Now and again, I am teased (as are most priests) that we have an easy life because we only work on Sundays. One has to treat these provocations on a case-by-case basis — sometimes, they are ironic, back-handed acknowledgements of how much of a priest’s work is behind-the-scenes, and that it’s only the public once or twice a week Masses that are noticed. Others simply think that priests have an easy life. The truth, of course, is complex.
I usually feel tired and drained (and happy and satisfied!) after Mass on Sundays, and occasionally wonder (but seldom for long) if I am just faint-hearted and unused to pressure, or if my fatigue is justified. So in a reflective moment today, I decided mentally to log and then afterwards to blog what was a typical Sunday morning for me here in St Alphonse. The immediate narrative is about me and what I have done, but behind all that are so many people who are giving of their time and energy for our community and towards our weekly celebrations of Mass. So here goes:
08:00 arrive at St Alphonse to prepare projector slide-show which is displayed at all the Masses, including ours. It was late this week, normally this is done on Saturdays. Empty all the candle money boxes (this has to be done several times a day, as there are regulars who try to do this for us, and have evolved quite sophisticated methods that do not require keys…)
09:00 update the Prayers of the Faithful in the light of recently notified illnesses & deaths; prepare the font, oils, cloths, papers, candle for the Baptism which will take place during Mass; speak with the parents of a recently baptised baby about presenting him at Mass today for a blessing. Display the various posters for the Illula Orphanage trust on the notice-board, and display the ceramic hippopotamus collection box in the church. Liaise with Annette, who was working on the tea/coffee trolley, getting everything ready. Receive requests for notices to be included at Mass.
10:00 Relatively calm time — unable to do anything in church as the French language Mass is underway. Prepare missals, items required after Mass (see below)
10:55 Now, as at this time every week, the pressure is on! Antoine (Mass server at the 10:00 Mass) removes the Missals, lectionaries and other paraphernalia from the just-finished French Mass, and helps prepare the vessels etc for ours; our servers arrive, including one new one, and I assign jobs, trying to be fair and inclusive (easy today, not always so!). All our missals, lectionary, Prayers of the Faithful in place; All the Baptism furnishings on the sanctuary; with music group trying to resolve mic issues; looking for Baptism family who haven’t arrived yet. Liaise with readers, to confirm all is in order; big bells switched on; thurible prepared; leaflets on chairs; Checking Mass leaflets (this week 275) in place at back of church, asking homeless men at the door of the church to leave space for people to enter without being crowded. All doors to outside completely open in the hope of fresh, cool air… Ask several people to hold their requests until after Mass. Happily Joe had organised the Offertory table, all the gifts, and the family who were to process the gifts.
11:15 Baptism family arrive; it’s now too late to do the pre-Baptism rites before Mass, so decide to perform them within the Mass, hoping that we all don’t collapse with heat exhaustion as it is hot outside and roasting inside. In the sacristy, run through with the servers (4 this week, the rest are away) what are their duties, and how best we incorporate our newest member. Mass begins at
11:20, which isn’t bad considering… Send the children out for their own liturgy (those whose families wish to send the, this week 22). Invited the congregation to loudly (split infinitive necessary here) reject Satan and profess their faith; received the best response I’ve ever heard, noticed, I’m certain, in heaven and in the other place (which for once must be cooler than our church today!).
Mass proceeds as usual, with minor glitches, smiles and improvisations. Invite couple with their recently baptised baby to come forward and be blessed by the congregation; mention in passing that Maximilien is the first baby I’ve baptised by immersion (at the request of his parents — we bought a special church-worthy baby bath for the occasion. We blessed baby and family.
12:25 (guessing at the time here) During the final hymn I left the sanctuary to find ice-lollies to serve with the tea and coffee, and returned just as the final hymn finished. Then…
A lady approached me, delighted to discover that we baptised by immersion, and could her newborn baby be baptised in the same way… I introduced her to the pioneers of this style in our community, delighted at what was happening. Handed over mosquito nets that had been donated to the lady who is taking them to Malawi; conversation with head of the European School about the Bac ceremonies and celebrations yesterday — he was grateful for the mention and congratulations at the end of Mass. Conversation with Slovakian lady who had done traineeship in Luxembourg earlier this year, and now is delighted to be back for another 6-month traineeship: her chief reason for being so happy to be here again is that our parish is the best she has ever been in after her own; meeting with couple in church about the Baptism of their new son which will take place in St Alphonse next Saturday, explaining the baptism ceremony as we celebrate it here. At last (15 minutes late) am able to bless a car in the car-park as requested; a family asked if they could pick the wild strawberries in the garden: I profited from the permission receiving the offer of a cone of ripe, delicious plump wild strawberries. I took a few, not wanting to spoil lunch…
Conversation about a sudden death and all the necessary arrangements, and the care of the bereaved. Check with the collection-counting team and members of the parish council about our imminent meeting. Throughout all of the above, am making off-the-cuff appointments for meetings during the week for confessions, marriage, baptisms, personal conversations, depositing clothes and other items for people who need them etc., always asking that what has been agreed verbally must be confirmed by email, after consulting the diary. But email isn’t working, after having been hacked for the 3rd time this month. Ah well…
13:10 begin tidying up the church, sacristy and corridor (it’s a joke in the Redemptorist community about the devastation wrought in the church by ‘The English’ — an acknowledgement that we are so numerous, active, and bring so many children to Mass, and we meet socially too in the church after Mass).
13:55 depart from the church, (the building, not the wider Church) delighted at the celebrations we’ve had, the contact we’ve made, the stories we’ve shared, the bonds we’ve strengthened, the people we’ve all helped and so much more. And grateful to God for the rich blessings we have received.
So, the point of all this… is to acknowledge the contribution of so many people to the life of our vibrant and growing parish community. I am the hub, the node through which much of the communication happens, and I try and co-ordinate (God help everyone!) but so many people are active in so many ways. This is us, on a typical Sunday — and if you don’t believe it, come and see. Better still, offer your services, which will be totally and gratefully received!