This June will mark 10 years that I have been retired from the active ministry. Well, sort of. Immediately upon my retirement Father Bernard Healey hired me to assist at St. Ambrose Church in Albion, a ministry that continues to this day. When Father Thomas Ferland was assigned to this Lincoln parish, along with St. James in Manville, he graciously welcomed me to continue my assistance at these two communities. These two parishes continue to be the site of my daily Masses on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. Eventually, most Mondays found me offering Mass at St. Antoine’s Health Centre in North Smithfield. On Tuesdays, I was pleased to offer Mass at the Intake Center at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston. And on Wednesdays, I offered Mass at Mount St. Rita Health Centre in Cumberland. Of course, occasional requests to offer Funeral Masses or to fill in for a pastor’s day off at assorted spots have amply filled my months and years since retirement. Dozens of retired priests throughout the Providence diocese could make a similar claim.
While my assistance at St. Ambrose and St. James in Lincoln have continued throughout the coronavirus experience, St. Antoine’s, the Intake Center, and Mt. St. Rita understandably shut down all public access for the past year. So my Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays often became liturgically vacant. Offering Mass at home alone has never appealed to me, so I decided to attend Mass anonymously from the pews of local churches. I preferred not to attend Mass here in Woonsocket since the assorted celebrants might think I was there to collect data for a Quiet Corner critique of local liturgies. St. Augustine’s in Millville and St. Theresa’s in East Blackstone became my likely destinations. Both pastors offer mindful celebrations assisted by lay readers and servers. (Sign of the times: one is Latino while the other is Vietnamese.) A brief reflection on the Scriptures is offered daily.
Sitting in a pew rather than officiating from the president’s chair is quite revelatory! How fortunate our present generation is to be able to take advantage of the wisdom of the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council! Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and their insights, the Council Fathers providentially restored the Mass to the language of the participants, happily encouraged audible responses between priest and community, wisely revived the public reading of Scripture, pastorally favored the homily with a moment of reflection, fraternally promoted the general intercessions for relevant needs, shrewdly supported the presentation of gifts by community members, graciously opened the canon and consecration to public view and hearing, significantly fostered Communion under both species and pointedly nurtured suitable lay participation. Today’s Mass indeed follows a new order!
Alarmed by the abundance of commentary often inserted into the New Order of Mass immediately after the Council, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani insisted that catechesis is not the primary purpose of the liturgy. And of course he was right. The Mass is primarily an act of worship and the principal function of the Service of the Word is not so much instruction as proclamation. The wonders of God’s dealing with the Jews in the Old Testament and the marvels of Christ’s public life in the New Testament are the substance of Scripture and should be the matter of each reading and every sermon. A deepening of faith and not only a broadening of beliefs is the purpose of the Service of the Word.
The Service of the Bread must plainly celebrate the Mass as a sacrificial meal. The elements of the meal, bread and wine, are presented as the people’s gifts and placed on the Eucharistic altar/table. Through these gifts, consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ, separated as at the moment of his death, Calvary’s sacrifice is renewed, the Father is again worshipped and sins are remitted. These sacred, redeeming species are then pastorally offered to the faithful as food and drink, assuring oneness with Christ and with one another, as well as affording sustenance for the journey to eternal life.
This Sunday’s first reading recalls the Holy Spirit falling on the crowd of Jews and Gentiles who had gathered to hear St. Peter preach the Word. Sunday Mass, in fact every Mass, should advance the arrival of the Spirit on the assembled worshippers. Devoutly praying the words and piously observing the rubrics, both priests and people can once again assure the presence of the Spirit throughout the Christian community.