Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet

It’s ordination season, a time of great joy in the Church as dedicated young men are called forward and consecrated for conformity with Christ and priestly service to all of us.

As is usual on intergenerational ecclesial occasions, something of a generation gap is in evidence.

  • Current and recent ordinandi are likely to process in a reverent and calm way, looking straight ahead, perhaps with a slight smile but with a certain recollection.
  • Older priests are likely to wear large smiles in the entrance procession, looking for friends in the crowds and waving.

Standing outside this phenomenon and only being able to guess at the reason for the difference, I believe that there must have been a time when a particularly extroverted interpretation was given to the Pauline ideal of being “all things to all men.”

According to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the goal of the Entrance Antiphon has four specific aspects.

47. When the people are gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.

This fourfold goal would not be met in any way by individual greetings or casualness. It is well addressed, however, by an attitude of recollection and prayerfulness on the part of all, ministers and people.

As we have often noted here before, we’re still in the middle of an awkward, upside-down time in the Church, when the young are more formal than their elders. As we continue to think through these matters together, it helps to keep an open mind.

It could well be that received wisdom has sometimes overemphasized one aspect of pastoral concern at the expense of others.

8 Replies to “Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet”

  1. It's been my experience and opinion that older vocations often reflect some sort of resignation that former careers and goals failed to fulfill. (Exemption for widowers.) Consequently I've observed in older ordinands/priests a more extroverted sense of "alter Christus." Your example of the Introit demeanor is very accurate. And sometimes, that "the alter Christus" ethos is carried over in not so positive ways in private and official capacities. If you have an ex-CEO, an ex-military officer, an ex-foreman and the like now in a collar, things can get dicey real quick. Ah, Holy Mother Church-hospital and refuge for sinners, we all.

  2. I should have been clearer. I'm not speaking of older vocations but of priests formed in an earlier time.

    And of course, like most generalizations, there is plenty of room for inaccuracy when applied to any given individuals!

  3. Indeed! One of my favorite priests, who celebrates reverent OF, loves Latin, has helped the EF in our region (one of the few who could say it when it was in infancy here), and who off the altar is a joyful extrovert- is a former banker! And a slightly older age when e entered the priesthood. He's an enigma though.

  4. I hazard the guess that the demeanor of "older", a very nebulous term, priests in procession is actually more a sign of their overall liturgical preferences. Happy clappy or other.

  5. Pope Benedict always made a point of smiling and waving while processing in, but looked a little uncomfortable doing so. Perhaps he felt the need to force himself out of his shell, since recollection would have been spun by his critics as evidence that he was cold and out of touch.

    Pope Francis's extroversion is not in question, and during non-liturgical appearances he is visibly energized by the crowd. During the liturgy however, he processes in with a solemn, recollected expression on his face, and looks straight ahead without even glancing to the side. A case of "only Nixon can go to China" perhaps…

  6. Pope Francis (like any bishop) should bless right and left when processing to and from the altar. I can understand his disapproval of clapping and shouts of 'viva il papa' , but austerity can be taken too far.

  7. We could supplement the GIRM ¶47 with an explication of the idea of a procession: processions can encircle a sacred item, or they can move to an object as a goal. If an introit procession begins from the sacristy, moves down a side aisle to the back of the church and then processes up the center aisle, this is a "circumambulation"; it symbolically encircles the congregation and draws them with it as it proceeds to the goal, the altar, which is then incensed, marking it as a sacred object and the focus of the entire liturgy which is to take place, in the best understanding, the altar represents Christ himself. The mood should be one of anticipation of the awesome mystery which is about to take place.

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