SACRISTAN – The Jack of All Trades

Having a typical human being attitude, you don’t get to realize the value of a person until you have an abrupt role reversal and get to play that person. Similarly yesterday, the Faculty of Theology had to organize the mass celebrated for the Annunciation. Myself known to be the Universal Monitor of three batches and sometimes nicknamed as the Pope, took the liberty of appointing the lectors, cantor and selecting the hymns for the mass. I assumed that this is all that I had to do, in order to organize a mass. For my surprise, when I entered into the chapel, little did I know that the job of the Sacristan was awaiting me.

The heart attack for the day started off with the shooting pain, when I saw that nothing was arranged in the chapel. No Lectionary (The book which has the daily mass readings), Missal (The book which has the prayers and responses of the priest and the congregation), wine and the host, water, microphones, lamps, hymnals and everything that you can think of which is needed for the mass. Gathering myself together, calm and composed as possible and only having 20 minutes to prepare, I prioritized the tasks. The first question I asked myself was, what is the most important thing that will be needed and without which the mass cannot be celebrated. DUH!! The Readings for the day!

Liturgy of the WordSo I found the Lectionary, grabbed the Ordo (The book that provides a guideline about the significance of the day and the readings for the day) and started to dive and find the reading for the day. Since it was a solemnity (a feast), it couldn’t have been in the lenten section, kept on finding and I called up a friend who knew how to find it and finally, Yureka! Likewise found the correct page in the Missal for the Priest and placed it on the altar.

Liturgy of the EucharistThe second priority during the mass is, of course the Host, Wine and the Water. These were placed in the sacristy, so put them into the relevant vessels and kept them on the altar. Then I went on to do the arrangements of the altar along with the vestment of the Priest. Since it was lent and the lenten colour is purple, that was a bit of a cake walk. But then how many lamps do you light during a mass? Well I learned this for the subject called Liturgy, but didn’t want to clutter my brain with too much information at that time. Why would I wanna remember that right? I’m not the sacristan! Well now I am and that was important to know. Anyways, lit a lamp and kept it. With not much of time left in hand, I was hunting for the microphones, which seem to have been missing, but tracked it down on time. The next problem was, how to get them working? Because I’m no expert in that area. Did a little bit of twisting and turning of the buttons and tested the microphones and Bingo! there you go, it works!

Having only 5 minutes in hand, the heart attack was when I realized that none of the appointed lectors and cantor were there. So managed to utilize the available human resources and reorganize the choices. Selecting the appropriate hymns was the next milestone. It was weird how we easily found the offertory and final hymns but the entrance hymn was a bit of a hard nut and missed it, because the Priest was already there to celebrate the mass.

Whew… One heck of a rat race I must say. Come to think of it, if you analyze my thought process, as to how I prioritize the tasks, it’s exactly the same way how the mass generally flows. For Liturgy, we learned that if the mass was put in a form of a graph, the 2 peak points would be,

  • Liturgy of the Word (The Gospel) Liturgy Graph
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Likewise, my first 2 priorities were these. If you take a look at the Liturgy preparation, each minute detail makes a big difference and it is because it has a meaning. The celebration is a ritual. The Catholic Church breathes along with 2 lungs, Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Details like the colour of the vestments, number of lamps to be lit at different types of Eucharistic Celebrations are handed down from thousands of years young tradition. And the amusing thing is, we might find it too much to digest, so much of details and information right? But all these details are available in one repository, approximately found in all churches of the world. The Sacristan! Just like Joseph’s coat of many colours, the Sacristan is a man of many shades.

In the context of Sri Lanka, we hardly recognize the role of this man. But if anything goes wrong on the altar during the mass, he’ll for sure be the first scapegoat. And we take his job for granted. But what I realized yesterday was that, he’s a technician, an interior designer, a florist, a Taylor, a master of the Lectionary and also who knows the work of a Nun and a Priest on the altar. Hence the Sacristan is The Jack of All Trades when it comes to the mass. Hats off!

Stand Firm! Dig In and Dig Deeper!

I haven’t written any posts that coordinates to the liturgical seasons. But today being the Fourth Sunday of Lent and what I learned from the Gospel message unraveled by the Priest in the sermon, prompted me to write something about lent and what it has taught me this time.

Fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. I don’t think many of the Sri Lankans are aware of this Sunday, because I sure wasn’t. Laetare Sunday is basically a point of the Lenten Season, where the people express/ anticipate the Joy and Hope of Easter. Basically, you take a break from the rigorous life style adopted during lent and be a bit light hearted. This is shown in the rose coloured vestments of the Priest.

Today my day began with the morning mass, where the Priest entered, we sang the entrance hymn, then he greeted the congregation and gave a little introduction about today’s Gospel, asked forgiveness for the sins (penitential act), Kyrie Eleison and then… the Shock of Lent! He recited the Gloria! Ignorant congregation, along with the Priest recited it, while some of us were awestricken. It is a known fact that Gloria and Alleluiaaccording to tradition and as a norm are NOT SUNG during Lent. Because Lent is a period of repentance and sacrifice, so the the joyful elements are omitted. But breaking this norm, Gloria was recited today and I considered it to be a major liturgical blunder, being the liturgical terrorist that I am. Suppressing my temper, I participated in the mass.

During the time of the Sermon, the Priest, Rev. Fr. Nilendra Goonasekara SSS, mentioned about today’s specialty. Had it been said at the introduction, then he would’ve been able to hit it to my hard head and I also would’ve joined in with Joy. What I’m still not sure is, whether he made a genuine mistake by reciting it or he did it because the day was significant. Personally, coming off from the traditional framework of portraying lent as a period of mourning and weeping, I think that this is more of a Joyful period. More joyful than Christmas. Because of the pomp and purple carried out during Advent, the lenten season seems to be on a lower tone, whereas for Christians Lent should be the season of Celebration. It is during this period that the Promised Messiah fulfilled the Promise of God, Salvation for all men. Yes, I’m emphasizing the fact that we celebrate the Death over Birth. For Christians, what is inspiring and what makes us stand out is, we celebrate suffering. Be it the Passion and Death of Jesus or suffering in our own lives. We take pride in sacrificing our lives for Christ, hence we uphold the martyrs of the Church. This is not because we are some cannibalistic, blood thirsty beings but because we speak of a life beyond the present. A life that we’ll be rewarded based on our present, where the creatures will meet their Creator, face to face. So lent should give us all the more reasons to be happy. If God did not take the form of flesh and come down for me, had He not suffered on the Cross for my sins, if He didn’t rise from the Dead to save me, would I have Faith in Him? Will I believe, that no matter what, He will guide me and take care of me? So lent for me is Celebration of My Faith. I’m not telling that we should break off from the traditions of Fasting, Penance and Sacrifice but do these with joy in your heart instead of considering them to be a pain to yourself.

Today’s Gospel, John 3, 14-21 was about gaining eternal life through the Cross. Though nothing inspired me when it was read, I was shown the mirror when Fr. Goonesekara broke the word at the sermon. He explained, what I solidly knew in my head but failed to put into practice. We all have crosses in our lives, not literally but in forms of family problems, addictions, work issues, financial problems, health complications, etc; Like it or not, we are not God or Christ to bear them up, when the river banks break we give up because at the end of the day we are all human beings! If you make your own choice of giving up without consulting the Almighty One, then later on, you might realize your mistake, like I did today.

During my internship period, the company that recruited me, initially promised me many things. But later on I realized that none of them were gonna be fulfilled, I asked for what I was promised and murmured just like in the wilderness. Though some changes were implemented, they were like giving candy for a kid to just make him stop crying for a while. So I rebelled again and kept on doing so. Once the contract ended, I finally got what I wanted to do. Then again, they made the wrong decisions made on wrong assumptions and stationed me in no man’s land. Still for all grinding my teeth, I continued by following the advices gained from others. And all this I did with the Faith I had, considering it as a glorification of Christ. After 15 months the limits I set for myself, broke! I ran out of oxygen, so chose to “Resign”, sugar coated version of quitting, running away. The decision was a battle between the head and the heart. Former kept on saying, “Leave!” while latter, “Just a little more, you can do it! Try hard! It’ll get better”. Me being the master of my own will, chose the former.

Fr. Goonesekara, mentioned in today’s reflection in his very own words,

True Discipleship is NOT to run away!

You have to stand firm!

Dig in and dig deeper!

Pugnaciously, Tuck your chin in and Drive Forward!

