No clericalism to be found at Mount Argus
Whatever the topic, google it and you will find the information.
These days people are writing about every subject under the sun. It means we must be reading it. There is hardly a topic about which there is not something or other written. But I'd say there is little written on the dynamic of sacristy life. Lost already? I'm going to try to explain.
I'm a priest over 40 years. Maybe always living on the margins and certainly never a member of the 'establishment set'. Because I am a priest, and a priest in good standing at that, I often find myself going to liturgical services in churches around the country. It means going into the sacristy to vest. Most times it would be an unfamiliar church and I would not know the priest or sacristan attached to that particular church. It can be an intimidating experience to walk into a sacristy unannounced. And that initial interaction or exchange happens in nanoseconds. Two weeks ago I attended the funeral Mass of a former schoolmate.
He was the year behind me in Synge Street. But in every other respect he was light years ahead of me. A brilliant pupil. Over the years we met from time to time and that was mainly through a mutual friend. He was struck down by cancer far too young. I had visited him a number of times in recent weeks in hospital and then some few days before he died in the Hospice in Dublin's Harold's Cross.
His funeral Mass was in the Passionist church in Mount Argus in Dublin. I arrived early and surprisingly the sacristy is at the back of the church. They are usually up at the front, near the altar. It was a woman, who was arranging flowers, who told me where it was.
I'm always nervous walking into a sacristy. Not being dressed in clerical garb doesn't help. There was an elderly priest in the sacristy in the process of vesting for Mass and there also was another Passionist, who was preparing the altar for Mass. I introduced myself, said I was a Dominican, was a friend of the deceased and asked if I could concelebrate.
It was that smile that immediately caught me. He greeted me with open arms. We had a few moments of chatting, a laugh or two. He knew one or two Dominicans. He told me that many years ago he had co-signed a letter to the papers with the late Fr Austin Flannery OP. He was gentle, genuinely friendly and made me feel so much at home. It was a marvellous feeling. And then his few words at the requiem Mass were inspirational.
I came away from Mount Argus a better person. How often I have walked into a sacristy feeling scared and intimidated. How often I have walked into a sacristy and experienced that awful thing of clerics in clerical mode, looking and behaving in a style that is so alien from the world outside the sacristy door. And please don't tell me it has anything to do with 'holiness'. Nothing at all. But everything to do with an unhealthy clericalism that can do great damage to the people of God. It has something to do with that feeling that priests have this idea that they know what's best.
Thank you Fr Ralph Egan. I learned so much about God's love from you in a few minutes. Living Christianity. Inspiring. More effective than any sermonising.