How Tradition Fosters Priestly Humility



I spent this last week at a Eucharistic Conference with a group of priests who are interested and involved with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy.

Each day at this annual Eucharistic Conference, a Solemn Latin Mass is celebrated with deacon and subdeacon. It is handy that there are about 15 priests in attendance from all over the country. Throughout the week, we switch off with the roles of celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, MC 1, MC 2, Schola, hearing Confessions, etc. We also have nightly Conference talks at dinner given by the various priests and the local bishop. It gives us an opportunity for priestly fraternity and for doing what priests do: liturgy.

Since there is no concelebration in the old Roman rite, each priest must say his own private Mass each day unless he is the celebrant for the Solemn Mass. This is a good thing because instead of one Mass being concelebrated, there are 15 Masses each day celebrated by the priests in attendance. Imagine the blessings that flow from 15 Masses being celebrated instead of just one Mass!

In this case, the various priests in attendance generally serve for one another. One priest will celebrate a Low Mass at a side altar with another priest as his server, then they will switch and the one having just been served will serve for the other priest as he celebrates his Mass.

During the week, I reflected on this particular activity. It is so good for a priest’s spiritual life: for his sense of humility; his brotherly charity; his reverence for the dignity of the priesthood itself; and for his sense of service to others that he would get down on his knees before the altar and serve for another priest.

This is not something that priests ordinarily do in the Ordinary Form (Modern Roman Rite). In the Modern Rite, priests typically concelebrate at one Mass with each other. They would not generally think to serve at Mass for another priest. The only time that a priest would get down on his knees liturgically to serve others would be on Holy Thursday at the optional washing of the feet. This is an optional practice in the Ordinary Form and it is generally only done by a priest who is a pastor, a religious superior, or a bishop. Therefore, how many priests are there who would never get down on their knees in service to others?

This is unfortunate. Many priests do not get the opportunity to serve Mass for another priest. Instead, we priests become accustomed to being served at the altar. The danger of being one who is always served is that we priests might forget that we are not called to be served but to serve. The reality is that we priests are not being served at the altar, but the Lord Jesus Christ is the true High Priest being served.

The priest should not take this glory for himself. He should be one who serves the Lord and those entrusted to his care. We priests are often treated with deference by our parishioners. It is true that this is because we are at their service. Our lives are sacrificial. We offer Mass, hear Confessions, witness their marriages, baptize their babies, anoint the sick, and bury the dead. In all this we keep quite busy and we are of service to the Lord and those entrusted to our care.

But there is something very valuable in being able to serve at Mass for another priest: to get down on one’s knees in service. It is humbling and that is good for the priest and his spiritual life.

Photo credit: Rodrigo Guerra

Posted on August 13, 2018, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I have had several occasions to serve the Traditional Latin Mass for other priests since my new assignment started 6 months ago here at St. Mary’s Norwalk, CT.

    We have the Traditional Latin Mass here every day (Solemn High Mass every Sunday) and the Novus Ordo every day. The parish attracts a lot of visiting priests who favor the TLM. Recently, we had a Solemn High Nuptial Mass. I assisted as the Acolyte for a private Mass at 09:00 and then was in choir for the 13:00 Solemn Mass. Since the pastor was away, I then had two Novus Ordo Vigil Masses. Being at 4 Masses is normally very tiring, but the TLM is so spiritually fulfilling that I didn’t have that same fatigued feeling as when I had 4 Sunday Masses in Ecuador for 7 years.

    It is indeed humbling and very edifying to serve Mass as a priest. Previously, I had only ever done it at an Opus Dei retreat house where about half of the priests choose to say a private Mass instead of concelebrate.

  2. Franklin Peter Uroda

    In the days before Vatican Council II, priests would say a daily Mass and receive a stipend ($) for saying the Mass. Is this still the practice, and is there a set money amount?

    • Yes there are still stipends offered by the faithful. They can range from $5 in the Archdiocese of San Antonio to $20 in other large Dioceses.

      In the distant past, priests only received stipends and not a salary like today. If we were to go back to that system, a Mass stipend would have to be a in the range of $50 to $90 depending on what their Diocese pays them currently.

      This is why concelebration is such a problem. A Mass is only supposed to garner one stipend and yet all of the priests at a said concelebration are getting stipends.

  3. I believe the message from the foot-washing was not that the Jesus was serving God or the Father, but people, the flock – performing the service proper to a menial – not even a peer. So, there is greater reason for priests to be humble,

    What is humility ? A recognition of reality. what reality ? That in ourselves, we are nothing. Nothng. If Gods stopped hnking about us, we wol d cease to exist. Another example is the term, ‘prophet’, which, on the same basis can be seen, in essence, to be no more than a term of convenience. Everything, ever charism, ever grace, every gift at all, is entirely at God’s discretion. It should also help holy priests in their humility to reflect that they were not chosen to perform their spiritually- dedicated office, because they are great, but because God is great..

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