I had been thinking, incorrectly it turns out, that on the 3rd Sunday of September both Nancy and I would be in Milwaukee for Irene Senn's ordination leaving you without a priest. I was looking for what to do about it. At the Retreat I heard several priests talking about how their communities had members who were chosen by the group to co-preside at Mass in case a priest is not available. One priest in our own Region has Mass every Sunday and she is the only priest in the state. She does the same thing. Several of the priests and bishops kept stressing the "priesthood of the laity" as they talked about their communities.
Supposing that two weeks ago, at our celebration of the feast of St. Mary of Magdala, we were all gathered at the park for the Mass and picnic. At about 3:45 I began to experience bloating and severe pain in my intestines and felt hot. I began sweating, and people said it could have been acute appendicitis. I had to get to an Emergency Room.
What could you have done besides just leave or have a nice picnic? You could have held a Liturgy of the Word Prayer Service with a shared homily. Let's put that idea aside for now.
What if there was another option available? What if there had been people in the group who had been trained to lead the community in celebrating Mass in an emergency and they were able to take over?
They could have divided up the leadership of various parts of the Mass among themselves. They could have invited the rest of you to join in as you usually do, reciting the words of consecration together.
But where would you have gotten the courage and authority to do this?
What if you had agreed ahead of time that in an emergency, instead of being deprived of the Eucharist, that you could call upon your share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ? The Vatican II document, The Constitution of the Church, says that "The baptized members of the Church, because they are consecrated by the Holy Spirit, share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ."
In the Introduction to this document, also called by its Latin name, Lumen Gentium, Fr. Avery Dulles, SJ, says that it is not and does not purport to be a definitive document. He quotes Pȇre Dejaifve who said: "The greatest merit of the Constitution is that, far from canonizing the past, or even consecrating the present, it prepares for the future." Another scholar called it a "stepping stone."
You also would have learned that, in The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council Fathers stated that: "We have lost nothing for not having lived during the time of Jesus' life on earth. We have everything that the first disciples had to help us believe in Jesus and live as though this faith really makes a difference! A little further on the bishops stated that: "Because of Christ's assured presence, the Liturgy gives us a unique opportunity to enter fully and honestly into our most right and authentic relationship with God. Hence, the Liturgy is the most sacred act of human life. Nothing more significant is ever done."
I'd like you to think about these ideas. We'll come back to them at our next Mass, either during the homily or after Mass. This thinking and deciding is a process of discerning what we think Christ would have us do in unusual circumstances. The Second Vatican Council did not deal with this kind of situation specifically. But this is 50 years later. We, the baptized, have grown up understanding better what the "priesthood of the laity" means moving forward.
How does this all connect with this Sunday's Liturgy of the Word? All three reading speak about realizing what is really important in life and acting based on that. Oh, Irene's ordination is September 22nd, which is the fourth Sunday, so not having a priest will not be an issue. On the other hand, another situation could arise when no priest would be available. What would be appropriate for this community to be sustained by the nourishment that is essential to building our strength to be Christ in all circumstances of our lives? What would you choose to do?
With all these thoughts of the priesthood of the laity and focusing on what is most important in life, let us now go to the table of the altar to continue our worship of God through celebrating the Eucharist, the great "Thank You."
Maria McClain, RCWP