Fourteen questions to never ask a priest

Monday 1 May 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — May Day!

In the annals of rectory telephone history, the all-time classic question is: “What time is the Midnight Mass?” Priests used to have contests to see who got the call first on Christmas Eve. After the 10th call, it became annoying. Fortunately, in their great wisdom, translators of the current Roman Missal have solved the problem for us. There is no longer a designated Liturgy for “Midnight Mass.” It has been retitled, “Mass During the Night.” Henceforth, savvy parishioners will no longer phone on Christmas Eve to ask, “What time is the Midnight Mass?” They will instead call to ask, “What time is the Mass During the Night?” Problem solved? No, exacerbated.

But there are also other questions one should avoid asking a priest. Now, dear readers, as a service to priests everywhere and for your own personal edification, I will enlighten you on a variety of such questions. Here they are:

1. What time are services?

What services do you require? Emergency health care services? Tax services? Legal services? No, no, no. In the Catholic Church, we celebrate Holy Mass. We do not hold “services.”

2. Are those the only Masses you have?

How many do you want? Catholic churches, generally speaking, already have too many Masses for the size of the congregation and the availability of a priest. Is it sensible to have a regular weekend Mass if the pews are less than a quarter full? Are you aware that, on a weekend, a priest is allowed to say two Masses, three in a pastoral emergency? Most parishes have so many weekend Masses they operate in a perpetual emergency. 

3.  When are the Holy Day Masses for Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

4. What time are your Masses on Good Friday?

There are no Masses anywhere on Good Friday. We have the Veneration of the Cross with Holy Communion, but no Masses. 

5. Why does the Easter Vigil start so late? I want a 4 p.m. Mass as we always have.

The official directive is clear, stating that the Easter Vigil must begin “during the night, after nightfall, and end before daybreak.” That precludes late afternoon, dusk, sunset, or twilight. Also factor in Daylight Saving Time.

6. How long will the Easter Vigil last?

The length of the Easter Vigil depends on the particular circumstances. How many people will be baptized and confirmed? How much music will be sung? How many Scripture readings will be proclaimed? If you don’t want to hear the answer, best not to ask the question.

7. Can my dog “Buster” be the best man at my wedding? He’s my best friend. 

Seriously? What part of best man don’t you understand? A dog may be man’s best friend, but he is not a best man. Buster is a dog. Actually, for the very validity of your Marriage, you need two human witnesses — even if Buster does have all his shots. 

8. Is the monsignor in? 

Actually, you probably want to ask to speak with the pastor. Chances are he is not a monsignor. There are only three pastors left in the entire diocese who are monsignors. The honorary title of monsignor is rarely bestowed these days. It is mostly reserved for priests who work in some capacity in various Vatican office buildings. 

9. Excuse me, but is this the parish secretary’s house? (This one came in just a few days ago.)

You mean the church office. Parish secretaries live in their own homes. They do not live at the church, strictly speaking. 

10. Can I speak with my good friend, Father Blank?

Are you unaware that Father Blank, your “good friend,” transferred to another parish 10 years previously? 

11. Can I buy a Mass for my late grandfather?

We do not sell Masses. You are probably seeking to arrange a Mass intention. That means that the prayer intention of the priest will be that of your late grandfather. The priest makes a commitment and a stipend is offered to him. This verbal agreement may include Mass being celebrated on a particular day at a particular time. Of course, everyone else in the assembly can have their own prayer intentions, but for the priest, at least, it will be your grandfather. 

12. Due to this terrible storm, is the Sunday Mass obligation cancelled?

A bishop can abrogate Sunday Mass obligation when necessary. A priest cannot, so don’t ask him to do so. As to whether or not you should attend Mass during or after a storm, use your best judgment. Never travel when the governor declares a state of emergency. You could get detained or arrested.

13. How do I go about ordering a wedding? (I am not making this up, dear readers.)

Congratulations. Will that be for here or to go?

14. Is this the party to whom I’m speaking?

Just kidding with this one, dear readers. I took the classic line from “Laugh In.” I am serious with all the others, however. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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