By Allan Gillis
A local parish recently was blessed to have garnered the residency of a priest friend of mine who says the Extrordinary Form Mass in Latin on Sundays where I sing Gregorian Chant regularly in downtown Boston. Father Fagiol (as we’ll call him) is one of those priests that just radiate the very essence of “priesthood”. Don’t get me wrong… he’s never stuffy or overly-pious or lacking in good humor – just a decent, well-spoken and knowledgeable man who personifies exactly what a priest should be. He has enough Old-World charm that he could have served with ease and grace as a European royal courtier anywhere on the continent (he is fluent in three languages besides his Latin!). He possesses a delightful joie-de-vivre while always remaining a holy priest – ever-mindful of his office, while never “lording it over” anyone. He’s simply a gift to us here – and a gift to me in my spiritual life.
So, he tells me over dinner last week that he’ll be saying the noontime Mass on Fridays and some weekdays and since my office is right here – I figured I’d stop in mid-day today and see him and grab the chance to have him hear my confession – as I plan on being on my boat tomorrow and Saturdays are usually the only time that these Novus Ordo parishes have the “sacrament of reconciliation” available to us (I can’t stand that phrase!!! – why couldn’t it just be left alone as “Confession”??? – the word “reconcile” to me – and I’m no etymologist – connotes that big ol’ meany God is half responsible for my mishap and he and I need to come to some sort of ‘tete-e-tete’ and work things out. How collegial it is now! Gee, I feel better now about this propostion – this “Confession” stuff seems so one-sided! “Reconciliation” makes me ‘feel’ better! How dare God assume that I’m the one who breached this contract between us! Like – where’s God’s culpability in all this?)
I stepped into Mass today and the wonderful incense was pluming up and filling the apse… the pre-Mass exposition and benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament was reverently and lovingly prayed and responded to. What a joy during a week-day! Then, Mass began. It was strange to see Father Fagiol standing behind the altar Versus Populum. I’m so accustomed to the priest Ad Orientum – especially Father Fagiol! Now here’s an interesting fact; this is one of those old beautiful churches built before the fad started in the fifties and sixties by pot-smoking architects (and approved by bishops!) to tear down Roman Catholic churches and rebuild them to look like anti-septic airport terminals. This one is actually physically situated and was correctly-constructed in the 19th century as the compass dictates – when the people stand to pray they are facing due east. Now, the priest standing facing them (“The Father Steve Show” as I call it – brought to you by Vatican II) is standing “versus populum” (against the people in Latin), he is looking westward as the compass bears – NOT ad orientum – or… to the east – as we’re commanded to. So, Father Fagiol prays this Mass in the Ordinary Form… but to my great delight and astonishment, it was the REAL thing! I mean, I believe that the Novus Ordo is licit and valid and all that… I have just NEVER heard it prayed/celebrated so serenely and reverently. Never.
Fr. F kept the pace – the cadence of the liturgy moving perfectly, praying along solemnly and devoutly while not being ostentatious or halting – but certainly not rushing through the Mass like he had a train to catch right after the liturgy! I was in awe. I had heard in the past what seemed like patronizing and insecure assertions that “certainly the Novus Ordo can be just as much of a spiritual uplift as the Latin Mass”. I always thought: “Kak”!
I was wrong. I guess it depends on the priest.