At one of the churches I play at, an elderly priest — a monsignor, as it so happens — occasionally says Mass. For a while, things went well, with no problems. But a few months ago, Catholics will recall, we changed up the words used at Mass. This has given the priest a lot of trouble. He couldn’t find new pages in the new Roman Missal. He skipped quite a few places. He paused awkwardly while he tried to figure out where he was. And it led to a few awkward situations where everyone except the monsignor realized he had missed something.
Everyone hoped it was just the new missal, that he would eventually be able to adjust. But it’s clear that the priest, who was ordained a half-century ago, is starting to suffer from other problems related to age and won’t be able to stay in ministry much longer, a conclusion I acknowledged when he confused my car for his and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t unlocking. I suspect most of the folks at church have figured out his plight, which makes him an inadvertent example of Christian suffering. Although he may not want to admit it, the idea of losing his mental faculties is one that, no doubt, is frightening to him. And it’s not much fun to have to be pushed off the stage, which is why the pastor has put in extra effort to make sure the monsignor can continue saying Mass, even as he slows down.
But I don’t think he’s lost everything yet, if last weekend serves as an example. As he stood, already vested, about 10 feet to my right, I was plunking away at the electric keyboard (this parish doesn’t have a church building yet; it should be finished in a few months, so the keyboard will have to do) to try to get the debuting cantor a little more at ease before Mass. We were playing through the Communion hymn, which this time was “Song of the Body of Christ”:
[Sorry. The above version’s not very good, but YouTube is limited. I saved you from one with … ugh … liturgical dance.]
I was singing the refrain. The cantor was singing the refrain, with a bit of a wavering voice. And I heard another voice, though I couldn’t place it. But I needed to continue on, so we went to the first verse.
“We come as your people/we come as your own/united in each other/love finds a home,” I sang. The cantor sang the same thing. And so did the third voice. I looked over. It was the monsignor. He smiled. And so did I.
He may be struggling in a lot of other departments. His homilies may not have the focus they once did, and he will keep struggling to say Mass for a while. But for that small moment, everything was clicking again. This was pure joy.