Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wedding Garment

Today's Gospel was the parable about the wedding garment, or lack thereof. Although other guests had been invited to the wedding feast, all of them backed out and refused to attend. The host then told his servants to get other guests from the highways and bi-ways. Finally, anyone on the street was invited, including one fellow at the last minute. But he entered without wearing a 'wedding garment'. When the host spotted a guest not in proper attire, he asked him about it. The Scriptures say the man was 'reduced to silence.' HE HAD NO ANSWER.

Today, many feel bad for the poor fellow and wonder why he was so roughly treated (bound hand and foot and thrown outside). Unlike the first invited guests, this guy had no advance notice. He was asked at the last minute. So why expect him to be dressed up? Well, our society and culture does not get it. At the time of Jesus, EVERY Jew had and was expected to have a 'wedding garment' to be worn at weddings and other formal religious celebrations. It did not matter how much it cost nor did it matter what material it was made from. What mattered was that you, as an invited guest, showed RESPECT to the host by wearing this garment. Rich people would obviously have expensive and designer garments, but even the poorest Jew had a simple, inexpensive but decent wedding garment. To arrive without one was an INSULT. And as the man was 'reduced to silence' he, too, knew that he had no valid or legitimate excuse.

People today have trouble with this parable. We live in a SUPER, ULTRA-casual age. Formality is passe. When I was growing up, we had "church clothes" which were worn every Sunday to go to Mass. We would never have been allowed to leave the house and to church wearing 'blue jeans' and a 'tee-shirt.' Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry, from teenagers to middle-agers to the elderly; all wear blue jeans and sneakers to Mass, be it during the week or on the weekend.

One summer I celebrated Mass several times for an African-American parish in Erie. Mostly poor people on public assistance, yet EVERY Sunday, a full crowd would come to Mass and 'dressed to the nines'. EVERY woman had a chapel veil or white hat and wore gloves; EVERY man wore a button dress shirt, tie and suit jacket. NO EXCEPTIONS. They wore their 'church clothes' because it was a great honor and privilege to go the the Lord's House as His guest of honor. Their reverence and piety put the rest of the parishes in the diocese to shame. No one came late and no one dared leave early from Mass. Their attire and their demeanor was one of LOVING RESPECT. I was in awe and edified each time I celebrated Mass for them.

Then I go to suburbia and see Super Casual take over like an Ecoli epidemic. Every school and place of employment now has 'dress down' days. When dressed up, in formal or business ware, the idea of LOOKING special helped people to do their job WELL.

Sunday was (and still is) DIES DOMINI (the day of the Lord). Gone is the family meal when everyone gathered around the table for a home cooked meal. Now, each person goes to his or her own parish or church (if they go at all) and meals are like the rest of the week: on your own or microwaved frozen food. Me and my brothers, however, went to Mass every Sunday with our mom and dad as a family and then we had an afternoon meal at grandma's (which usually lasted until the evening). Usually five to seven courses of pasta and meats with various vegetables, it was expected that everyone be there and likewise it was expected that one had gone to Mass beforehand. We had to dress for church and for Nonna's house. Play clothes could be worn AFTER the meal, but never during. Men wore button shirts and slacks and you could take off your tie and jacket EXCEPT for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Jacket and tie, though, were worn for church just as the women were expected to wear a dress and some head covering, from a hat to a chapel veil.

That formality was important because it conveyed a sense of DIGNITY and RESPECT for God and for home; for faith and for family. Home was the domestic church and the local parish was the divine church. Both were sacred in their own right. Paper plates and plastic ware and paper napkins were never used on Sundays or holidays, either. Linen tablecloths and metal flatware and cloth napkins every weekend.

When the extreme-casual craze hit church, we saw the demise of the burse and veil on the chalice, the absence of the amice and cincture, the pedestrian vestments and banal music. I noticed that I myself needed to make Sunday special even as a parish priest. If I did, maybe my parishioners would follow suit. So, I've made an effort to wear my cassock or my suit jacket whenever seen outside of Mass on Sundays. I wear my french cuff long sleeve shirts under my alb and have a separate set of vestments just worn on Sundays and Holydays and a simpler set for weekdays. I always use the burse and veil but on Sundays, we light ALL the candles (like the old High Mass of the EF). I chant more of the prayers at the Sunday Mass, like the Our Father, opening and closing prayers, preface, etc. Outside of Ordinary Time I use incense, too.  Just little ways to convey that the DAY OF THE LORD is special in church and at home. I schedule no meetings or appointments on Sunday and visit the sick on other days of the week (unless an emergency, of course)

Weekday Mass is not sloppy by any means but besides the omission of the Gloria, Creed and second reading before the Gospel, I want to subtly convey the importance of Sunday Mass while at the same time preserving the awesome respect and reverence for ANY and EVERY Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So, the proper vestments are always worn and no illicit shortcuts taken.

What happens in the homes I do not know but several new families to the parish have told me that they are returning to their former practice of making Sunday special as a family. Going to Mass together, dressing up in church clothes and sharing a decent meal in a dignified manner that same day. It takes effort but it is worth it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to Priest-School Week

While my classmate Father Ken Brighenti begins his new assignment this week on the faculty of Mount Saint Mary Seminary, it brings back memories of my twelve years of seminary formation (high school, college and major theology).

Some of my colleagues were blessed to attend such outstanding institutions as Mount Saint Marys (Emmitsburg, MD); Saint Joseph's Dunwoodie (Yonkers, NY); Saint Charles Borromeo in Overbrook (Philadelphia, PA).  Some attended less orthodox and more esoteric locations:


Some priests attended a "Country Club" seminary

while some attended a "Rock"


(either one better than a "pink palace")

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