April 30, 2009

It's Not For Me

On Saturday, I co-officiated at the wedding of my sister. My partner in this venture was a Catholic priest, well-known to the groom, who prepared the couple and planned the cermony.

In the weeks leading up to the event, my sister told me that the priest would be calling me. She also told me what the scriptures would be (I was to read one of them), and that the priest and I would be sharing the homily time. The priest would go over the details with me when he called.

In the past, I've had occasion to work with a number of Catholic priests. One or two I got along with quite well. In one community in which I lived, I got along with the priest better than almost all of the protestant pastors. But other Catholic priests seemed to merely tolerate the idea of working together with a protestant pastor, and were less than enthusiastic about it.

I didn't know what this particular experience would be like, but I began to worry when the priest didn't call; not until the day before the wedding, just a few hours before the wedding rehearsal, did he call.

However, when I met him in person later that day, I discovered that he was one of the most open, friendly, and truly caring people I've ever met. No wonder the groom specifically asked him to officiate. What a pleasant experience it turned out to be!

I sometimes joke that the first non-Catholic wedding I ever attended was my own, and in fact, that's almost (but not quite) true. That's what one gets with several dozen Catholic aunts, uncles, and cousins.

As a child and teenager, it seemed a bit bizarre to me, all those Catholic rituals: the bowing, the kneeling, the sign of the cross. And the prayers that seemed almost other-worldly; I could barely understand them.

(I once read something by someone who, like me, came from a mixed Catholic/Protestant heritage. He wrote that when his Catholic cousins prayed, one could barely understand them. "Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts..." sounded like "Blorgiforabounty.Amen." His Protestant relatives, on the other hand, prayed, "Thank you, Lord, for this meal. Thank you for those who prepared it. Thank you for the silverware that allows us to eat it. Thank you for the silversmith who forged the silverware so we could eat this meal that has been prepared..." The writer was being funny, but I can tell you from personal experience, he wasn't far off the mark.)

Growing up, I also thought it strange that they read four different scripture readings in worship. Why read all four of the scripture readings if you're only going to hear a sermon on one of them? It just confuses things.

Over time, though, I've developed a respect for many of the Catholic ways. As we prepared for the wedding, with several members of the church present as co-coordinators--and then at the wedding itself, which included two altar boys--I realized something. I realized that, as a result of living with all that high-church drama and ritual, the people around me seemed to know, almost instinctively, something that many Protestants, including me, forget: worship is all about God. I tend to plan worship services so that I and people like me can get something out of it. It's true that worship is often a blessing to those who attend and participate in it, but it's intended for God's benefit, not ours.

I'm currently re-reading a book on prayer by Robert Benson. It's called In Constant Prayer and it's part of a series of books called the "Ancient Practices" series. I'm re-reading it, because I read it for the first time a few months ago, and sometimes it takes me several readings for the information to sink in. It's not a long book, and I may read it yet again one day, a fact which suggests that perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to judge those who use the same phrases each and every time they pray.

The book is about praying the "daily office," the prayers of the church that faithful people have prayed 2, 4, or 7 times a day for centuries. The prayers are "common," that is, written down, and shared among many. They are ancient. They include psalms.

I don't currently pray every day. Well, that's not quite true, but it is true that I don't pray like this every day. It never seemed to me that I'd get much out of it. But I'd like to, because that's not really what it's about, is it?

1 comment:

Robert Benson said...


Thanks for reading IN CONSTANT PRAYER in the first place, and for mentioning it to your friends. I am grateful for both things.

Be in touch.

Robert Benson