Words Worth Waiting For

This morning, I went to daily Mass at a parish close to where I am currently house-sitting.  As the Mass began, it became vaguely apparent that something was not quite as expected.  A bit of a pause just before the sign of the cross, and a longer one between the Son … and Holy Spirit.  I actually wondered for a minute if the priest had momentarily forgotten who the third person of the trinity was.  And then I noticed him intermittently moving his jaw, mouth tightly closed, as though chewing on the next word – and it suddenly dawned on me that he was struggling with a speech impediment.

To my chagrin, my first thought at this realization was, “How did this guy make it through seminary?”  Then my mind strayed a little further down that path and thought that he must, perhaps, have some remarkable pastoral gifts … still a little condescending in my thinking, maybe.  But then something else happened: I found myself hearing the collect like I’ve never heard a collect before.  And thus proceeded what must have been the most simultaneously halting and transcendent Mass I’ve ever attended, full of pregnant pauses culminating in words like mysteries … petitions … Jesus Christ … bread of life … majesty … memory … salvation … worthy … mercy … words made fuller and weightier in the anticipation, each culmination its own miniature eschaton.

I had come expecting food for the journey, and in addition to that received something else I wasn’t expecting: a lesson in the meaning of beauty.

About Julia Smucker
  • http://saintlysages.wordpress.com SaintlySages

    As Paul declared: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). God bless!

  • T J Hostek

    How wonderful!

  • Jordan

    Thank you for this, Julia. The associate at my parish has a noticable stutter but is one of the best preachers I have ever heard. It’s not illogical that those who struggle most to express themselves impart great meaning to what they have struggled to say.

    We need to see more priests with speech, physical, and intellectual disabilities. I’ve noticed over the years that I have never seen a priest with cerebal palsy celebrate Mass, for example. I’m not exactly sure, but I suspect that the revised code of canon law has dropped many of the physical impediments to ordination. St. Issac Jouges lost a pair of canonical digits while on mission and did not celebrate Mass until explicit dispensation from Rome. Today, I doubt that the North American Martyr would have required explicit dispensation. I do not see how a man with CP or another physical disability should be excluded from the priesthood so long as he can ably grasp the paten and cup. Priests are already permitted to substitute bowing instead of genuflection when necessary and without dispensation.

    I suspect that Pope Francis is superficially more “popular” than pope emeritus Benedict simply because Pope Francis can “read people” well. Pope emeritus Benedict, on the other hand, has struck me as on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. Benedict’s intellectual disability certainly did not impede him from becoming a great theologian. I suspect however that Pope Benedict would not have been selected for ordination today. I know I wouldn’t be ordained because of my Asperger’s, among other disqualifications. However, Asperger’s should not alone disqualify a man. Part of the reason I suspect that extroversion is highly valued today is not only because of cultural pressures but because of the reformed rite itself, e.g. Mass facing the people. Maybe a return in some places and with parish consent to Mass facing the apse would remove the pressure for some priests to preside in a demonstrative manner. /traddie rant

    • Julia Smucker

      Thank you for your self-disclosure, Jordan. You have done us all a service with this.

      It’s not illogical that those who struggle most to express themselves impart great meaning to what they have struggled to say.

      This sentence especially resonated with me. While I don’t have any physical or intellectual disability, I do have a much higher comfort level writing than speaking. And while I wouldn’t follow your self-described “traddie rant” all the way to the suggestion that more introverted priests say Mass facing away from the people to lessen their performance anxiety (and I suspect we’re agreed that it’s not supposed to be a performance regardless of which direction the celebrant is facing), I do sympathize with Pope Emeritus Benedict when he is unfairly judged against the extraversion of his successor (and occasionally of his predecessor as well, for that matter).

      • Jordan

        Julia Smucker [August 6, 2013 11:56 am]: Thank you for your kind words, Julia. The faux-html applied only to the think-aloud comment about the altar orientation. You are quite right that the presider or celebrant is never supposed to perform but only offer the sacrament along with the assembly, regardless of altar position. The Banquet is always prepared by God, despite the faulty eye-contact of some priests.