Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Letter from a Novice Priest to His Elders

As mentioned below, Fr. Peter Daly penned a note to the newly ordained priests of the U.S. in last week's Criterion. Since dialogue is a two way street, I thought that it might be good for a younger priest to also offer suggestions to Fr. Daly's generation.

Dear Fathers,

First of all, thank you for your service to the Church. You have given your entire life to ministering to the People of God selflessly and you have inspired and inflamed the hearts of millions and millions of people. Thank you for staying when so many of your brethren quit and were married or whatever else they did - you stayed and if you all had quit, the Church in the United States would have perished.

I have two suggestions for things to improve on. Every generation has its blind spots and it takes humility to hear someone point them out, but I offer some advice none the less.

First of all, please preach the hard teachings. Pornography and masturbation cause many of the men in our country to live a black hole which they feel they can not escape. Don't tell them is okay or normal or healthy, help them. 1/3 of my generation has been wiped out by abortion, and were it not for immigration from Mexico, our country wouldn't be replacing itself. Contraception seems to be accepted by Catholics everywhere, nonetheless, it is a grave mortal sin and is wrecking their lives unbeknownst to them. The people in the pews need to hear it from you. The people of God know these things are wrong in their hearts, and yes, these are "hard sayings" but Christ preached hard things Himself, as you well know. "Be not afraid." When it is all said and done, your people will thank you for it!

Secondly, the actions and words of the liturgy matter. For some reason the idea has developed in a lot of your parishes that the Mass is just a meal among friends. That is not what the Second Vatican Council said, however. It is BOTH meal and sacrifice, and so the ritual, the words, the vestments, the chalice, the aura of the Church and the quality of the music matter!

In 2002, the Vatican issued a General Instruction on the Roman Missal. It is neither lengthy nor complex, and it reminds priests how the Mass should be celebrated. The things in here are not guidelines or suggestions - it is the Church, which you promised obedience to, telling you how to perform your craft. I note some key points in the document:

1) Quoting Vatican II: "The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of the Mass." This is very important, and also often abused. How does a priest read this but still say whatever he wants at Mass? The worst violation of this is when a priest INTENTIONALLY changes the words of consecration - yet I see it all the time. The Church asks you to get about 40 words out in a row without alteration to make the Mass valid, but some priests change even those words.

2) "Sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal. If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, then ordinarily they should be guilded on the inside." How does someone, then, use a wood chalice or a glass chalice? Also, metal cups from Bed, Bath and Beyond don't cut it either. Mother Theresa, when she built a new convent, would always buy beautiful vestments and make sure the chalice and paten were of precious metal - everything else in the building was dirt poor. Perhaps we should remember that as well.

3) As mentioned in a previous post, "It is fitting that the beauty and nobility of each vestment derive not from abundance of overly lavish ornamentation, but rather from the material that is used. That would seem to exclude burlap, bedsheets, quilts, sequence, etc.

This need for a renewed respect for the liturgy is not pharisaical on the part of my generation - it is a desire to operate from the heart of the Church. I know when you were growing up that perhaps you had an overly authoritarian pastor and you think that my generation wants to return to that. My generation doesn't want to return to that, but we also recognize that perhaps some of the ways you operate are more in line with a child acting out against its parent in the matters mentioned above, as opposed to healthy and authentic reform. Perhaps past generations of priests didn't love the people enough. Perhaps your generation doesn't love the Church enough. I think Christ asks us to love them both.

I will read over your suggestions to me and keep them in mind as I go forth in my ministry. I ask you to do the same with my words, and let us keep working together to bring Christ to the world.

Fr. John Hollowell

FOLLOW UP: Last night I was reading "Priest and the Eucharist: No Higher Calling" by Cardinal Avery Dulles and he said it best - "These and other liturgical norms should not be dismissed as meticulous rubrics dictated by a legalistic mentality. They are intended to protect the sacredness of the Eucharist and the integrity of the ministerial priesthood, which is intrinsically related to the Eucharist."