Isn’t That What A Priest Is For?


Frequent guest Tony asked about yesterday’s post, “When I first read this entry, I asked myself ‘what the heck is a “liturgist?” Isn’t that what a priest is for?’”

I suppose a priest in a very small to small parish would be doing more or less of what falls under my job description. As we were fortunate to have our parish clergy augmented by our retired former pastor and the diocesan vicar general this past weekend, there is a certain amount of coordination needed to keep clergy happy. Servers, for example. One priest wanted to have his occasional assistant (and nephew) work with servers, so that meant making a number of phone calls last Monday night and unearthing various incense blends for consideration. Certainly the kinds of things priests can do if they have one or two Christmas Masses. But not likely for an eight-Mass Christmas. The retired priest offered to rehearse the servers for his own Mass. Our new associate pastor, as I commented yesterday, saw the various smells and bells trotted out for the earlier Masses and decided that would be good to have for the 8PM Eve Mass, too. I didn’t mind at all putting servers through paces and making assignments before Mass. It freed Fr Walt to greet people as they came in for liturgy–the kind of up-front thing our pastor himself models and approves of for any staff person. When I stand out there on Christmas Day and open car doors and escort elderly people in, the C&E Catholics in the crowd have no real clue as to who I might be. The priest is pretty noticeable and probably makes a good impression there. Well, you get my drift on that.

“I was thinking that most ‘liturgists’ in modern parishes are a lot like ringleaders in a circus, making sure that the ‘acts’ in the ‘rings’ are meshing properly so all are appropriately entertained.”

I’m not sure about the entertainment thing. We don’t always keep the heavy contributors happy and the gravy train running from the ritzy end of town, like they might have done in the old days. In almost twenty years, I’ve only ever had one priest who took a regular turn at the organ bench, and he was one of three in a parish.

No, most modern liturgists do the music thing that their lay predecessors did in previous generations. They might be somewhat better trained on average, musically and theologically. In my case, I benefit from having an organist on staff, which frees me up to do my three musical Masses, train servers for a fourth, and cover all kinds of bases for the fifth and last for which we had no volunteers other than two servers and a cantor. (Trust me, our vicar general wasn’t pleased at the prospect of distributing Communion single-handed to three-hundred-plus people at noon yesterday.)

I remain amazed at the bitterness Catholics have toward certain sisters and brothers in faith. It might be one thing if it were a noble deal to harbor hurts and grievances from a liturgist of the past, but the Gospel would suggest not. It might be another thing if people lacked the freedom to find a parish suited to their temperament, but curiously, the people who have said freedom and make that choice are often the most embittered of all, at least in e-print.

Even assuming that some Catholics were truly our adversaries in faith, one might suggest that it is to one’s benefit to actually learn about one’s enemies and gain factual information. Such an approach has benefitted battlefield commanders through the millennia. If this is indeed a fight of some sort, knowing one’s adversary, rather than laboring in ignorance and misinformation, would actually help carry the fight, as it were.

As it is, I’m afraid the questions and curious challanges remain more of an amusement to me than something to take too seriously. If you don’t believe me, follow my parish link on the sidebar and ask my pastor. I tell him about y’all from time to time, so be advised, he’s been advised.

Merry Christmas!

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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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