A Liturgist Looks At Vestments

The novel by John Reimringer, not the clothing.

I picked Vestments off the library shelf a few months ago, and declined to check it out after reading the first few pages–didn’t sound right to me. On a recommendation, I borrowed it a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed a good read about a young Minnesota priest, four years ordained, facing a crisis involving celibacy (or lack thereof), a scandal in his country parish, his brother’s upcoming wedding, his estranged parents, his high school sweetheart, his relationships with other priests, and a lot of booze and cursing by pretty much everyone in the story.

The author’s choice of starting his novel off with a priest saying a home Mass for his mother, interrupted by his coarse and alienated father was a bit offputting at first. The book starts slow, I think. About a third of the way through it begins to pick up steam as more of the backstory is revealed, and the characters drawn more finely. The city of Saint Paul is featured with as much description as any human character, and it seemed to me this setting in particular indeed served as a major player in the novel.

There are well-described episodes involving a parishioner attempting suicide, an attempted seduction, and the evolution of Father Dressler from a son of a troubled father to a young priest in search of personal and spiritual grounding.

Some of the liturgy stuff didn’t ring true to me. There were details missed that a priest (or liturgist) would know. But this wasn’t a big handicap to enjoying the book. The church politics seemed about right–old guys living a Vatican II age with Vatican I methods and pettiness. The bad guys were drawn as simple black hats: chancery officials taking marching orders from a nosy parish housekeeper. Bishops and their staffs are groomed by sex abusers more frequently, not country housewives searching through their pastors’ drawers.

Those few bumps aside, the human side of the characters held true. While the conclusion is not a rollicking or surprising one, it does make a degree of quiet sense. It’s a good first novel, a very worthwhile read.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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