Saturday 16 July 2016

A Week of Priesthood

During the past week I had the privilege of being at the Solemn High Mass of a newly ordained priest, Fr James Mawdsley. Speaking to him after Mass I advised him,

 “You were not led blindfolded and handcuffed to the sanctuary as into a Burmese prison*, rather your hands have been tied together in prayer and in Christ. Never get used to being a priest; we can get so caught up with the busyness of parish life, and we celebrate Mass so frequently (daily) that it can become routine: never lose the wonder that fills the soul on the day of ordination and the celebration of your first Mass”. I hope Father never gets used to being a priest. I hope that what happens when we celebrate our First Mass is repeated at every Mass we celebrate: that we (hopefully) catch ourselves thinking, “This is God in my hands…who am I that the Lord should descend from heaven at my word to offer Himself to the Father on my/our behalf?”

It was a glorious evening, and Father preached a superb homily. I hope I am faithful to the content and thrust of Father’s sermon when I say that he reminded us that the Church is currently embattled by storms from within and without; that we should never forget the Pope is Successor to Saint Peter, but that even Peter can lose faith and sink into the water rather than walk upon it. He reminded us that we must pray very much for the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and for the Church, amid the storms of today. He reminded us that secular forces are lined-up against the Church and the Gospel, and that these forces must be fought. He reminded us that Islam, which describes itself as a religion of peace, harbours fundamentalism which engages in terrorism, and that such forces must also be resisted. All of this is done only in the faith of Christ (who alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life -and our lasting peace, one might add). After Mass I observed a discussion between a lady and a young layman; they were debating Father having singled out the Muslim Faith for comment. Had the young man not been doing so well I might have interjected that there is a single religion wherein fundamentalists are beheading Christians on beaches, putting bombs on undergrounds and flying planes into buildings; the Muslim Faith, so it was right to single it out. It would have been unjust for Father to add Buddhists, Jews, Hindu's or any other faith to the list of forces to be resisted.

Today I attended Mass in thanksgiving for a priest’s 60 years of priesthood; this is the priest who instructed me in The Faith and handed on a great love for the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy sacrifice of the Mass (though he did not at all approve of the Traditional Rite); this is the priest who vested me at my ordination, and whom I thus regard as my father in the faith. He is poorly these days, but his love for the Lord, the Eucharist and the people of God still shines out of him. I remember spending six months with him while completing a course of study, and going into a dark Church one winter morning at 5am to discover he was already there, prostrate before the tabernacle. He once told me he offered his recitation of the Divine Office every day for priests who do not pray.

I have no doubt that all our priests are sincere men with the good of the people at heart, but I do wonder if they have lost the sense of the priesthood: the Novus Ordo is so often offered in a perfunctory manner as though it were nothing more than a celebration and affirmation of the community (hence the recent anger at the suggestion we face the apse for the celebration of Mass, since it is not people-focused). Meanwhile, Confession has become counselling, while preaching has become an exhortation to social work. All of this makes today’s Catholics feel good about themselves in that [1] the Mass is now about affirming them, rather than a propitiation for their sins; [2] their rightful feelings of guilt are removed by their reconciliation therapy rather than the real guilt of sin removed by Confession with repentance and absolution; [3] they can forget about personal sin and focus instead upon social sin (social injustice). How far we have gone in the last 60 years from the worship of God and the salvation of souls.

Until we regain the wonder of the priesthood that I advised Father Mawdsley not to lose; until we again put God at the centre of the Mass, and until we once again guide people to personal holiness by confession, repentance, absolution and amendment of life, we will not save many souls. It all hangs on whether or not the priest comprehends the sacrality of his office and the beauty of the ministry he performs in the Person of Christ. This week’s celebrations have reminded me yet again of the wonder of the ministry to which God called me, and which is nicely captured in the following famous poem by an unknown author:

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life's early morning,
we need them again at its close;
we feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
we seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
are not equal to them in their greatness:
their dignity stands all alone.
And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and of sin,
it's the hand of a priest will absolve us
--not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life's partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
but the hand that will bless and unite us
is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy
for the Host which their fingers caress;
what can a poor sinner do better
than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us
may our courage and strength be increased
by seeing raised o’er us in pardon
 the beautiful hands of a priest!

*Read Father's story in his Book, "The Heart must break".


  1. Thanks for the wise and beautiful reflection.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Scott. I'm glad it was leasing to you.
      God Bless.

  2. How I love that poem! I bought a copy many years ago even before I was received into the Church 51 years ago and kept it in my Missel. Sadly over the years I lost it as Missals became redundant.

    I tried to find another asking at Catholic bookshops but could not find it even in London. Nobody seemed to have heard of it.

    Then one day to my delight I found it between the pages of a book I was re-reading.

    I am pleased you were well enough to attend that Ordination. I have attended several over the years and find every one very special indeed.

    1. Thank you, Pelerin.
      The poem is very well known; I'm surprised it was difficult to obtain but so pleased you found it in the book.
      God Bless.
      It was Father Mawdlesy's First Mass I managed to attend -and it was a Solemn High Mass complete with Assistant Priest -and great music. It was a delight from start to finish.
      God Bless.

  3. "If you have not the highest reverence for the priesthood and for the religious state, it is not true that you love God's Church. To love God and not venerate his Priests... is not possible. Though you well know it, I shall remind you again that a Priest is 'another Christ'. And that the Holy Spirit has said: 'Nolite tangere Christos meos — do not touch my Christs'."

    - St. Josemaria Escriva

    1. Thank you Anon.,
      This understanding of priesthood is missing today -even among priests, I fear.
      God Bless.

  4. I wish I had heard Fr.Mawdsley's sermon, but thank you for that summary of it.

    And when you say Mass Father,you are "in persona Christi" Now I'm sure you don't, cannot, forget that!y

    1. Thank you Jacobi.
      Sadly, it is seems many do not even know it in the first place. When I was I seminary we were told in one dogmatic theology lecture that 'there are no priests in heaven because we have no need of their functions'. When I brought up the ontological change the reply was that we don't know what that is. So I think priests can forget what they are by focusing on what they are about (what they are do).
      God Bless.

  5. One of my concerns is the way some priests, religious & laity seem to treat with some distain the fact that the Real Presence resides in the tabernacle. We do sometimes see a proper genuflection but more often than not a perfunctory nod in passing - not even that sometimes. Whilst worrying for those who are perfunctory I worry much more for our young people & )especially) children. What kind of example are they getting? The moreso because they see clergy & religious (who MUST know better) being so offhand. Perhaps laity are less to be judged than our clergy & religious but we must pray for all to recognise the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD with us!

    1. Thank you, David.
      Indeed, devout reverencing is often omitted today, but it is not surprising that it happens also among clergy and religious since what passed for theology from the 1960's was often very poor and questionable. I thank God that I had access to Ott's Fundamentals of Catholicism and FJ Sheed's books prior to and during seminary.
      God Bless.


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