Having spent three Sundays at 7am Masses in churches in Maine and Cape Cod I am back at St. Jerome. I promised a column on what it is to preside at Mass and having done so at two of our Masses last Sunday, the 9:15 and 11, let me keep my promise.
First, how good it is to be home. I was able to leave the parish behind for three and a half weeks and psychologically could have stayed away another three weeks but it is good to be home and this is home.
On Sunday I did the welcome and “warm up” at the 8 and then presided at the next two. What I experienced was a deep sense of being connected to this community. What a presider is supposed to do is to lead the process of gathering those attending into the community that comes together to open the Scriptures of the day and then break the bread, that is enter into the meal of sacrifice that we call the Eucharist. To do my job I need first to have entered those Scriptures myself to see where they call me. In the homily I am to open up those same Scriptures so that everyone in the congregation can see where they speak to him or her. It is very, very difficult to do this and most priests, myself included, will tell you how inadequate he feels to the task.
You will notice that most Sundays I give a brief introduction before the lector proclaims them. I do this because it is often hard to understand the context of the reading. At most Sunday Masses the first reading and Gospel are chosen to shed light on each other. In my introduction I want you to see that connection before you listen. Here at St. Jerome our lectors are well trained and we want you to listen to them. In that process of speaking and listening there is room for the Holy Spirit to work to enter your imagination and heart. When you have the Scriptures in front of you the tendency is to speed read to “get the Point” rather than to listen.
As a presider I too listen, and during the week although I have looked at the readings before Mass, my homily almost always comes out of that listening. Sometimes I wish I had the courage to do that on Sundays as well. I don’t and for all our sakes that is a good thing.
As we enter into the second part of Mass, the liturgy of the Eucharist my focus then becomes praying the Eucharistic prayer. When first ordained I sought novelty. I wanted many, many prayers to choose from, the more creative and poetical the better. But having been a priest since 1982 I find myself praying them and loving the familiarity. I have three or four I especially love and as I pray them publicly I often enter into the experience underneath the words. When that happens it is a profound experience of the divine.
When it is time to give out communion I learn Sunday after Sunday how important it is for me to celebrate and lead Eucharist in a community that I know well. As people whose stories I know come to receive the Lord I see him in them, another profound experience.
This past Sunday as I presided at the first Mass in three and a half weeks, I said to myself, there is nothing in life I would rather do. As I say to you week after week, when we gather for Sunday Eucharist it’s Jesus who Is present within us around us and among us. It is Jesus who offers this prayer of praise and thanksgiving to His Father and Our Father. Each of us has a role in this great prayer and it is my great privilege to so often be the presider at Masses at St. Jerome.