Now and Then

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 bride–the Church.

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, artificial.

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.

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  • jeron

    Fantastic post! Welcome Home, Father!! 😀

  • As a processing convert, your comment on how “right” catholicism feels resonates with my first thoughts on attending mass. This is right; this is universal. Thank you God I can be a part of this.

  • Father, you have spam in the comment just above this one from jd_52321. Hopefully everyone will ignore it.Your post makes me think of something I heard Alex Jones say, just recently. He’s the former Pentecostal convert who is now a RC Permanent Deacon. He noted that one day, while “saying Mass” in his Pentecostal church which he had been gradually shifting into full liturgy, he realized that his prayer was not in fact changing the bread and wine into the body and the blood of Christ because, he says, “I had no authority.”It was in that moment that he said he decided “to stop playing Mass” and to become Catholic for real.

  • Father, 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 bride–the Church.— don’t you think is some room for variety, though? I have seen different styles at different Catholic churches.

  • I’m not totally down on variety in the way Mass said. My point was that in the Catholic Church this is secondary.

  • Ah; gotcha! I absolutely agree with you, then. It is one of the things I am coming to love.For example, the Church I go to is decidedly “low-Churchy”–it does offend my so-called ‘liturgical sensibilities’–yet it is completely heartfelt and means so much more to me than the old-fashioned High Anglican Mass.

  • Amen. Hallelujah. Amen.Welcome home brother in Christ! I feel the same, only, from a Lay Convert perspective, in the pew, my participation in the Mass is much the same, only different, if you know what I mean. It feels the same, only Real this time. Warren

  • Excellent post Father! Thank you for sharing this… As a convert, I too had a feeling of coming home, of rightness, of truly stepping into heaven during the Mass… and I ‘recognize’ much of what you said here, only from a lay perspective.

  • Father:Congratulations on your ordination, ad multos annos! I can readily identify with many of your feelings; I felt many of them when I was newly ordained. It took awhile before I was used to offering the Mass. Also, I too remember, at my first/second/third Mass, thinking, how can this be? I don’t have enough faith for what I’m doing!Of course, I don’t have enough faith, none of us can; it is very consoling to remind myself that Christ does it; my role is to be open to him doing it through me.Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  • Robin Hunt

    This evening, I am searching the World Wide Web regarding a comment about Betty Ford made by Bob Jones, Jr., while you were a student. I come across this 12/20/2006 article about your recent ordination by Terry Mattingly, former Denver journalist and former Episcopalian. There and back again. Alleluia!

  • Dear Robin, I’m sorry we have lost touch. Please email me. Amazing things have been happening.

  • Anonymous

    I have walked the same path and resonate with all this – especially the naturalness.God blessColin

  • Anonymous

    Father,When are you going to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass according to the RIte of 1962?

  • Huzzah! Beautiful, beautiful post. I’m also a convert (but in the pews), and praying the Mass definitely “feels different” to me than praying the Lutheran liturgy did. It seems more legitimate, more effective, more universal, and more heavenly (in a literal sense!).

  • It could be that my ‘catholicism’ in the Anglican Church was a personal affectation.Father, my experience in the last years in then-ECUSA was a realization that the deeper ECUSA sank into heterodoxy, the more “catholic” I had to be…in gestures, in piety…as if to make a bold visual sign that “I am Catholic and you’re a heretic”. So I genuflect lower than you, and I make the sign of the cross with greater flourish and more often than you. I’m ashamed to admit that now. How full of pride that was.Well, now that I’m in the family, the gestures have taken on a different dimension. I don’t have to do them as a symbol of my defiance anymore. So when I make the sign of the cross, it’s informed by the meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries, on the Wounds of Christ, on the Sorrowing Mother. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof…”

  • Dear Anonymous, you asked when I would be saying the 1962 Tridentine Mass. I hate to be too democratic about it, but in my parish we have several other Catholic communities with alternative language needs as well as those who prefer Latin.My first priority is to learn Spanish so I can minister to the Hispanic population. The second is to learn enough Syriac and Arabic so that I may be licensed to celebrate the Maronite liturgy. After that I hope I will have time to learn how to say the Latin Mass.

  • Wondering

    I wish we could read and compare comments from then-C-of-E priest Dwight Longenecker, after his then-recent Anglican ordination, about how it felt to be able to officiate at the Anglican Eucharist. Do such comments still exist?

  • Dear Wondering, Good question. I was ordained as an Anglican a pretty long time ago, and my understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist even at the time was pretty ‘low’. At the time of my ordination I didn’t think anything ‘happened’ at the consecration. I considered myself to be officiating at a ritual memorial service and leading the congregation as they meditated on the death of Christ. I eventually moved to a receptionist position–that I believed the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ for individuals as they received the bread and wine by faith. By the time I had been an Anglican priest for ten years I had moved to a more Catholic understanding, and I can remember standing at my altar believing that something should be happening, and not believing that it did, or that I could or that the Anglican position even allowed such a belief to be held (after all the 39 articles expressly forbids belief in transubstantiation) it was at this point–standing at my altar not believing in what I was doing that I knew I had to go.