I have a new chore at St. Michael Friary. Last week I was made responsible for the upkeep of the sacristy, the room next to our chapel where we store liturgical items. The bread and wine for Eucharist, the eucharistic vessels, the candles, the liturgical books, the incense, the vestments and linens, and more -- everything a Catholic community needs for divine worship. It is my responsibility to make sure the sacristy is orderly and fully supplied, and to prepare the chapel for Eucharist and other celebrations.
This is not a chore heavy on manual labor, but it requires attention to detail and an appreciation of the materiality of worship. God who is Spirit is everywhere and neither needs nor desires a fixed abode, but the people of God, being flesh and spirit, need a house of prayer in order to dispose themselves to the presence of God. Any place can make do provided we make it, with God's help, into a place where it is known to all that we come here in the name of the Lord. Behind every sanctuary is a good sacristy.
I hope to become a good sacristan. To now I have been shy around sacred vessels and church furnishings because I do not feel called to priesthood or sacramental leadership of Christian communities. Let those who are called to preside at the altar learn how to "set the table," so to speak. Such has been my attitude. But as a religious brother I will be viewed as a public figure in the Church, one with authority on all things Christian, including worship. I will be seen as a custodian of the liturgical traditions of the Church. Whether I want so to be seen or not, it will be the reality. Moreover, as the Second Vatican Council has taught us, all of the faithful have a right and responsibility to full, active, and conscious participation in worship. This requires a minimum degree of competence in liturgy from all, and certainly more from those who, uniquely consecrated to Christ through the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, are known as people of prayer. More and more I feel aware of the opportunity I have to bring my sisters and brothers to an encounter with the living God in worship. There is no good reason for religious not to get comfortable with churchy things.
So I will keep the cruets of water and wine filled. I will make sure the sanctuary lamp that keeps vigil over the tabernacle keeps burning. I will practice swinging the censer, letting my prayers mingle and rise with the holy smoke. I will wash and iron the linens and polish the vessels. I will set the table and serve. And I hope the people of God will come and be fed.