The priest is in relationship with us

The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.

We do not celebrate Eucharist in a solitary manner. The Mass is relational. We encounter Jesus in his holy word and his sacrifice on the altar. We gather as a community and relate to those around us as we pray and sing in unison, share the sign of peace and move as one body to receive holy Communion. The readings for this weekend might also remind us that at each liturgy we are in relationship with the priest presiding at the Mass.

In both the first reading and Gospel for this Sunday, those who were healed of leprosy were told to go show themselves to the priest. This action was clearly part of the healing process.

The penitential rite at the beginning of our Mass provides us with access to God’s healing grace and the priest’s words and actions during that rite are part of our healing process.

First, the priest challenges each of us to consider how and when we have done things that have separated us from God’s grace, which in turn cause us to fall short in living the Gospel. Because it is easy to brush aside that kind of examination with a simple “Sorry God, I’ll do better,” the priest leads us into a period of silence.
Only when everything stops and silence takes over do we really begin to look inward in earnest. It can be an uncomfortable place to be which is made evident by the fact that if the priest allows the silence to last too long, members in the assembly will begin to fidget, clear throats and even check cell phones.

After our time of contemplation, the priest exhorts us to an act of penitence through the use of the Confiteor and the Kyrie (Lord have mercy). Relying on God’s mercy, the priest then extends a simple absolution. It is important to remember, however, that the” General Instruction of the Roman Missal” states: “The rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the sacrament of penance” (n. 51). In other words, the penitential rite at Mass does not excuse us from going to the sacrament of confession.

Throughout the Mass, the priest remains in relationship with us. He not only prays for us, he prays with us. This is most evident in every prayer when we hear the priest say, “Let us pray.” In that brief time of silence, we are to make our own prayers to God, similar to how the leper directly asked Jesus to heal him. After that silence, the priest mentally and spiritually gathers all the prayers we have offered and finalizes them in the prayer he speaks aloud. In a sense, he says God, “Yes, this is true, these are the needs of your people.”

We could say that we are like the leper who went to show himself to the priest, so that the priest might proclaim the good work that God has done.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.