Priests serve the Church poorly by sincere but misguided piety. A Canon Law professor used to caution his seminarians: “Beware of the energetic simpleton!” Objective liturgical ritual cautions against simplistic piety — no matter how energetic or well intentioned. The liturgy mediates all the life and love of God that we need. Let the presider facilitate this mediation — not disguise or obscure it!
Ritual is objective. Piety is subjective. For example, one parishioner quotes the parish priest as saying — as he holds the Host high and gazes interminably: “ Look at Jesus. How much He loves us.” Jesus said to His disciples: “Take and eat.” Jesus did NOT say: “Take and gaze.” The third edition of the Roman Missal does NOT exhort the presider to ad lib personal piety.
A recently ordained parochial vicar announced to the parishioners at his new assignment: “Do not expect my Mass to last just an hour.” That is just as pathetic as the priest in the old Latin days who would boast to the parishioners that he would get them out in 20 minutes!”
Just let the Mass be the Mass. Let the rite speak for itself. Through prayer and study and internalizing the Mass, the presider can preach and celebrate the Mass in such a faith-filled way that both he and the parishioners are inspired and transformed.
Transubstantiation is indeed an awesome, miraculous and unmerited gift. As one teenager reflected in response to the accusation that Catholics are cannibals at holy Communion: “Transubstantiation means that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. The appearance of the bread and wine remain the same but the substance of them becomes the body and Blood of Christ. What I cannot smell and touch would be the substance. It is the essence. My mind knows, but my senses cannot tell. My senses only perceive the qualities of the bread and wine, and they don’t change. It is the substance that changes from the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. At holy Communion this is what I receive. It is completely outrageous that anyone would dare to call a Catholic a cannibal without knowing the facts.”
Let the presider celebrate the Mass in such a manner as to convey to the parishioners that ALL the hosts on the altar are transubstantiated — not just the big one he holds in his hands.
Let the presider not minimize the truth that the wine ALSO is transubstantiated just as much as the bread. No Church teaching emphasizes a primacy of the Body of Christ and a subordinate dichotomy to the Precious Blood of Christ. Neither should the presider.
After giving us new life at baptism, the Mass — the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist — is God’s greatest gift to us through the Paschal Mystery of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the Mass that has gotten good people to keep on being faithful, to hang onto hope on the brink of despair, and to grow in wisdom, age and grace. Let holy and knowledgeable priests preside at Mass objectively according to the official ritual so the Mass may continue to be the supreme gift God gives to accompany us on our treacherous journey back home to heaven.
As presiders at Mass, we priests are called not to be slaves of rubrics but servants of God and of God’s people. The ritual really speaks for itself — if we allow it to do so by carrying it out with knowledge and insight.
Thus the Mass should fire our faith and pulsate our piety. The ritual is NOT “my personal domain” to be interpreted according to my personal piety. The Roman Missal is the objective guideline for celebrating the Mass. Knowing and following the spirit of that ritual faithfully will inspire both priest and deacon, both liturgical ministers and participating parishioners to be formed by the Word proclaimed and to be nourished by the Eucharistic food and drink.
Thanks be to God. Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Amen. TP
MSGR. FATER, ordained in 1970 for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, is in active retirement.