Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bless me, Father ... if it’s not too much to ask.

I drive to another part of town every Sunday to emcee a Traditional Mass. That aside, I don't ask much from a parish and its priests.

If you're a priest, and you're ever my pastor, here's the short list:

1) Celebrate Mass validly and licitly, with appropriate reverence,

2) Preach in keeping with the teaching of the Church, without error, and

3) Act your age.

As hard as it is to believe, the above is actually a tall order in some places.

My territorial parish (the one which I am normally obliged to register according to canon law, and where I have entitlement of access to the spiritual goods of the Church) is less than one mile from my house. I could walk to it. It's nothing fancy, which is fine with me. Give me a little church by the side of the road, where the faithful worship "in spirit and in truth" according to the mind of the Church. Throw in a good measure of "smells and bells" and I'm in hog heaven. But these yokels have a history of challenging certain aspects of the Faith at an institutional level. And while they do a great job with the corporal works of mercy (which I can get from the government after they leave my great-grandchildren in sufficient debt), the feeding of the soul leaves much to be desired. But I'm too lazy to make an issue of it. So is the diocese.

One evening, on a holyday of obligation, I went to Mass there. It was a weeknight, people were coming home from work. I'm in and out in forty minutes.

What could go wrong?

Well, the pastor shows up with his dog, and in front of everybody, starts yakking it up with them while putting on his vestments. Then he gets started with the Mass without fanfare, but with his dog for an acolyte. At first I was shocked by the animal being there, until it became clear that the dog behaved better than most of the people.

I left that evening, convinced that I was being unfair to the dog.

So tonight, I went there for confession. It had been a couple of months, and I had a load of laundry in the dryer. The sacrament was available down the street for a half hour before Mass began. Someone there pointed out a room in the vestibule for me. I sat down and waited. You know what I'm thinking.

What could go wrong?

The priest, an elderly man I had not seen before, showed up ten minutes late. The room in the back reserved for this purpose was also used for vesting. Someone could have walked in on us any minute. Well, I filled my part of the deal. Then he counsels me as I would expect. Nothing wrong so far. I make an act of contrition, then he starts with the formula based on the Penitential Rite of the ordinary form of the Roman Mass: "May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive your sins, and bring you to everlasting life." After that, he finally goes on script: "And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

There are three characteristics to a sacrament that must be proper for validity; form, manner, and intention. In this case, I left the church wondering if enough of the designated formula was used -- that is to say, the essential part -- for the sacrament to be valid. My suspicions are that "I absolve you ..." and the Trinitarian formula were sufficient. Still, why do I have to be left wondering?

While I was waiting for the ordeal to start, a woman who recognized me from the bus to work said hello. I mentioned that I didn't normally attend there. "It's a nice place to go to Mass," she said. Okay, if all I want is something "nice," I suppose she could be right. But I can get that on the "Mass for Shut-Ins" and never leave the house. And I don't have to worry about anything the dog leaves behind.

Obviously I'm asking too much, which is why I prefer not to use this venue to identify the parish.

That would be unfair to the dog.

[UPDATE: Personally, I would have settled for this.]


Dymphna said...

I was running late tonight so my husband and I couldn't make it to our parish on time. My husband jokingly suggested that we go to your territorial parish. I said it would be nice to see Toby, the dog but otherwise no way. We went to St. Thomas.

David L Alexander said...

Actually, the pastor who owned the dog left earlier this year, and there's a new pastor. Still, it adds up to a good story, and I didn't have to make anything up.

I sure miss that dog.

Anonymous said...

Trent (Sess. XIV, chap. iii) said the minimum necessary form of the sacrament for its validity. It is the Latin equivalent of what the Holy See has translated into today's English as "I absolve you".

The Trinitarian formula is not required.