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09 February 2013

Anxiety at the Altar

As I think I've mentioned before, I'm taking "Rites" this semester, which is, in the most basic terms, "How to Say Mass, Baptize Babies, Marry Couples and Bury the Dead."

Each Monday afternoon all of us enrolled in the class go to St. Ignatius Church and began practicing the rituals that (must!) shape our priestly lives.  Last week we practiced infant baptisms, this week will be work on posture, chant and the other small details of presiding (or is it celebrating) the liturgy.

I only mention this because two of the last three nights I've experienced classic "anxiety" dreams regarding my inability to pray the mass correctly.  It has gone like this: the altar is too high and I keep standing on my toes attempting to see the Missal; as soon as I manage to possibly get myself in a position where I can read the Missal, the print becomes so small that I am unable to begin.  At this point, I realize that I know the beginning of Mass, because it starts with the Sign of the Cross, but then my tongue cleaves to the side of my mouth and I cannot do anything at all.

I only bring this up because I think there is something allegorical about the entire sequence.  The altar is always too high; the print of the Missal is always too small; the Sacred Mysteries celebrated are always outside of our grasp and there is nothing we can do about this.  All that we can do, however, is to attempt to prepare our own inadequate selves and trust that the grace of the Sacraments of Orders are enough to get us through.

This isn't quietism in the least; rather, I believe it is the recognition that the Sacred Mysteries are just that: Sacred and Mysterious.

2 comments:

RZ said...

Matt -- The print is too small since like the rest of us, including your uncle, you are getting old and need reading glasses. LOL. Hope you enjoyed the snow in Boston. RZ

Anonymous said...

I would imagine doing those rites can be quite nerve-wracking. Of course, over time it will be a cinch. For example, we have an excellent retired priest at our parish who still says Mass on a regluar basis despite being 88. His cell phone went off during Mass not too long ago and said that after looking at it that it "was not Heaven calling". The crowd loved it. He still exudes joy at being a priest at his age. A great guy, and a WWII vet to boot.

Chris J.