Coming back to me, what did I do? Clearly I chickened out and ran away! And trust me, no theology can stop a person from making some huge blunders in their lives. Looking back at the time I spent, were the 15 months worth it? Did I learn anything? Would I wanna erase it from my memories? Yes it was worth it. What I learned during this period, I’m sure I’ve not learn in my past 21 years. Work wise, I’ve learned about different technologies, tools, etc; from the perspective of life, I think I acquired my doctorate. I’ve seen people coming from different walks of life. The arrogant, proud, humble, EverReady assistants, hilarious, addicts, perverts and many more. I’ve seen mountains wash off and new mountains rise up, those who were not aware that though people think they’re stupid, they are actually innocent at heart, the undeserving receiving praises and the deserving pushed back. With regard to my decision of quitting, I certainly made a mistake. If I had the patience to go through 15 months, why not a little more? Once a friend gave me a valuable piece of advice, though I didn’t get it then, today I understood it, “Don’t hate your job! Don’t fall in love with the company you work!“. As usual, I followed the opposite.

As for me, things would’ve been different if I had held a little longer. I could’ve paved the way for new opportunities for myself. But nevertheless, being the spoilt brat I am 🙂 I’m sure God still plans better for me (probably a heavier cross 😛 ) and I have to learn from my mistakes. So the moral of the lesson is, no matter what, hold on tight to that Cross! Do NOT give up! God sees things differently, actually He even sees the brighter side of Black. When He says in Jeremiah 29, 11 that He has planned something good for us, believe it as you believe that you are alive! So if you ever think of giving up, just remember,

Stand Firm! Dig In and Dig Deeper!” 😀

All the best!

Reserved for Clergy!

Few personal experiences that I had during my traveling, prompted me to write this post. The title of this post is a common slogan found approximately in all the buses in Sri Lanka. Two seats are reserved for the clergy of all religious denominations, considering it to be a right of the Clergy. Okay, now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the transport systems in a blog that should be talking about theology. True enough, but what disturbed me was not the fact that people were not willing to give the seat for the Non-Buddhist clergy, but the failure of our own Christian people to understand the difference/similarity of the Catholic Clergy and Religious.

To give a clearer picture, let me explain what I witnessed. Some of my colleagues, who are Religious traveled in the bus after classes. During the evening hours, the buses are crowded, so getting a seat is almost like finding for water in the desert. But you would think that it’s a piece of cake for the Religious right? Well sadly, NO! I was quite disappointed of the attitude of the people towards the Nuns after my first experience of this scenario. The bus conductor either had to ask someone to offer a seat or if the conductor was a Christian, he prefers not to speak up and instead does a better favour by not taking the ticket money from the Religious.

Before proceeding further, for those who are not aware of the different meanings of the terms Clergy and Religious, the simplest definition I can provide is, the former refers to the Priests and the latter refers to the Nuns, Brothers, Monks, etc; In the Sri Lankan context, it is easier for a Priest to get a seat compared to a Nun. But why so? And no, the answer is not because the society is still patriarchal. When it comes to Buddhism, there’s no differentiation! Patriarchal or Matriarchal, female Buddhist monks are considered to have the same rights as the male Buddhist monks. I personally think, this is the problem of our perception. For years, we have been considering the priests to be of a higher pedestal compared to the nuns. Hence our first priority is always towards the clergy. But what is the difference between the two? Why is one considered to be of a higher rank than the other?

I used to be one among the many who thought that, clergy ought to receive a higher priority than religious, till I followed the module Consecrated Life and Theology of the Laity. In reality, there’s no difference between the vocations of the clergy and religious. Both are called by the same, One God and they lead a Consecrated Life. And if there were to be any differentiation, then I think the Nuns would beat the Priests to it. This is because only Nuns get an opportunity to be “Sponsa Christi – Bride of Christ. They get a chance to sign their consent, at the altar. Both Clergy and Religious fall into the category of Consecrated Life. Together, they bring out different colours and flavours of the Church and offer their services accordingly. The different forms and charisms of this way of life is well explained in Pope John Paul II‘s Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life).

So next time, if you travel by bus and happen to see a Nun who is standing, make sure that they get their right of sitting where they should sit. Because they will not fight for their rights due to their vows and humility, but as Laity, it is our duty to stand up for them and show the world that Priests and Nuns are equal. They differ only by their ministerial functions.