Wednesday, July 18, 2007

THE FIRST, THE LAST, AND THE ONLY

During the great snow storms of the mid 1970’s when the rest of the world shut down and people had enough sense to stay indoors, my parents slapped cross country skies on my feet and told me to get up to the church to serve the daily mass. It was just Fr. Ozimek, the octogenarian organist, and me. How the organist made it when young bucks with major utility vehicles couldn’t get down their own driveways is still a mystery.

I learned one of my most important lessons on one of those days. As I walked in to the sacristy Father looked up from his prie dieu where he was praying and said, “You’re on today?” I responded with a, “Yeah, I gotta serve again.” To which he responded, “No, you get to serve again. It is an honor.”

He was right of course and I knew it. I’m sure Fr. Ozimek had no clue as to what impact his comment made on me as I had a studied resistance for showing such things. But I carry that lesson with me to this day as a celebrant. “Priest of God, say this mass as if it were your first mass, your last mass, your only mass.” (I’m sure someone famous said this, but I know not who.) It is not a bad thought for all ministers to bear in mind be they lectors, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (who have the second longest title in the Church right after Grand Master, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem), altar servers, musicians, sacristans, or ushers.

To this end, the most important aspect of all these ministries is that you pray the mass. One is not more involved in the mass or doing something more important when performing one of these ministries. Pope Benedict reminds us that the most important ministry at the mass is praying the mass. As a matter of fact it is a misunderstanding of what we are doing if we artificially multiply ministries in a misguided effort to get people “more involved”.

That being said, it is incumbent for such ministers to pray the mass because rightly or wrongly people mark you for having an additional role to engage in on their behalf. By your prayerful attention you pay honor to the primary duty of the whole Body of Christ to worship God. No matter what your ministry, if anyone sees you, by your prayerful attention they should be drawn back to the action in the sanctuary and be reminded of what they are there to do. Talking, fussing, or even seeming distracted while waiting for "your turn" can have terrible effects.

Once I was directing a seminary choir for a novus ordo Latin mass. We were in the choir loft of one of the most beautiful churches in our diocese. We were in the middle of “Tristes Est Anima Mea” when the jaws of all the guys in the choir dropped. My back was to the sanctuary so I could not see what was happening. At the end of the song I whispered an agitated, “What?!” and one of the guys just pointed. A server had taken a seat in the middle of the sanctuary, threw her arms over the back of the chair, had her alb hiked up, and was kicked her bare, crossed legs. It was just a teensy weensie bit difficult to pay attention to the mass with that show going on.

That was an extreme example, but it easily understandable from this how desperately important it is to make your primary duty prayer, your primary focus the action in the sanctuary, and to draw the least amount of attention to oneself as possible.

In this way you can also be a leaven for bringing reverence back to the mass as well as belief in the Eucharist. You may not be able to transform anyone else directly, by like Fr. Ozimek making that one passing comment that effected me so deeply, your example may inspire others (maybe countless others about whom you will never know) to take the mass and the primary role of praying more seriously.

To be continued.

8 comments:

Jeffrey Smith said...

Doesn't surprise me at all that an octogenarian, back that managed to get there. The people who were born before 1900 were a whole different breed. Nothing stopped them. I've known a lot of them and the oldest would be pushing 140 now. Above all, they were realists.

uncle jim said...

I spoke to a mother once about how her teen-aged daughter dressed when serving as a reader [she reads pretty darn good for a teen] and the mother about came unglued suggesting that if I was being distracted, or anyone else for that matter, it was OUR problem and not the way the daughter was dressed. MOST teens dress that way and there's not much she could do about it. I now offer a few extra prayers for those who think they find themselves in the same boat - or who do not think it is a distraction.

Rob said...

-A server had taken a seat in the middle of the sanctuary, threw her arms over the back of the chair, had her alb hiked up, and was kicked her bare, crossed legs.-

It wasn't all that easy concentrating on the rest of the article after that description! :)

Adoro te Devote said...

Speaking of altar servers.....

I think that sometimes we the congregation have to be careful not to get too focused on what the altar servers are doing (or anyone else for that matter) with obvious exceptions, that being what you cited. Oy vey!

You reminded me of a daily mass I had attended a couple years ago. I wanna say it was the 6:30 am Mass, but it might have been the 8 am. There was a new server who was obviously serving at his first mass, he was obviously nervous and just doing his best. Father was very patient with him and I could see that he was almost expecting the little troubles that did arise and provided very quick direction when needed.

I felt so bad for that poor boy - after all, who doesn't know what it's like to be nervous and doing something that is being scrutinized by an audience?

I was in the front row that day, and a couple was standing behind me. They tended to wear very sever expressions. I'm not sure I've ever seen either of them smile and I certainly wouldn't want to be standing in front them with any kind of expectations upon me!

They were behid me so I couldn't see, but the lady leaned over and said, audibly, to her husband, "That altar boy certainly isn't trained very well!"

Disapproval and outright condescension was just DRIPPING in her tone, and of course her husband audibly agreed with her.

The poor altar boy heard the comment, too, and he visibly tensed up even more!

I was actually completely distracted for the rest of the mass, I felt so bad for him and a bit upset with the people behind me. It was all I could do to keep from turning around and publicly defending the poor kid...at that very moment.

And really, he did ok. He didn't do anything wrong, he was trying hard to do all the right stuff at the right time, and he did continue to serve, and still does.

OK, maybe that's a little OT, but still worth a cautionary word to all of us not to get carried away or freak out if we are the ones serving and our nerves get the better of us.

Um...at least for now, I'm not doing anything at Mass other than sitting in the pew praying, but they still might make me sing again...so Father, thanks for the reminder.

uncle jim said...

adoro,
"...they might make me sing again"

really?

how about "They might let me sing again."?

for it is an honor, is it not?

Adoro te Devote said...

uncle jim ~ Well....I don't have the voice I used to have so I'm reluctant to get up there. I'm not at all sure I can do it, and I think we have enough bad singers who can't hit the notes. They do NOT need me to add to that mix!

It's an honor, yes, but my suggestion to Father was to have the new Music Director audition me first. We'll see what happens.

Fr. V said...

Adoro - I'm afraid I'm a little duplicitous with altar servers. When they are new I say, "Nobody is paying attention to you, don't worry about it." When they are older I tell them, "People are looking at you, be careful what you do."

Your comments were great until you said, "I'M JUST SITTIN IN THE PEW PRAYING!" It isn't JUST! It is the MOST important thing! (I know what you meant. but see how easy it is for us to make it sound as though the other people are really doing the important work?)

Good Jim! HA!

And good move Adoro. That will bring confidence on both sides. But I bet you are singing soon!

Adoro te Devote said...

Fr. V. ~ Glad you knew what I meant by that! I have often had to explain to people that what V2 said about "Active Participation" had nothing to do with dancing down the aisle or "performing" some service during the mass. I LIKE sitting in the pew and praying. It's a GOOD THING!

Well, I'll let you know what happens. They recently finally hired actually 2 music directors, both part time, and I'm kinda hoping Father forgets about me. But if he or the new Music Director asks me to sing, I will...and just hope for the best. Wanna talk about praying!

Yeah...