From a reader…
Today [actually a while back at the time of this posting] the associate pastor, a newly ordained priest, asked us, since there were fewer people than usual present at Mass, to come up after the homily around the altar and “all celebrate Mass together”. The Pastor was there as well. (The new associate pastor is diocesan, but the pastor is from a liberal religious order. I haven’t a clue whose idea this was.)
A few of us stayed in our seats. It did not seem right to go up there. Is it actually wrong? Should I/we do anything about it? (I’m a convert.)
A “newly ordained priest”? And here I thought this silliness was dying off.
It is, of course, but the fact that there are pockets here and there that still pop up is still depressing. Even as pandemics die out, the occasional case of the disease will present itself.
Father seems not to have obtained a good education on the nature of the priesthood, or the nature of liturgical prayer. Perhaps, as I try to imagine the best scenario, he’s merely trying to impress the aging-hippy pastor with how forward-thinking he is. Therefore he is putting on display his grasp of the aging pastor’s formation: the summer of love, disco, bell bottoms, liturgical tambourines, etc.
Here’s an idea. Since Father seems to think that people are “celebrating liturgy” together in the same manner that he is (thus, calling them around the altar), perhaps he ought to share both his Mass stipends and his paycheck with them too. Fair’s fair, right? Aren’t we all about peace and justice? Schleiermacher’s ghost would approve, but I’ll bet Father won’t go that far.
To your dilemma. Don’t go up.
Back in 1997 several offices of the Roman Curia cooperated in an authoritative document called Ecclesia de mystery, called in English “Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of Priest. This instruction clarified the distinct roles of laypeople and of priests. In that document, we find:
In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” (SC art. 29). During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the “presbyterium,” which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers. [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]
Bottom line: the lay faithful (except those in liturgical serving roles) are not permitted to be inside the sanctuary, that is, “around the Altar” during the Holy Mass.
What to do? Other than rolling your eyes and then looking for a different parish for daily Mass, there aren’t many action options.
Depending on the diocese, a letter to the local bishop would probably result in one of three things.
1) A “strongly worded letter” from the bishop to the priest telling him to cut it out;
2) A “strongly worded letter” from the bishop to you telling you to stop calumniating a wonderful priest who empowers the laity;
3) The ceremonial placing of your letter either in the special round file (often used in chanceries for such correspondence) or else in Father’s file, where it will sit until the quinquennial culling. NB: Letters of complaint about Father’s use of Latin or maniples seem to have longer shelf-life for some reason.
Good luck. Pray that Father finds a better priestly mentor and then grows up.