From a priest…
I am a priest of ___, ordained now about a year and a half. I have been a regular reader of your blog since college, and I wanted to write you about an interesting experience I had the other day saying Mass.
I learned the Extraordinary Form in seminary, actually the semester before the practicum in the new rite. I joke that I’m one of the rare priests under the age of 70 who learned the old before I learned the new. I usually offer a low Mass about 2-3 times a week, on the days when I don’t have a public Mass. The other day, I went into the chapel to say Mass, and it had been a very long and tiring week, and I couldn’t really think straight. It had also been a few weeks since I’d been able to offer the EF Mass, as I’d been traveling a lot and my “mobile sacristy” does not as yet contain Extraordinary Form capability. I usually offer the OF in Latin when I travel, including on the great altar my brother built to put in my room at my parents’ house.
In any event, I found that even though it had been a few weeks, and even though I was very very tired, the rite just came back to me, just as natural as can be. I stumbled a bit on the pronunciation of the readings, being a bit out of practice, but other than that, I was able to just start the Mass and hang on, and it all came right back out again. It’s just a beautiful comfort for me of how much we can keep within us, how those words that give us access to God so intimately are always right there for us.
I think about something I told the first communion kids the other week, when their teacher asked me to tell them why learning their prayers was so important. I told them about the elderly folks I sometimes visit who don’t remember anything or anybody, but the moment I start saying the Our Father, they join right in. It stays with you, the gift of prayer the Lord gives us. I suspect that when I’m ancient and barely know my right from my left, I’ll still know my rites, and all it’ll take is that first Introibo to bring it all back.
God bless you and your work, Father!
Thanks for that!
First, I am encouraged at your story. You have it now in your marrow. That means that it is thoroughly yours now. It is shaping you as a priest from within.
So many times I have encountered people who perhaps have not practiced their faith for many years but, when queued, they still know their prayers and catechism that they were required to memorize as children. It is still within them, waiting to burst out.
Memorization is extremely important.
I am reminded of the way that priests who were to go into Russia during the long Communist nightmare memorized Mass formularies just in case.
With God in Russia The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps by Walter J. Ciszek
Of his imprisonment, Fr. Ciszek wrote:
It was impossible to say Mass in the barrack, of course. From time to time, however, Nestrov and I would take a walk into the forest, when we were free from work, and say Mass there. We used a big stump as our altar, and while one of us offered the Holy Sacrifice the other stood guard on the road. It was an experience I’ll never forget. In the heavy silence of the thick forest, you could hear the chipmunks running and the birds gathering overhead. Suddenly, you seemed very close to nature and to God. Everything seemed beautiful and somehow mysterious, all dangers for a time remote.
At other times, if we had an hour alone but couldn’t leave camp to say Mass, we would take turns reciting and memorizing the prayers of the Mass until we knew them all by heart. We were always aware that the Mass kit might be discovered, and we would lose our book and vestments, but we were determined that as long as we could get bread and wine we would try to say Mass.
After breakfast, I would say Mass by heart–that is, I would say all the prayers, for of course I couldn’t actually celebrate the Holy Sacrifice. I said the Angelus morning, noon, and night as the Kremlin clock chimed the hours. Before dinner, I would make my noon examen (examination of conscience); before going to bed at night I’d make the evening examen and points for the morning meditation, following St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Every afternoon, I said three rosaries–one in Polish, one in Latin, and one in Russian–as a substitute for my breviary. After supper, I spent the evening reciting prayers and hymns from memory or even chanting them out loud: the Anima Christi, the Veni Creator, the Salve Regina, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, especially the Dies Irae and the Miserere–all the things we had memorized in the novitiate as novices, the hymns we had sung during my years in the Society, the prayers I had learned as a boy back home. Sometimes I’d spend hours trying to remember a line that had slipped my memory, sounding it over and over again until I had it right. During these times of prayer, I would also make up my own prayers, talking to God directly, asking for His help, but above all accepting His will for me, trusting completely to His Providence to see me through whatever might lie ahead.
Fathers, seminarians, do you memorize? It could be good to memorize a Mass formula, such as the classic Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with the Ordinary of Mass.
Frankly, we all should have the necessary prayers of Holy Mass memorized, right?
Parents, perhaps you could motivate your children (and yourselves) to memorize prayers and hymns and catechism answers through some prizes and so forth.
Memorization fell out of favor. But once you have something memorized, it’s yours in way that it otherwise is … not.