to use the inherited respect of the faithful for a priest to lead them to a liturgical fork in the road, where they have to choose between obeying ME and obeying the Church, between sharing in the rite I concocted and sharing a rite given to the universal body. In the best case scenario, some will tap into the anger and take positive relish in defying the Church. In the second best case, they’ll feel soiled by their timid acquiescence and transform the discomfort of their guilt into resentment against the Church, against the Church that asks such simple and “doable” obedience from them.
Don’t you see? Obedience is the key to the whole game. The words and rubrics are so simple and so clear that any priest who wants to do so can offer a perfect Mass every time, and the faithful can offer a perfect Mass along with him. That means every variation from the words or the rubrics takes place for a reason. A noble reason? You should be ashamed even to raise the question. As a priest in good standing, could I offer you anything else?
(This was sent to me by my brother, a priest in the Diocese of Savannah. He had been told the text was written by Fr. Miguel Grave de Peralta, a Melkite priest in Augusta, Ga. However, I contacted Fr. Peralta and, while he agrees with the sentiment, he said he did not write it.)