Liturgy on Demand?
There's been a bit of controversy in some quarters over a recent directive from Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton. In a pastoral letter issued last week, Martino -- the smartest person you will ever meet, ever, and one of the sweetest to boot -- reinforced the canonical provision that a priest is to celebrate but one Mass a day, two with permission of the competent authority and, in extreme cases, three on Sundays and holy days of obligation (again, with the consent of his superior). As he put it:
So august is God’s gift of the Eucharist, so important is the spiritual preparation for it, so careful and attentive must its celebration be, and so essential the thanksgiving to be made afterward as priests carry forth its grace to the rest of their ministry, that the multiplication of this central act in a priest’s daily life runs the risk of diminishing the value he places on it. Such a danger imperils the whole community of faith along with its priest. The law, therefore, is not an arbitrary one. It provides an essential means of fostering the holiness of the Church’s faithful.But some conservatives have taken to having a conniption about the church's ancient law and are taking it out on Bishop Martino, accusing him of manufacturing a priest shortage, encouraging laziness, being arbitrary, and one zealot went so far as to call him a clown.
I have to ask: Am I missing something here? Because, per usual, Joe Martino's so right on this one, and his critics are, per usual, so terribly off the mark. And this is the audience that should love the man -- not many bishops find it terribly imperative to write a pastoral letter on chastity, but Martino did.
You don't need me to tell you that a great many priests these days are overworked and overburdened, and anyone who isn't is almost an anomaly. But the criticism of the good bishop's move seems to manifest an undercurrent that the function of the priest is solely to be a sacrament dispenser -- that ministering to the sick, the aged, the grief-stricken, the poor, et al. is wishy-washy and he's only really performing his ministry when you can get a Host out of him, like some kind of vending machine you put an envelope into. Talk about spoilt laity with a deficient understanding of priesthood.
I've never been one for Masses where the priest runs at auctioneer speed. And when Joe Martino talks about the necessity of adequate preparation, he knows what he's talking about. There used to be a sign in our Seminary sacristy here that says, "Say this Mass as if it were your First Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass." And when it's one liturgy lined up after another, that preparation (both internally and in terms of the ars celebrandi) can often get sloppy. That doesn't serve the celebrant or the faithful well at all, does it now?
A great amount of hubbub has come up on the issue of Saturdays. Martino himself addresses this
Saturdays present us with a special challenge in this matter. Since it is a weekday, each priest, even with the special permission, may celebrate only two Masses. Parishes will therefore be obliged to rethink their priorities. Should the Saturday weekday morning Mass be eliminated in favor of a Saturday evening vigil Mass? Can nuptial Masses be scheduled on Friday evening instead of Saturday? Need every Church have a Saturday vigil Mass? Can neighboring parishes cooperate in the design of Mass schedules that will provide reasonable availability of Mass for all living in a particular area?Guess what, campers -- this is a question that really needs to be thought about in a lot of places. But here's something: I've been to more than my fair share of weddings where the bride and groom are having the Nuptial Mass solely because it's what their parents had and their parents before them; one bride, I'm sad to say, memorably chewed gum through the whole first half of her Wedding Mass. I can't tell you how appalled I was, but nobody else seemed to give a fig.
In these cases -- where it's the first time the couple have actively participated in an ecclesiastical function since their Confirmation -- the Liturgy of the Word option could and should well be used as a substitute. To immediately go for the Mass option at the expense of the rest of the community could be seen as a devaluation of the Eucharist, almost a liturgical abuse. And the couple probably wouldn't gripe anyway, as they'd get more time for post-wedding posing for the photographer.
That's one down.... Comments?