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Posted July 6, 2009

What Makes a Great Priest?

Taken from Catholic News Service [CNS] blog

There are many valid responses, on more than one level, to this question. Most Catholics encounter a priest most often, however, in a liturgical setting, so I’ll limit my comments to the priest as the one designated to preside at the Eucharist and other liturgical and para-liturgical events. As the one who presides at liturgies, “a really great priest” is one who rarely calls attention to himself but leads the assembly in celebrating the Mass together.

At the beginning of the Eucharist, “a really great priest” resists any inclination he may feel to “warm up the audience” with clever witticisms. He knows that he is no television talk show host. If he wants to share such thoughts with the assembly he saves them for the homily. He feels no need to supplement the liturgical greeting at the beginning of the Mass (”The Lord be with you.”) with a secular greeting (”Hi there, and welcome to Saint Horatio’s!)

“A really great priest” understands that he has no right to impose his personal theological ideology on the entire assembly. So, regardless of how good his intentions may be, he does not make noticeable changes in liturgical prayers because he thinks such changes improve the Mass. Basically, he sticks to the script.

The purpose of the homily, for “a really great priest,” is to connect the Lectionary readings with the real world and the real everyday lives of the folks in the pews. The purpose of the homily has never been better described than “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It is okay, even admirable, for “a really great priest” to draw on his own struggle to live the faith to illustrate his homily. Pious talks and theological lectures aren’t homilies.

“A really great priest” takes seriously the truth that Christ, not he, is the central focus of the Eucharist. And so, in a very real sense, he strives to become transparent to the liturgy itself.