Now and Then http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/
I have included more info about this author at bottom of this post.
After my ordination a perky seventeen year old girl at school said,
"Fr Longenecker, do you feel ontologically different?" A delightful
question which goes to show the high level of orthodox catechesis at
St Joseph's Catholic School.
A parishioner asked a similar question, "Does it feel different saying
Mass as a Catholic priest than it did as an Anglican?"
Personal feelings are, on the one hand, totally unreliable indicators
of the truth, and on the other hand they are perfectly wonderful
indicators of the truth. In other words, they often help to validate
and hammer home the truth to our hearts, but they're not reliable
enough to use as dogma construction materials.
Without getting into issues of validity of orders and so forth, how
does it feel to say Mass as a Catholic priest? At first all I felt was
the human concern for 'getting it right'. Immediately after ordination
I had a list of Masses to say for Christmas. Most of them were large
events with many details to consider. I was nervous and concentrating
on all the practical details. After my second Mass was over I came
away wondering..."Did that really happen? Did the faithful really
receive not bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Our Lord?" This
was not because I had any doubt about the Church's teaching, but
because it seemed so new and strange that I should be involved in any way.
Now I am getting more used to saying Mass I am able to pray more
within it. Does it feel different than it did when I was an Anglican?
Most definitely! How does it feel different? This is more difficult to
explain, but let me try. First, it feels different because it feels
more universal. As an Anglican, ministering in England, I was very
aware of the Englishness of it all. Ironically, because I valued
things catholic, saying Mass as an Anglican actually emphasized (at
least for me) the fact that I wasn't Catholic. As a result, saying
Mass as an Anglican (even though I did so in a 'catholic' way)
actually felt very Anglican. Now it feels universal. At the altar I
feel one with the whole church down the ages in a way I never did as
an Anglican. As an Anglican I commemorated many of the saints from
before the Reformation, now I feel one with them in a much deeper way.
I also feel connected with Catholics all over the world in a way I
never felt as an Anglican. The Mass I say at school or at St Mary's is
the same Mass being said at St Peter's in Rome, the same Mass being
said at the slum school we support in El Salvador, the same Mass being
said in the ugly modern brick church we once attended in England.
The second way saying Mass as a Catholic feels different is connected
with the first. In the Anglican Church saying Mass was a style or a
preference. As an Anglican priest I could take services ranging from a
non liturgical Protestant 'hymn sandwich' to a Pontifical High Mass. I
could wear anything from a jacket and tie to full fiddleback vestments
with a biretta. My own style was 'high side of middle'. I was
'catholic' but not too catholic. I had two churches. At one we had
incense and a procession and a sanctus bell. At the other, no such
thing. How we worshipped was determined by the preference of the
priest in consultation with the people. As a Catholic priest (even
with the greater variety after V2) the Mass is given. It is not me and
my preference. It is not me being creative. It is not me at all. It is
simply the Mass, and I am only the mouthpiece of Christ and his
The third way it feels different is that there is a natural-ness to
the action that I never felt as an Anglican. This may simply be my own
change of character, but as an Anglican I always felt somewhat of a
fraud or an actor in a play when I was saying Mass. This doesn't mean
I was insincere, or that my ministry was worthless, only that I felt
somehow out of place. It could be that I was a convert, or that I was
an American abroad. It could be that my 'catholicism' in the Anglican
Church was a personal affectation. I don't know. Personal feelings are
complex. All I can do is report them, and I would not want to draw too
many conclusions from them. Looking back, it somehow felt, well,
Saying Mass as a Catholic priest feels different from all that. It
feels right. It feels natural and simple and real.
It feels like I've arrived home after a long journey.
Name: Dwight Longenecker
Location: Greenville, South Carolina, US
Brought up in an American Evangelical home, I went to Bob Jones
University--the jewel on the buckle of the Bible Belt. While there I
came down with a severe case of Anglophilia from reading too much
C.S.Lewis and Tolkien and T.S.Eliot. I went to study theology at
Oxford, was ordained as an Anglican priest and stayed in England for
twenty five years. After ten years wearing a dog collar I was received
into the Catholic Church. I spent ten years as a layman writing
articles and books no one reads. Then the call came to return to the
United States. In December 2006 I was ordained as a Catholic priest. I
am now chaplain at St Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, South
Carolina, and I am on the staff of St Mary's Greenville.