Written by Fr Nick Welsh
December 28, 2022
One of the strangest things about being a priest in the seminary is that we don’t work in a parish. For diocesan priests this is quite unusual since the normal work of a diocesan priest is parish work: to be in the midst of the people entrusted to him, caring for their spiritual needs, preaching the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments, visiting the sick, comforting the dying and the bereaved, joyfully celebrating baptisms and marriages, being involved in our school communities. In the seminary some of that takes place, but it is still very different. The seminary certainly is a place for living in the midst of the people entrusted to us – even more so than in the parish because we live in the same building. It is certainly a place for preaching the Word of God, but the only sacrament I would celebrate as vice rector would be the Eucharist. There’s no baptisms to be done, I can’t hear the confessions of the seminarians (the spiritual director is the only priest in the house who can), there are certainly no marriages to be celebrated, and given the youth of our seminarians, funerals are unlikely.
So how does a diocesan priest survive in an environment where so much of his ‘bread and butter’ is not available to him? At a recent meeting of Pope Francis with priests studying in Rome, he encouraged them to have some kind of pastoral activity on a Sunday; to get out of their colleges and have something much more like a normal Sunday as a priest. Whilst it is slightly different for us as seminary formators as our pastoral responsibility is the seminary community, it is also good for us to get out of the college and regularly experience something of a more typical Sunday for a priest. I say ‘typical’ rather than ‘normal’ because for us, as a seminary community, the in-house celebration of the Eucharist is normal; it is the norm for us as men either in formation or offering formation. It’s not odd that seminarians celebrate Mass in the College, it’s just different, and it is right that they do have Mass in the College, because the Mass, especially on a Sunday, is a time of formation, and the homily, especially, ought to be addressed to seminarians and their discernment and formation journey.
To experience that more typical Sunday Eucharist, each Sunday, one of the priests from the College will celebrate Mass in the local parish church, Santa Rosa da Viterbo. The local parish is a ten-minute walk from the College, along the via Santa Giovanna Elisabetta. Don Federico, the parish priest, along with the two curates don Pablo and don Paschal, have always been welcoming of the College and have been keen to have the priests involved in the life of the parish. And so each Sunday one of us will celebrate the 9am Mass. It’s the first Mass of the day and, whilst it tends to have an older congregation, there is a lively music group composed of around 20 sisters from a nearby convent who help raise our hearts and minds to God through their music and singing.
The real challenge of celebrating the Mass in the parish is preaching. Having to preach in a foreign language means that a bit more planning and time has to go into the homily, as well as a bit more of an appreciation of the cultural context and the political goings on in Italy. The people, however, seem to appreciate the homilies of the Scots priests, one advantage being that they tend to be much shorter than the others (Italian priests are known to preach for 20 to 25 minutes, even during the week!).
After Mass, we join a group of parishioners at a local bar (and bar has a different meaning in Italy – we’re not heading out for a pint at 10am!) for coffee and a cornetto. And it is here that I would say we feel very much part of the community of Santa Rosa;each week there is a fight to pay, each person keen to take care of the bill; each week people make enquiries into life in Scotland, asking after previous College staff members who used to celebrate Mass for them; each week jokes and banter often lost on us foreigners.
All of it reminds us of our typical Sunday in a parish in Scotland, which one day we will return to. And all of it reminds us of the universality of the Church; that I can show up in a parish in a foreign country and, even though the language is different, the Mass is the same, the welcome is the same, all because of one thing: the Faith is the same!