What makes ‘a really great priest’?

A few weeks ago at Sunday Mass, our pastor told one of his frequent warm and humorous stories during the homily, and beneath the laughter that rippled through the crowded church, I heard the man sitting behind me say to his wife, “He’s such a good guy, a really great priest.”

I was a little startled to hear it. Not that I don’t agree, but sadly, I just don’t hear such sentiments expressed as much as I once did.

That’s the lede of a column in this week’s Catholic Telegraph in Cincinnati by Tricia Hempel, editor and general manager. She’s soliciting reader ideas for what makes a great priest in this Year for Priests. You can read her column and respond there, or you can comment here. (Remember, comments on this blog are moderated, so your responses may not instantly show up.)

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9 Responses to What makes ‘a really great priest’?

  1. Mitch Finley says:

    There are many valid responses, on more than one level, to this question. Most Catholics encounter a priest most often, however, in a liturgical setting, so I’ll limit my comments to the priest as the one designated to preside at the Eucharist and other liturgical and para-liturgical events. As the one who presides at liturgies, “a really great priest” is one who rarely calls attention to himself but leads the assembly in celebrating the Mass together.

    At the beginning of the Eucharist, “a really great priest” resists any inclination he may feel to “warm up the audience” with clever witticisms. He knows that he is no television talk show host. If he wants to share such thoughts with the assembly he saves them for the homily. He feels no need to supplement the liturgical greeting at the beginning of the Mass (“The Lord be with you.”) with a secular greeting (“Hi there, and welcome to Saint Horatio’s!)

    “A really great priest” understands that he has no right to impose his personal theological ideology on the entire assembly. So, regardless of how good his intentions may be, he does not make noticeable changes in liturgical prayers because he thinks such changes improve the Mass. Basically, he sticks to the script.

    The purpose of the homily, for “a really great priest,” is to connect the Lectionary readings with the real world and the real everyday lives of the folks in the pews. The purpose of the homily has never been better described than “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It is okay, even admirable, for “a really great priest” to draw on his own struggle to live the faith to illustrate his homily. Pious talks and theological lectures aren’t homilies.

    “A really great priest” takes seriously the truth that Christ, not he, is the central focus of the Eucharist. And so, in a very real sense, he strives to become transparent to the liturgy itself.

  2. Pedro says:

    A great priest says the black, does the red.

  3. Jim Lackey says:

    Huh? Am I missing something with that last comment?

  4. Ian says:

    In regard to comment “says the black, does the red…” while I do strive to follow the church faithfully, so many of the Gospels I proclaim seem to be about Jesus in conflict with the scribes and others because He who knew the black and red of the day choose instead to be faithful to the deeper will of His Father.

  5. I am in awe of our priests and their duty and responsibility to tend to us their flock, doing this day in and day out. But being human, I imagine they can feel burnt-out too, so they really need our prayers for them, that they may continue to guide us spiritually with fidelity and love, as Jesus Christ taught us. God bless.

  6. Cataline says:

    During a homily, a really great priest makes you think that Jesus is standing before you, drawing in the sand.

    A really great priest has the humility that helps you to remember that the real presence of Christ is before us & in us in Mass.

    In counsel, a really great priest is human & accessible while still reminding you of the beliefs and obligations of the faith.

  7. A really great priest is one whose homilies focus on Christ, with an emphasis on how loving Christ is toward us, and how He sacrificed His life to save mankind. For example, if a priest presents a homily relating to a current event, that priest also needs to convey in that homily how this event relates to Christ and His teaching.

  8. Bill says:

    When Pedro (July 1) wrote: “a great priest says the black, does the red,” I believe he was referring to the liturgical texts, such as the Sacramentary for Mass.

    The BLACK ink in the ritual books indicates the words the priest should speak.

    The RED ink (rubrics) tells the priest what to do: e.g., give the people some silent time for prayer; extend his hands over the bread and wine; be quiet and allow the congregation to do the proper response.

    When priests take the time to study and better understand the ritual books (both red and black ink), they deepen their spirituality and help the people worship better by not making the liturgy so idiosyncratic that the assembly gets annoyed or distracted.

    When a priest reverently celebrates the liturgy as set down by the Church, without trying to rewrite it into his own image, Catholics feel at home and can worship better.

  9. TimJ says:

    I like to begin the Mass by reminding the congregation that we are gathered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I ask the Triune God to be present during the Mass so that all we say and do may give glory and honor to the Triune God. I then ask the Lord Jesus to send angels into out church to join us in our singing and praying to the Triune God. Next, I ask the Lord Jesus to send saints into our church to join us in our worship, this include relatives, friends, and parishioners who have gone before us and are now with the Lord. This help us keep ou focus on the purpose of our liturgy, which is to praise and worship the Triune God, and to build up the faith community. At the end of the Mass, when I bless the congregation in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I ask the Triune God, all the angels and saints to go with each member of the congregation, and I encourage each member of the congregation to go with the Triune God as they live out their own calling during the week.

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