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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

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