A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Presider Style

Fr Merv Duffy sm

by Fr Merv Duffy sm

I am an academic rather than a parish priest, so I do not have a regular Sunday congregation. The benefit of this unfortunate reality is that I visit many different parish communities and have the chance to concelebrate in a variety of settings. This means I can play the ‘sit back and critique the presider’ game, which is far easier than actually presiding.

Here are my observations on attending an Advent liturgy in an ordinary parish.

I went in to the Sacristy to ask permission to concelebrate and vest up. That was fine but the parish priest was not there. He was vested and ready more than 20 minutes before mass and was already moving around in the Church and the porch greeting parishioners and organising those exercising the various functions during mass (and there were many of those). I caught up with him during the procession in. He did not make a big deal out of having a concelebrant but did work in the information as to who I was during the notices later on.

There was not an Advent Wreath, but a Southern Stars Cross with the familiar four candles arranged on a well-made stand representing the Southern Cross. While the celebrant prayed a beautiful blessing the appropriate candles were lit by a child being dismissed for the Children’s Liturgy and by one of the servers. When the sound system was not turned on properly the presider switched it on, without fuss, and then apologised to the congregation. I got the impression that the Mass belonged to the parish community rather than to the parish priest. The people were more important than the clergy.

The readers and servers were of a variety of nationalities, but all knew exactly what they were doing, were very well dressed for their roles, and were used to working together. The sermon was based on the gospel about John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, and was delivered with some personal passion, practicality and fire. The priest spoke of seeking the face of Christ in that city in the run up to Christmas and praised by name a prominent department store that had a large, beautiful crib display. He also gave a plug for the St Vincent de Paul Christmas Cards, on sale in the church porch, “a bargain at five cards for only two dollars.” Later, when it came to the Eucharistic Prayer, he announced and then used the third Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs “Jesus the Way to the Father”. This Eucharistic Prayer is not normally used without its proper preface, but he had obviously chosen it to link with the theme of his homily.

There was congregational singing of mass parts and hymns. The celebrant sang the prayer over the gifts. The other proper prayers he prayed slowly and solemnly, giving everyone a chance to unpack their complicated phraseology. During one prayer a child began to cry loudly and he waited, without evident impatience, for the parent to take the child to the crying room at the back. Later, in the notices, he explained that this pausing was his custom “because he had a voice that made children cry”.

These notes of high solemnity were counter-weighted with moments of spontaneous hilarity like the blessing of infants after communion. The first child to come forward was a wee pony-tailed blonde who literally bounced up the aisle in her joy. Seeing her coming, the parish priest bounced up and down in delighted and delightful response.

When the notices had been announced - and he did not read out what was already printed and distributed in the parish newsletter - the priest asked if there were any corrections, amplifications or additions to what he had said.

After mass the parish priest was mixing and talking until the last member of the congregation had departed, even though he had to shield his bald pate from the sun using a Columban Calendar. Celebrant after Mass

I left thinking “I wish I could teach that bundle of skills to seminarians”, it was a glorious display of liturgical skill, the ars celebrandi (the art of presiding), pastoral care, and a love of and for the people of God.

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