My jobs are: Chapel Librarian, MC (a simpler “behind the scenes” master of ceremonies), and Arts and Environment. Though not too complex, I have found each to be challenging and ultimately helpful.
I will briefly describe each job and how it challenged me before finally discussing how they have been helpful.
The chapel librarian is responsible for displaying the song numbers on the hymn board (including turning the board around right after Morning Prayer to prepare for Mass). He also sets out any extra song sheets or hymnals.
For the most part, he can prepare the night before by setting up the numbers and putting out the handouts for morning liturgies. The next day, he just turns the board to the appropriate side before Mass and later updates it for Evening Prayer.
This job is for one week at a time. For many, it might be easy. For others of us, getting all of the details correct can be a challenge. For me, remembering to turn the board around after Morning Prayer was probably the hardest.
The MC job also involves liturgical details.
He helps to organize the liturgies for the day by ensuring that all serving arrive on time, know what to do, and have the information they will need (prayers, readings, songs, etc.) in the place they will need it.
He can prepare the night before by placing tabs in the various books (Missal with prayers, Lectionary with readings, and hymnals) and setting them out in the chapel.
In the morning, he arrives about 30 minutes early for Morning Prayer and waits for the deacon and servers to check in. He brings the deacon’s intercessional prayers to the chapel. He then ensures all know the correct page numbers before we begin.
After Morning Prayer, the MC has about 5 minutes to ensure the main priest (celebrant) and the other priests (con-celebrants) know their parts and any other special instructions for Mass. He then gathers all for a prayer and signals to begin.
During Mass, he observes the servers to see if they need any guidance. At the end, he opens the doors for the procession and then gives encouragement or correction as needed.
The MC works for 2 days at a time every 3 weeks. Again, for some, it may be easy, but for others of us, it can feel like a lot. One specifically challenging part for me has been remembering to pass on last minute instructions.
The third job, arts and environment, is more low-key.
We are responsible for watering the flowers and plants on a regular basis. For flowers almost every day. For plants, once or twice per week. (We work for one week at a time a few times per semester.)
We also set up the decorations for certain events and holidays, especially Christmas when the whole house helps to put up and decorate trees, wreathes, and flowers, etc.
Not having worked with flowers, daily watering seemed unnecessary and was hard to remember. Then I saw the older seminarians doing it and asked if it mattered. “Yes and we’ll hear it if they die too soon.” Remembering got much easier.
So how have these jobs been helpful? In at least two ways thus far.
One, they have each helped me to better appreciate these details of parish life and those who attend to them.
I can now see how:
- Updated and accurate hymn numbers help us be able to sing the right songs
- Well-coordinated liturgies help the Mass to flow more prayerfully
- Arranged and watered flowers and plants help parishes to look more beautiful and alive
Second, the jobs have shown me that I can learn to remember these types of details.
After my first few months of a fair amount of forgotten tasks (even when trying to concentrate), I began to wonder if I would ever be able to remember what a priest needs to.
But with practice and appreciation (sometimes fear-induced), it seems that one can get accustomed to such details and that they even become second nature. Combine that with knowing the pitfalls, he can then better relax and perform.
My hunch is that the same may apply to similar aspects of the priesthood.