I popped over to Holy Trinity, Brook Green (a 20 minute walk from the archive) today for an excellent lunchtime talk given by Fr John Saward (sorry about the poor quality of the photo above). It was organised by the 'Giffard Club,' an informal support group for priests ordained since 2000 and working in the London area (of which I'm a founder member). It takes its name from Bonaventure Giffard (1642-1734), one of our great Vicars Apostolic.
Fr Saward, a former Anglican minister, is a fairly recently ordained priest of the Birmingham Archdiocese and currently parish priest of SS Augustine and Gregory's in Oxford. He may be a young priest (in terms of Ordination) yet he is one of our best theological writers, responsible for some beautiful works that draw on the full riches of the Catholic tradition - I particularly recommend his The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty (Ignatius, 1997), Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (Ignatius, 2002), The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age (T & T Clark, 1999) and Sweet and Blessed Country: The Christian Hope for Heaven (Oxford, 2005). We eagerly await his forthcoming work on angelology.
Today's talk was on an appropriately priestly theme, looking at the sense of sin in a priest, especially in relation to the Sacred Liturgy. He started by examining the prayers of the Classical Roman Rite, which clearly emphasise the priest's unworthiness to celebrate the Divine Mysteries and his dependence on God's grace - for example, the priest recites the Confiteor separately from the people and breaks the silence of the Canon with the words Nobis quoque peccatoribus.
Although these themes are not lacking in the Novus Ordo, they are underplayed. This is strikingly obvious in the changes to the Perceptio Corporis tui, which the priest has the option of reciting before receiving Holy Communion. This traditionally read: Perceptio Corporis tui, Domine Iesu Christe, quod ego indignus sumere praesumo, non mihi proveniat in iudicium et condemnationem; sed pro tua pietate prosit mihi ad tutamentum mentis et corporis et ad medelam percipiendam: Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.That is, Let not the partaking of thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, all unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation; but, do thou, in thy loving kindness, make it to avail me to my healing and safekeeping in body and in soul, who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. The underlined phrase was omitted in the Novus Ordo for no apparent reason beyond boosting the priest's self-esteem!
Fr Saward suggested that priests need to rediscover the sense of sin in the liturgy - not because of any Jansenist rigorism or scrupolisty but simply to restore the balance. Some good ideas were produced by the discussion:
1) it's important to treat the sacristy less as a busy meeting room and more as part of the church, where the priest prayerfully prepares for Mass. St Vincent Ferrer made the sacristy a powerful symbol, comparing even the walking of the priest into the sacristy before Mass to the Incarnate Word entering the womb of Mary and the putting on of the vestments to Christ taking on our flesh - the priest does act in persona Christi, after all. In other words, the sacristy is not just a functional room where the priest gets vested. Times of silence just before and after Mass are essential.
2) priests should make better use of the traditional prayers before and after Mass, as found in most Missals.
3) priests might like to recite the Aufer a nobis prayer as they approach the altar, especially if there is a long-ish procession. This would lead to a heathy sense of compunction - 'Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech thee, O Lord; that, being made pure in heart, we may be worthy to enter into the Holy of Holies. Through Christ Our Lord.'
Had a good chat afterwards with a guest at the Giffard Club, Fr Tim of Hermeneutic of Continuity, who also has a post on the meeting.