Dorothy’s Liturgical Plea To Priests

Were I younger and living several decades ago, it would have been an experience to work alongside Dorothy Day. I had a friend back in Rochester who did just that, in the late 30’s. She had stories.

I recently discovered an online library of Dorothy Day’s writings.  I was looking for something from her on prayer or on Advent, and I found a lot. But as a liturgist, I was also drawn to an essay on the eve of Vatican II, published in the Catholic Worker in September 1962.

Three excerpts:

We laymen have said little so far about the coming council and Christian renewal. Partly it is because as lay people expressing ourselves at all times about such important issues as man’s work, his present unemployment, the situation of the family, materialistic education in Catholic school as well as public school, man and the state, war and peace, it is endless, the issues we have covered, the articles we have written over almost thirty years. One might say we were preparing the ground, pointing up the issues.

This is probably my last chance, this issue of the Catholic Worker for me personally to write about some things that are in my heart about the Mass, for instance, that holy sacrifice, which is the heart of our life, bringing us into the closest of all contacts with our Lord Jesus Christ, enabling us literally to “put on Christ,” as St. Paul said, and to begin to say with him, “Now, not I live, but Jesus Christ in me.” With a strong consciousness of this, we remember too those lines, “without Me, ye can do nothing,” and “with Me you can do all things.



Fr. Faley was slow and deliberate and always we could count on a Mass that took three quarters of an hour to say, no more, no less. It was so terrible a privilege that he stammered over the words of consecration, and I used to hold my breath, praying he would get through them. He is no longer with us and we hope he is praying for us in heaven.

And now we come to our real criticism, the point of all this that I am trying to write. Most priests rush through the Mass as though they were going to forget the words unless they say them as fast as possible. Not only the Latin which is garbled so that it sounds like magic, but also the vernacular, the prayers at the foot of the altar. In those prayers we do have the vernacular and all the priests who are crying aloud for the vernacular do not seem to realize that those prayers they are saying are important too, and the intention with which those prayers are said.



With this recognition of the importance of the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, still with us in the bread and wine of the altar, how can any priest tear through the mass as though it were a repetitious duty? This is the impression they give people when they do this, like the children at Fatima who used to say only Hail Mary, or Our Father, and think they had said their prayers, and perhaps they had if they realized the holiness of these words. The priest often says the first words and slides through the rest in meaningless mutter. And some of the best priests I have met do this, abusing the prayers of the Mass in this way.

I am begging them not to. I am begging them to speak as though the words were holy and inspired and with power in themselves to produce in us the understanding–the participation that should change our lives.

“You cannot fall to see the power of mere words,” Joseph Conrad wrote in his preface to A Personal Record. “Such words as Glory, for instance, or Pity. Shouted with perseverance, with ardor, with conviction, these two by their sound alone, have set whole nations in motion and upheaved the dry hard ground on which rests our whole social fabric.”

Dorothy died twenty-six years ago today. For those who are churchily inclined, this date will likely be her official feast day someday. In any event, her birthday into eternal life is well worth observing. 

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Dorothy’s Liturgical Plea To Priests

  1. Brigid says:

    Dorothy did love words and valued their “intention.” Thanks for this and for noting she died on the Feast of St. Andrew… what does *that* mean?

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