It’s good we support one another, give each other a pat on the back. This is part of what keeps the world spinning as it should: people being kind to one another. There’s a lot of folks who aren’t mindful of who makes things happen in their lives, and quite a few of those folks wake up and find important people in their lives gone. Gratitude should be an important part of our lives, both in our relationship with God and with each other.
That being said, it bothers me greatly when people thank me for celebrating Mass. I know I’m essential to the operation, however there are many, many other priests in the world. My motivation for being a priest isn’t about people being grateful for what I’m doing, and if it were, I should have my head examined. Much of my life has been performing; I’ve gotten applause and it feels good, but it’s not what I crave in my life, nor should it be. When I celebrate Mass, it’s not a personal favor that I let other people be present, or that they aren’t essential to the Sacrament as well.
At times I hear people saying: “Amen, Father” as they receive communion, and this isn’t right, either. When we receive the Body of Christ, our “Amen” does not to go the person distributing, and it isn’t professing your belief to the minister. We’ve all made a Profession of Faith in the Creed a few minutes earlier. When we say “Amen” to the Body and Blood of Christ, we are saying “Amen” to the Real Presence of Christ, and we are saying “Amen” that this Presence will change our lives as we receive it. I am a vessel to make this happen, and a witness to Christ’s work in you. We don’t thank the glass for a drink of refreshing water.
There’s a line from the Eucharist that I think’s underappreciated: “Pray brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father. (italics mine)” This means everyone is part of the action, has an essential role to play. Even in the Middle Ages, when many priests made their living saying masses at side altars for the dead they had to have a server present. We all have our part, and the thanks can’t go to just one person, at least to one living human on this planet at this time.
When we celebrate the sacraments, we need to keep in mind who we should be thankful to, the One who is present in the sacraments. What do we say together at the end of every Mass? “Thanks be to God.” Many of our also thank me as you leave, but it bothers me a bit even thought I appreciate the thought. Here’s a paragraph from the Catechism that I’ve read lately:
“Christians come together in one place for the Eucharistic assembly. At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer. All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose “Amen” manifests their participation. (CCC #1348)”
If I say or do anything that makes a connection to Christ, it’s because of Him. If something I say in the pulpit makes a connection to an insight, it’s because of Christ. Mass isn’t all about me, all of your are part of Mass as well, no matter how big your part is. Mass isn’t a performance I supervise for you, it’s a performance of all of us that Christ leads, offering us all up to the Father as he offers Himself to us.
Jesus is the most important person in any Christian church. Having dynamic leadership is wonderful, but that dynamism can call to much attention to itself and away from Christ. That’s one reason I came to be Catholic: even though the Pope and leadership is important, it’s always supposed to be subordinate to Christ. I’ve known a lot of churches, with different styles of leadership. When the church gets to be too much about its leader, it has trouble with the leader goes. If Christ is the focus, the church always goes on, and that’s probably why Christianity has lasted almost 2000 years in spite of the leadership it’s had from time to time.
So please don’t think I need to be thanked for Mass: DON’T THANK ME. There’s only one superstar in the Church, and it’s not me. I’m only doing what I’m being called to do; like all of us are trying to do what we’re called to do in Christ. There’s a passage from Luke that runs through my mind frequently as I do my work: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do. (Luke 17:10 RNAB)” We’ve already thanked the One who is responsible at the end of Mass: “Thanks be to God.” That should be enough.
Fr. Leonard Gottemueller, C.PP.S. went to heaven on April 4, 2012. He shared his wisdom with me on many occasions, and when I told him I was interested in writing an essay with this title, he was interested in reading it. I hope it’s worthy of his high standards of faith and wisdom, or at least in the ballpark.