I attended Mass yesterday morning for the first time in over two months.
I have been visiting my mother in the small village where she lives, about four hours from Vancouver by car. Because we knew who the priest would likely be at the church in the village, at my suggestion we drove 50 kilometres to a parish on the outskirts of the nearest city. Because we also knew who the celebrant at this church would be.
The priest who celebrated the Mass we attended today happens to be the son of two of my mother’s fellow parishioners, a couple that she is quite close to. Father Fred has been the grateful beneficiary of my mother’s baking, so he and she have also developed a rather chummy relationship on their own. Needless to say, she enthusiastically agreed to my suggestion. (A couple of other enticements were the brunch we would have with my brother and his wife after Mass and, as I found out when we entered the church, the lovely upholstered pews that no doubt made her arthritic back sigh in grateful relief.)
Apart from the emotional connection between my mother and this priest, I had the feeling that Father Fred was likely going to be “my kind of priest.” I was not wrong.
Shortly after we arrived in church I could hear, from a pew behind us, a voice in conversation that very quickly erupted into the kind of laughter you just know is coming from a warm heart. I had never met Father Fred but somehow I knew the voice I heard was his. He had sat himself down in a pew near the rear of the church and seemed to be drawing parishioners to him as if he were everyone’s old friend. Yet Father Fred had only arrived in the diocese less than a year ago and had just been appointed parish administrator at this church following the departure of the long-serving pastor.
The Mass was a treat. Father Fred’s celebration of the liturgy was sincerely reverent yet engaging, in the sense that he was not overly or falsely pious (as many priests appear to me to be) and in no way placed himself above the congregation (metaphorically speaking, of course, given the physical placement of the altar). He read and recited the prayers in a manner that gave the impression he was engaging both God and the people in the pews in a meaningful yet friendly dialogue. This casual-reverential approach is unique to my limited experience of Catholic liturgy.
The homily, delivered in an impassioned voice that never faltered, was a masterpiece of pointed brevity that spoke to the heart of every person in the church. It drew upon the liturgy of the day, as apparently it is required to do, yet it avoided the usual journey into irrelevance that has me thinking about dinner by the third sentence following the obligatory joke. Instead of dogma we were given a very practical interpretation of the liturgy as an admonition to constantly review our faith and our relationship with God to ensure that our priorities are in order and that we are being true to ourselves and to God.
After one Mass I cannot be completely sure, but it appears to me that this priest has found the via media—the balance between what he is bound to do and to say as a priest in the modern Church and a mature faith that allows him to answer the call to be who he truly is—and walks it comfortably and faithfully every moment of every day. If what I observed today and what I have heard from my mother reflect the truth of Father Fred’s priestly journey, it is indeed a blessed and sacred journey.
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