September 1, 2009


I once went to the first Mass of a new priest by accident. My best guess is that it was in the Easter season of 1996. I went to the noon Mass at St. Mary's in New Haven, only to discover upon arriving that it would the first Mass of a newly ordained Dominican friar. I remember a little internal panic at first, suddenly becoming aware that I was in for more than I had planned, but soon I surrendered to this act of Providence and offered my prayer for and with the new priest.

He was very nervous. I remember that he flubbed the consecration, and I felt so bad for him. "This is my blood," he said before catching himself and quickly backing up to rush out the correct words, This is the cup of my blood.

It's frustrating to make mistakes in public prayer. I think I'm not unlike a lot of my contemporary adult converts and reverts to Catholic Christianity in the sense that we appreciate very much the richness of structure and instructions that come with the Catholic religion, and have found in them something to stand upon and a refuge from the vagueness, confusion, indifferentism, and relativism of our late modern world. Therefore, for me as someone who has made my practice of the Christian faith a public property by my religious profession, and have become a public steward of its mysteries by ordination, it is my joy and desire to follow the rubrics and speak the words of our public worship as exactly as I can; to 'Say the Black and Do the Red,' as Fr. Z's famous slogan goes.

Since it's so disappointing and distracting for me to mess up, then, I have a spiritual practice to help me when I do. Whenever I make a mistake in the offering of Mass or the Divine Office, I immediately offer a quick internal thanksgiving to God. I thank God for the grace of my mistake, for the invitation to humility it offers, and for the protection from vanity and any tendency to Pharisaism it provides. This practice works well for me, and lets me leave mistakes behind right away, and I usually suffer no further distraction on account of my error.

I'm thinking about all of this today because I was really off this morning for some reason. I first noticed it when I couldn't remember the beginning of the prayer that concludes the Angelus, "Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord..." Then, for the first time ever, I flubbed the consecration. Only moments before I had to adjudicate a small conflict over who was going to bring up the gifts, and finita praefatione, when I came to the institution narrative, I took the bread and began to speak the dominical word for the chalice. I caught myself right away, made my standard internal act of thanksgiving, returned to the beginning of the words, and corrected myself.

I remembered after Mass to pray for that priest whose first Mass I attended by accident. I pray that he is still a priest and a religious and that he is well in life and ministry. A significant proportion of priests leave within five years of ordination, so its important to pray this way.


Brother Juniper said...

Fr. Charles,

Thank you for this post. St. Alphonsus Liguori once wrote that if we makes mistakes when we pray we should always thank God that we made them and improve from our mistakes.

God bless,

Brother Juniper

Victoria said...

How can the priesthood be a calling from God if, after spending 6 or so years in the seminary, a significant proportion of young men leave the priesthood in the first five years?

Brother Charles said...

Dear Victoria,

It is a hard thing to understand. Nevertheless, just because someone leaves doesn't mean he didn't have a calling from God--he might be just failing in it or prevented from living it well by external factors. There are good studies on the question, such as this one in particular.