Clerical Narcissism


I dropped the bomb on this yesterday. I should probably explain my thinking.

First, narcissism is a personality quirk that knows no ideology. Musicians, tempted by the performance aspect of their art, are quite vulnerable. But musicians of all sorts: classical, pop, jazz, are liable to be affected by it. And I’ve known church musicians both from the loft and the guitar group to be narcissists. Organizations like NPM have labored long to disconnect musicians from performance-for-its-own-sake, overuse of microphones, the me-and-Jesus pop Christian mentality. But there’s still work to be done.

Getting to priests, I’ve known (and shuddered) at certain guys who needed to be the center of attention. Whether they hog the mic or have a flurry of servers, EM’s, and gold trim around them, they all speak the same thing, despite different languages: it’s all about me. Sometimes the “me” is “Star of the Liturgical Show” and sometimes it’s “Look at Me, Holy Priest of God.” But either way, the laity is marginalized in their own worship.

To be clear, not every priest whose chair faces the people is a talk show host wannabe. Nor is every gold vestmented Tridentine cleric self-absorbed. But when they are, they are of the same species.

When I go to the Latin Mass Society web site and see hundreds of pictures of clergy and relatively few of architecture alone or of the laity, it’s hard not to interpret what this is about for some of these guys. Vatican II teaches that priests are to deal with their people as a brother among them, not a father. We covered this months ago in Presbyterorum Ordinis. Section three tells us:

- they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person
- they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them
- they cannot be of service … if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of (people)
- their ministry … requires that they live in this world among (people)
- they are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep
- they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold

To achieve this aim, certain virtues, which in human affairs are deservedly esteemed, contribute a great deal: such as goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of justice, affability, and others.

These qualities certainly apply to liturgy, so the notion of celebrating Mass as though no one is present is nothing more than … immature narcissism. In my opinion.

While I respect the notion that being influenced by favor or disregard of an “audience” is not ideal, the priest is not a performer. He is a leader. Leaders can’t make assumptions using personal preferences and count on people to follow. In the home, the cook must concentrate on cutting, slicing, baking, frying, measuring, etc., but home relationships sometimes demand an awareness outside of the task at hand.

When the priest is at Mass, I don’t believe his primary job is to pray. Let me repeat: the priest doesn’t celebrate Mass to pray it. His purpose is to facilitate the prayer of those present. If or when a priest is able to pray, that works for liturgy. But recalling the notion of sacrifice, a priest might keep in mind his primary conversations with God might take place elsewhere.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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