After an angry parishioner stopped me after Mass at a Catholic parish were I have help twice a month, it finally hit me – a revelation that I’d missed all these years later.
The Tridentine Latin Mass was changed to the local’s vernacular in the late ’60’s after the Second Vatican Council. It was a shock to many people who grew up with its formal, mystic-like rigidity and to many others it was a relief to hear what the words meant and become more involved in the Mass.
The Latin Mass demanded gestures, motions and movements by the priest to be performed exactly the same way each time the Mass was offered. Any deviation from the established form could dismiss the efficacious graces that the Mass provides. (Remember, that these actions are all done by the priest. What the pew-people did or didn’t do didn’t matter.)
The priest’s back was presented to the congregation each time. Even though unseen; those gestures, motions and movements by the priest affected the success of the Mass. Gestures: I’m talking about exact height and width of extended arms, talking directly to the bread and wine and combined thumbs and index fingers after touching the bread and wine for a long time. (And these are the things I can only remember but I’m sure there were more.) My revelation is that the priest was visibly invisible to ensure that he was the “Alter Christus,” the person of Christ while presiding. (No congregation needed.)
The presiding priest during this Latin Mass was not a person or an individual. With his back toward the congregation he was not “representing” but was the “person of Christ.”
Well, that was the late ’60’s; fast forward to my recent experience. After Mass last Sunday, a man suddenly stops me, red-faced and carotid arteries bulging and says, “It’s my own opinion but your jokes at Mass are wrong and you consistently do it every time. I’m going to write the pastor,” as he walks away without waiting for a response from me.
A jokester since grade school with always a hint of sarcasm, I’m a priest who allows my personality to connect and relate to the congregation with this new Mass in humorous and serious ways (which is not that “new” anymore). I suspect he wanted the kind of Mass and priest that ended when I was a high school sophomore when performing the correct ritual was more important than celebrating community and relating to the people I can now face.
We are both right, but I felt sorry that we didn’t have a chance to talk about it. (I wonder if he’ll really call the pastor? Detention, stay after school? There’s that darn sarcasm again.)
A Great Gift Idea
A new book by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
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Paperback or Kindle is $14.95. Enjoyable reading.