Friday, November 2, 2012

Priesthood: Heaven and Earth

I know that I'm a priest everyday, but today I really felt like a priest.  I got up early, made my coffee, and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours.  Since it is the Commemoration of All Souls today, as I prayed, I thought about the many people whom I've buried, given the Last Sacraments to, and all of the people in my parish who mourn their loss.  Then, I offered the morning Mass.  I was happy to see that there were more people than usual at Mass today.  Among those who attended was Tyler, one of our Altar Boys.  Tyler started serving daily Mass a couple of days a week.  His Mom, a teacher at the parish school and Tyler's brother were also at Mass.  If Tyler ever stops smiling, it will be a tragic day.  After Mass, I heard a confession.  After another cup of coffee(!) and some catching up with the staff, I offered a second Mass.  (On the Feast of All Souls, priests are able to offer three Masses).  The second Mass--since I was alone--I decided to offer in the Extraordinary Form.

I don't get to offer the Extraordinary Form Mass very often--usually only once ever few months or so.  So, I was forced to do things slowly.  When I was in seminary, if somebody said that they liked the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they would probably have been sent for a psychological evaluation!  For me, it is a very beautiful form of the Mass.  Having offered the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form, there are things I like about both.  I'm not insistent upon either.  I think probably the older Mass could have been renewed in a much more intelligent way, but, that's way above my pay grade.  I'm not in any camp when it comes to the two forms.  Or better put, I'm in the camp that appreciates them both and sees the need for renewal in both.

Offering that Mass was great because in the Extraordinary Form, the priest is a little bit more at liberty to whisper the names of those whom he wishes to pray for during the commemoration of the dead.  I had asked Facebook friends to send me any names that they wanted prayed for and I was able to honor their request and pray aloud for their loved ones.

The rest of the day was spent doing some administrative chores with my staff (who are great), a nap (which was also great!), and then getting ready for our evening Mass where we especially remembered those who died during the past year. 

I came into the church around 5:30 intending to get some preparation work done.  Immediately in the sacristy appeared Brendan.  Brendan is a fourth grader (maybe fifth?) who is an altar boy here.  His mother was playing the harp for the Mass this evening so they had already arrived.  Brendan is a big personality.  He offered to light the candles.  I told him that since Mass was still 1 1/2 hours away, perhaps we'd wait a little bit.  (Altar boys are perpetually the same.)  Brendan was a great help to me getting all sorts of things ready--and asked every ten minutes or so if it was time to light the candles and when we do light the candles which ones would we be lighting.  Out of the blue, Brendan offered, "I really like coming here and serving Mass.  I like to do all this stuff."

I don't know why, but in that brief moment, as he sat in a chair on one side of the sacristy, swinging his legs back and forth, and I stood at the vesting case going through the Missal, I was struck by the great privilege of being a priest.  Suddenly, I recalled being in the sacristy before Mass when I was an altar boy.  Usually though, I found myself sitting up on top of the vesting case, swinging my legs.  The pastor would remind me, "We aren't at the football field and that is not the bleachers."  I'd slink down the vesting case as if sliding off instead of jumping off would somehow make it less an offense.  But, I'd be back up there again soon.

The other servers soon arrived and so did the lector, deacon, and other priest.  The lector is a convert to Catholicism.  The deacon was born and raised in Germany.  The concelebrating priest was born and raised in Haiti.  The altar boys are three young men who have taken their role seriously.  It's been one of the great things about this parish.  The servers know that they are doing something important and they strive to do it with excellence.  If there were an altar server Olympics, they'd win the Gold.

Right before Mass, one of the high school students who works at the parish and was supposed to be working tonight asked, "Is it okay if I come to Mass tonight?"  Does he have any clue how happy that question would make a priest?  After Mass, he said to me, "That Mass was incredible."

At 7pm, the prelude over, we processed slowly down the aisle.  The music tonight was entirely from Faure's Requiem.  It was magnificent.  I've always thought that Faure's Requiem is pretty close to what Heaven must sound like. When I hear it--especially at Mass--I think that it is like we are standing on the other side of heaven and--although we cannot hear it clearly and completely--we are catching the sounds of heaven.  For instance, the In Paradisum.  When I hear that, I feel like the door of heaven is opening and so the sound is travelling out as the soul of the deceased is being welcomed.  And then, as the door closes behind the person, the sound of heaven returns to being hidden from us.

My brother priest preached a beautiful homily that touched upon everything today's commemoration ought to teach us.  Faith, hope, death, resurrection, mercy, eternal life, and living in preparation for judgment. 

In the congregation were persons whose Faith is likely great and those whose Faith is likely weak.  There were people whose loved ones died by tragedy and by suicide.  There were those whose loved ones died after long illnesses.  There were those who lost young children, those who lost more than one family member, and those who lost parents.  And, for the most part, I knew them all more than anyone else there.  My heart overflowed with love for these people.  I was so grateful to be able to offer this Mass for their loved ones, to help their deceased loved ones, and to provide some solace and consolation to the mourners. 

I started this blog with the simple hope that it might communicate something of what it is like to be a priest--and in my case, a pastor.  Tonight, as I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the Pie Jesu, I felt like a pastor.  The sorrowing were being consoled, the Dead received the aid of our prayers, those whose faith was weak were being built up, God was given fitting worship, a new deacon proclaimed the Gospel, a high school student came to Mass, three altar boys served God faithfully, a choir sang magnificently, a brother priest preached beautifully, and heaven and earth were united.  I have some part to play in all of that.  Each has his or her part to play.  Those altar boys have good parents.  The high school student has a good family and a good youth minister.  The choir is filled with faith filled people and a great director.  My part in all of it is to be the shepherd.  God is very good to allow me to be the shepherd of his flock--the flock he loves so much that he suffered and died for them.  When I think of being a pastor, I often think of what the psalm says: "He has put into my heart a marvelous love for the faithful ones who dwell in his land." 

Tonight, my heart echoes those words.  He has indeed put into my heart a marvelous love for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.

Lastly, do yourself a favor.  This is the In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem.  Listen to it.  That way, you will know what heaven sounds like.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Padre, one of your best. I too was an altar boy, though in the Episcopal Church, and except that my collar was scratchy and I had trouble not squirming while kneeling at the altar, I loved every minute of it!