Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Should Deacons/Priests do When Attending Mass While on Vacation?

A few years back I found this article about Bishop Tobin (RI) "sneaking" into mass in his "civies" while on vacation. At the time I wrote a short post in my old blog. Since I think this is a question every recently ordained deacon asks, I figure I will include it in my new blog.

Here is part of the good bishop's article.

During vacation this summer I followed my normal practice of attending Sunday Mass as a “private citizen,” that is, in secular attire, with the congregation, in the pews. Even though I truly cherish the privilege of leading the liturgy as I do almost every Sunday, it’s also refreshing once in awhile to be on the other side of the altar.

Doing so allows me to avoid the public spotlight, eliminates the pressure of having to prepare a homily, and helps me to return to the ministry relaxed and ready to go.

Whenever I join the rank-and-file, it’s amazing how quickly I assume the characteristics of what might be considered the “typical Catholic.” I planned my schedule so I wouldn’t arrive at church too early. I sat toward the back of the church to avoid special involvement. I complained, at least mentally, about the length of the sermon. I was dismayed to learn there would be a second collection – and yes, I did pry open my wallet to contribute to both! And I was appropriately irritated by the log jam of traffic in the parking lot after Mass.

Forget my need for “full, active and conscious participation.” I was on vacation. I wanted something short, sweet and to the point, just enough to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

I'm willing to bet my lunch money that the question of "What to do when attending mass while on vacation" has crossed the minds of many if not all  Catholic clergy. Should we identify ourselves as clergyman that are just "passing by"? I imagine that for priests and bishops this is not that pressing since they can celebrate mass privately. Deacons however, like every other good Catholic, depend on finding a mass to fulfill their Sunday obligation. As ordained clergy our place is at the altar, as family man,  it is nice to sit side by side with wife and children while visiting a strange parish.

Before I was ordained I did some checking on this question and found out that the Church has no specific rule about what to do in these situations. During my research I found out a wide variety of opinions about this dilemma. Some said that you should identify yourselves to the celebrant and give them a chance to invite you to serve. Others say that it is best to follow bishop Tobin example and just stay quiet about our clerical state. I was not able to find consensus on what to do. So I came up with this rule for myself wich I apply when ever I find myself in this situation. 

 It is a proper and respectful to identify yourself to the celebrant as clergy. However when to do this is up to you, it could be done before or after the mass.

You might think identifying yourself is not a big deal but, like I had experienced a couple of times, if you approach the celebrant BEFORE mass you are running the risk of being asked to vest and serve. Perhaps the celebrant was trying to be polite but it put me in a very difficult position for: how can a deacon say no to the opportunity to serve at the altar of God?  On the other hand by identifying ourselves as deacons at the end of the mass we avoid this potentially embarrassing problem.

I wander if Bishop Tobin followed this rule, Or if he just sneaked out of the sanctuary "incognito" and followed the congregation to the fellowship hall for some donuts and coffee.

When I found this article, a few years back, I was impressed by bishop Tobin sincerity and openness refreshing. I also made a mental note to start paying more attention at who is sitting in the back of the Church when I'm preshing a homily. You never know.

Viva Cristo Rey!!