When I was a transitional Deacon I worked in a restaurant. The significance wasn’t lost on me. The commissioning of the seven was read at my ordination, complete with that lovely line “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables.” (Acts 6:2)
I’m not much for literalism, but it was fitting to say the least.
Service industry work is hard. Its taxing physically and emotionally, and so, almost by necessity, Industry workers form this weird kind of closeness. You’re getting into work when the rest of the world is getting ready to go out for the evening. You’re getting off when the rest of the world is asleep. The people you get to know and get to love are the people who share your hours, and who share your stories. It’s weird and lovely and transitional and heartbreaking. Some people thrive on it. Some people just pass through. Some do it because they have to.
In a lot of ways its what the Church should be. Diverse people, all of whom are a little fucked up, uniting around a shared life, shared food, shared drink.
When I transferred to full time parish ministry it was a bit of a shock. I missed the sense of shared purpose. I missed the late night beer and bitching. There was a lot of temerity about sharing too much. About being too loud. About being too open. Eventually that wore off. Things started to open up. Folks started asking me to be a priest, but it still wasn’t quite the same.
One day I started looking through the Sacristy, just to take stock of what we had and what we needed to order. Hanging on a plastic hangar, buried behind unused acolyte albs was a set of maniples. It was pretty obvious that they had been hand sewn (the stitching was a bit rough) and there was one for every liturgical color.
I’ve made it a practice to pray while I’m vesting. I use the old Tridentine formulas that I taped to the door of the wardrobe in the sacristy. I always just skipped the prayer for the maniple, but now that I had some I figured I’d try them on for a few Sundays and see how they felt. I’d just run a small, mostly harmless experiment.
Putting on the maniple felt remarkably familiar, and remarkably right. It felt diaconal. It felt like I was getting ready to serve. Of all the vestments reserved for ordination, that’s the one that grounded me. It told me what I was there to do. I had a towel back on my arm. The rest of the vestments felt new and weird, but I could make sense of a towel on my arm.
When I started praying the vesting prayer for the maniple it added another dimension.
“Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.
May I deserve, Lord, to bear the maniple of tears and sorrow; that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.”
That towel was there for wiping tears. My tears? The congregations tears? It doesn’t say. We can be overly pious and say that the maniple originated in a handkerchief used to dry the tears of priests who burst out crying at the sight of the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe. I’ve said Mass with tears in my eyes once or twice. I think there’s more to it than that, though. For better or worse we wear the sorrow of our people on our sleeve. We wear our sorrow on our sleeve.
Or at least we used to.
What I loved about the Industry is what I want people to love about the Church. I want us to work hard, and then come to a place where we get to be ourselves. Where we get to come together for something that’s bigger than us. For somethings that’s meaningful and gives us life. No pretense. Just community.
This isn’t some Church-as-the-bar-from-Cheers metaphor. Its not about “everyone knowing your name.” Its about a group of people with a common life, coming together day after day and bringing all of themselves to the table.
Someone has to set the table. Someone has to serve.
If not using a vestment means forgetting that this is the exact reason why we ordain clergy, then lets wear the vestment.
(Or not. Because Adiaphora.)