From a reader…
I’ve been attending daily mass when I can at a particular parish. When at Mass I often hear some people in the pews who whisper to themselves every single word the priest says at mass.
I would like to know what these people are getting out of repeating everything the priest is saying? Does it help their spirituality?
Perhaps the best way to know what they are getting out of it would be to ask them. Your planet’s yellow sun didn’t give me the power to read their minds from this distance.
But for those who may be doing this, let’s drill in a bit.
In the rubrics of the Mass, there are directions, rubrics, texts (the priest says thus and so, the people respond thus and so).
For someone who is not a priest to presume to verbalize the priest’s prayers would seem to involve either some hubris or a lack of understanding of what is going on. To offer those prayers mentally along with the priest, while praying with one’s hand missal, could be a holy and wholesome thing to do. But to verbalize…. that seems a step too far in my mind.
“But Father! But Father!”, you pseudo-Lutherans wail, “You are just lording it over us! Haven’t you ever heard what the Spirit of Vatican II says? By baptism we are all priests! Next year is the big Lutheran year when we will honor Luther and he said that every man is his own priest! NO WAIT… every person is a priest! And we aren’t speciesist either: our pets and the butterflies are priests of Mother Earth! You are trying to keep prayers away from us because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”
Luther (failed priest and heretic) didn’t, in fact, write that every man is his own priest, but that phrase summarizes both his view and that of most of the writers of the National Schismatic Reporter (aka Fishwrap) and probably also the LCWR. His radical view of the priesthood of all believers effectively reduces ordained priesthood to a role that community gives to him to do various things. This is what modernists such as Edward Schillebeeckx wrote, which infected a generation of seminary profs and, hence, priests and, subsequently, people in the pews.
Back to Vatican II. I have actually read the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, as Card. Burke unfailingly calls it. Let’s look at Lumen gentium, a document which obliges every Catholic to believe that there is a divinely instituted hierarchy:
10. … Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.
Note first that the priesthood we have is Christ’s, who shares it with us in two different ways. All the baptized share in Christ’s priesthood, but by ordination the priest is a priest in a way that is qualitatively different. It is not just an “add on” which gives him the role or authorization to say the prayers up there. The sacrament of Orders changed him in an essential way so that when he acts in and for the Church, it is Christ who is acting. By his ordination he is alter Christus, another Christ. But, as LG 10 points out, his priesthood is enmeshed with the priesthood of the laity. The laity, with their baptismal priesthood can offer spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to God. Also, they are enabled to receive the Eucharist, especially, from the priest. “They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments…”. The Church has its Head and its Body, together they are, as Augustine would put it in writing about who speaks in the psalms, Christus totus. But in the Church, for her sacred liturgical worship when we are gathered as a Church, the priest speaks those things which pertain to his role as the Head and the people speak those things which pertain to their role as the Body. Sometimes they speak together, Christus totus. And in that supreme moment of actual participation when the Body moves forward to receive from the Head, they are at the deeply significant meeting place, the Communion rail. Remember that the most perfect form of active actual participation is the reception of Communion by the baptized person in the state of grace. Even in his own reception of Communion, the priest, who is simultaneously the victim at the altar, acknowledges his total reliance as a pardoned sinner on God.
Oh, and another thing: Lay people, any number of lay people, a stadium full of lay people, could whisper, shout, or Siberian throat sing the words of consecration for days, weeks, months, years, until the bitter end. What would be on the altar would still be just bread and just wine until such time as the least worthy, least eloquent or clever, even perhaps unrepentant, validly ordained priest stumbled in and muttered them a single time with intention to consecrate.
Priests aren’t personally holier by Holy Orders. They are, though unworthy, simply chosen by Christ to do His work for you, especially in administration of the sacrament and teaching and governing. As Augustine said, I am a bishop for you but a Christian with you.
So, recitation of the priest’s prayers by the laity….
Could it be piety run amok.
Is it an erroneous misunderstanding of priesthood.
Perhaps they just haven’t been told any better.