In this ongoing series on people’s expectations of priests, I focus on presiding prayerfully at liturgies. I have spoken previously that the priest is the presider and not the celebrant. The Mass is something the people of God celebrate together. It is the priest’s role to evoke a spirit of prayer from the heart of the congregation. The people in the pews are not observers or passive participants. All are invited to be engaged actively and consciously in prayer. This engagement is aided if the people sense the presider is standing in the holy presence of God. Does the community experience a person caught up in the praise of God? Do they sense the genuineness of the priest crying out for God’s mercy? Do they see someone rejoicing in the God who liberates and calls to life? Do they sense that this man is at prayer? One common complaint is that at times a priest resembles a runaway train rushing through the prayers of the Mass.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is not to allow the worship to become routine. Rote recitation of prayers can lead to lifeless celebration of the Eucharist. Liturgy challenges the presider to be present to the workings of God in his life and in the experiences of the people in the pews. The ultimate sign of an effective presider is when he leads the community into the presence of the living God. By so doing he helps people to pray in an authentic way. On the day of my ordination Bishop Gelineau handed over the paten into my hands and said: “Receive the sacrifice of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” for the past 35 years these words echo in my mind as I preside at liturgy.
PS. Much of the inspiration for these recent columns has come from the writings of George Wilson, S.J. His book is entitled Clericalism: The Death of the Priesthood. (Liturgical Press)
Fr. Bob Hawkins