Priests’ Convocation will emphasize unity, liturgy

aymond    You held a Priests’ Convocation last year that met with great reviews, and you are going to hold another one this coming week.  Do you want to make this an annual gathering?
    I hoped last year that it would be such a good experience that the priests would want to continue meeting on an annual basis. That was the resounding message from the priests. They see this as a time for us to come together as brothers in ministry and spend time with one another in fraternity. It’s also a time for prayer and for continuing formation and education and to find encouragement from one another. Altogether, there are about 120 parishes and missions in which priests serve, and if you add in Catholic schools and other special ministries, it’s about 200 different locations. It is wonderful to come together as one presbyterate to pray, to be encouraged and to learn more about the ministry that we are doing.
    Will there be Masses in parishes during the Aug. 28-30 convocation?
    Most parishes will have their deacons or other ministers celebrate a Service of the Word and a Communion Service, but most will not celebrate Mass during this time. Some parishes might celebrate Mass if they have a retired priest who is available to fulfill that ministry. I realize this may be an inconvenience for people, but we only do this once a year, and I would ask the people of God in the archdiocese to understand how tremendously important and sacred these days are to our priests and to our vocations.
    What is the theme of this convocation?
    Actually, it’s broken up into three parts. I will lead off by giving a talk about the state of the archdiocese, which will take about an hour, and then I’ll address any questions. I’d like to outline some of the special projects, programs and works of evangelization that I am proposing to the priests for consideration.
    Secondly, we will look at our diversity as a presbyterate. We are diverse in age, culture, race and sometimes even in our ways of looking at the church. It is that diversity that can be a force that unites us. Last year we talked about cultivating unity and ways in which we could draw closer together. From those conversations, we identified a few areas where we were not as united as we could be, and we want to look at those areas this year and use this time to find a common ground based on Gospel values so that we can be more closely and more forcefully united to carry on the mission of Christ. Whenever you have 200 priests – 200 leaders – coming together, you’re bound to have, as you would in any family, different approaches, interests, gifts and cultural approaches. We want to respect that diversity and at the same time see how we can use that as a source of unity. We’ll do that through presentations and also by some work in groups. We want to come up with specific recommendations that we can implement over the next year.
    Thirdly, the convocation will help us continue the theme of this year, which was been a Year of Renewal for the Mass. We have asked people throughout the archdiocese to come to a better understanding of and appreciation for the Mass. We especially want those in ministry to recommit themselves to the ministry of serving as the presider at Mass. A Jesuit priest, Father Dennis Smolarski, has written a book entitled, “How Not To Say Mass,” and he will give us a presentation. Father Smolarski examines some common misunderstandings about the Mass and encourages priests to look at those things and to celebrate Mass as it is called for in the Roman Missal and in the rubrics. “Rubrics” comes from the Latin word for “red.” These were instructions to the priest printed in red type in the Roman Missal – not to be read out loud – that describes certain actions or gestures that the priest should use during various parts of the Mass. Certainly, all of our priests intend to celebrate Mass according to the rubrics, but sometimes we can fall into some habits or practices that we may need to look at and see if that really is fulfilling what the liturgy is intending. This also gives us an opportunity to look at the homily and understand how important it is for us to be prepared as the preacher at Mass.
    Were these themes reflected in last year’s feedback?
    Last year I thought the morale and spirit were very high. I considered it a very sacred time and also a time for lots of good fraternity. We took very seriously the recommendations from last year, and that’s what really moved the planning of this convocation. Next year, we will host a convocation not just for our priests but also for the priests of the entire state of Louisiana. Committees of priests in every diocese have been hard at work planning for that meeting.
    How important is it to have your priests’ support as you move into the challenging decisions that have to be made involving the strategic plan for Catholic schools?
    I need the support of our priests, and I honestly and humbly believe that I have their support. I always strive to be very open and transparent with them in discussing the concerns and challenges that I face. But when I face a challenge, it’s all of us who face the same challenge. We have to be united. I collaborate with many people in the archdiocese, but my closest collaborators are the priests. That’s rooted in our theology, which we find in the scriptures. The bishop has the priests as his first collaborators because they directly share in the ministry of the apostles and are his primary coworkers. So I ask everyone in the archdiocese to pray for us as we embark on this sacred time of spiritual reflection, education and inspiration.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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