Saturday, November 08, 2008

Reclaiming the Sacristy as a Place of Prayer and Preparation

The title of this piece might sound foreign precisely because the present culture of many sacristies has taken on an atmosphere of a work room and visiting room. It is not an uncommon sight (or sound) for the servers to be visiting, for laity to be coming in and out to catch up with the priest, for priests to be visiting with one another and so forth. Commonly heard are discussions surrounding sporting events, work, the weather, or practical parish discussion and so on. No doubt most of us have ourselves participated in this very same activity over the years to at least some extent -- I can certainly include myself in this. In a culture that is devoid of silence and inclined more to external activity than interior preparation and participation, this is not a surprise; it's a symptom.

In practice what has often happened is that our sacristies have come to be viewed as merely utilitarian and divorced from the liturgy itself. They are simply seen as rooms for servers and clergy to vest -- "backstage" if you will -- often stripped of the ceremonial actions of vesting, devoid of vesting prayers and so on. While socializing can be nice of course, the sacristy should ideally be, before Mass, a place of preparation; not simply material preparation but spiritual preparation. After Mass it is a place of prayerful thanksgiving for the sacred mysteries worthily offered.

If you walk into older sacristies, particularly in places such as Italy, you are liable to see this posted prominently somewhere, a reminder which tells a different story of what the sacristy can be and, ideally, should be:



Being a place of spiritual preparation for the most powerful and central act of our Faith, an atmosphere of hushed quiet, even silence, was to be observed in the sacristy. In this atmosphere the priest prays as he vests and the servers assist in the preparations for the Holy Sacrifice.

One might think this has been removed from the modern Roman liturgy, but in point of fact, paragraph 45 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) notes the following:
Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.

This commendation should be taken seriously by each of us for we should note that the atmosphere and approach we take to the sacristy can have influence upon the character of the celebration of Mass itself for priests and servers alike.

With that then, some suggestions, particularly for priests who are best in a position to influence and enact this.

Suggestion One: Recover the Silence of the Sacristy and Catechize

I would encourage our priests to recover this preparatory aspect in their parishes and chapels, providing catechesis on the matter, not only to servers, but even to all parishioners. This small opportunity also provides an opportunity to catechize about our approach to the Mass itself, for if the sacristy is to be treated in this way, how then should we approach the church and the august Sacrifice itself?

Suggestion Two: Reclaim the Use of Vesting Prayers

Reclaim the use of the vesting prayers while putting on the different vestments, complete with the actions of touching the amice to the back of the head, kissing the cross upon the stole and so forth. Consider printing and laminating copies of these in Latin and the vernacular to make available for yourselves and other clergy. You might also consider mounting and framing a copy of these somewhere in the sacristy (near the vesting area) in a more permanent fashion. (See Sancta Missa's Resources for a copy of these prayers.)



Suggestion Three: The Crucifix

Most sacristies still have a crucifix mounted on the wall or in the sacristy somewhere, but if it has been removed or is less than prominent, consider putting it back into greater prominence. Use it as a focal point for yourselves and the servers in the way it traditionally was in the sacristy before and after Mass.



Suggestion Four: Place a Silentium Sign in the Sacristy

Post your own "Silentium/Silence" sign in the sacristy (be it in Latin, the vernacular or both). This can be as simple as framed printout to something more ornate. This will serve as (what Mother Angelica so aptly called) a "holy reminder" for priests, servers and laity generally. It not only reminds but it will also serve as an opportunity for catechesis.

Suggestion Five: The Blessing

If you aren't already doing so, along with the bow to the cross at the end of Mass, also recover the ceremonial blessing of the servers following Mass. This further emphasizes that the sacristy is not a place devoid of prayer and ceremony.



Why not begin these things at your next Masses?

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