About A “Manual For Priests” (1968)

I GLANCED at the clock. To my surprise, I found that I had been talking for nearly an hour; that in that time I had outlined a book, carefully picked out a good easy-to-read bold-face type, and as carefully selected some material to go into that book. In the instant of realization Father McDonald, S.S.J.E., looked at me very seriously, then grinned, and said, “All right, it’s up to you to get that book out.” I was still in shock when Father left; his good-bye was “Now get going!”

It took four whole days to rebuild the front stairs in the old Mission House on Bowdoin Street, Boston, after I had completely wrecked them coming down the quickest way, heavy metal file in my right hand, big heavy suitcase in my left. But it took several times four months to rebuild me! After three months on fracture boards in hospital, I was moved to the then tiny priest’s apartment just off the sacristy of Saint Anne’s Convent Chapel, in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts.

The Sisters took wonderful care of me as their Chaplain, but the future seemed very much less than bright. Then Father McDonald came out to see me. First he heard my confession and got me back into a state of grace. Then we had a little visit, which Father conducted rather skillfully. We began by speaking of problems we had encountered in ministering to hospital patients; then the difficulties sometimes met in finding the right forms for particular ministrations; of certain things well presented in books long out of print and now difficult to obtain; that there was no longer a book in print that had all that was needed under one cover. Then it was that Father said to me, “Get that book out.” Long ago I had learned that it was much simpler not to argue with Father McDonald; after all, you would end up doing what he wanted done! But was I really the person to do the job? I thought not. But then, it would not be published in any case; and it would be really good to have something to take my mind off myself!

And so I began. First of all, certain things every parish priest needed in his business. These I carefully listed. As then Chairman of our Department of Publications I had heard from Chaplains who had special needs. Then there were priests serving the foreign-born. For some of them I had unearthed some urgently needed special blessings. A search of my files brought out the fact that some preliminary work had already been done.

At first, I was only able to put in half an hour a day. Later I was able to add fifteen minutes in the afternoon. The great day came when I was able to work a total of one hour. That day, Father Williams, S.S.J.E., my then Superior, came out to see me.

“What are you and Father Mac up to?”

“Oh, we’re just doing a bit of plotting.”

“Boy, come clean! I’m your Father Superior, and I have a right to know!”

“You certainly do have that right. It’s just a wonderful piece of busy work. The grand thing about it is that I can’t think of pains and rubrics in the same instant. Take today. For sixty whole minutes I was quite unable to think about how much I hurt.” And I told him the whole story of Father Mac’s visit, and the blessing it had brought me.

“Let me see what you have done.” I handed him the folder of completed copy.

“Don’t tell me this is all,” he said, after reading the packet.

“No indeed; that is only what has been completed. Here is a list of other things yet to be done, which really belong to the core of such a compilation. Then I think we would need what is on this list; perhaps, if the book were to be done for publication, things on this other list should be carefully considered. But I don’t see it being published.”

He looked over the lists very carefully, then reread the completed portion. “Father, you are under obedience to publish. Get going.” Thus began one of the most interesting years of my life. A small four-page flyer, announcing A MANUAL FOR PRIESTS, was sent out to bishops and clergy all over the country, together with heads of Diocesan Altar Guilds. Many advance orders came in, together with many special requests from the clergy. Every request was carefully considered; if three priests cared enough to ask for one specific thing, we could be sure that there were a minimum of two dozen who wanted just that item. Once the book was out, this was clearly shown. For every special request inserted, we received an average of thirty letters of thanks.

I remember vividly one particular request. A most pleasant young priest from Nebraska blew in one afternoon. “I’m specially interested in Holy Unction, and I want to see what you are doing with it.”

We went over the relevant galleys with great care. “This is all very good, so far as I can see; but I wonder if you would add something for me?”

“What would help you?”

“As you know, I come from the Bible Belt. My little Mission is made up of individuals, rather than families. In ministering to my people when they are sick, I have to give the Bible reference for every thing I do before their relatives will allow me to go on. Of course I know the references in Saint Mark and Saint James, but not every young priest stationed in a place like mine will have them at the tip of his tongue!”

Together we found just the right spot for Saint Mark 6:13 and Saint James 5:14-15, and there they have been ever since. The young priest was right; there were many Thank You notes for the references.

The book went everywhere. It was a textbook in Departments of Pastoral Theology in some of our seminaries. Nor has its usefulness been confined to Episcopalians. One of the most appreciative users was a Baptist clergyman who lived in Maine. Moravians, Methodists and Presbyterians have valued it; Missouri Synod Lutherans have given the book a warm welcome.

Portions of the book have been translated into Spanish, French, Old Norse (for clergy of the Icelandic Lutheran Church) several Filipino dialects and several of the American Indian tongues.

The book has gone through four editions since 1944, and a fifth edition is now being printed by the Riverside Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book has never been a presentation of what the Editor thinks the clergy ought to have; the thing that makes the Manual useful is that clergy of all schools have told the Editor what they want and need. With each edition there has been a careful scrutiny of proposed new matter; sometimes two suggestions have been combined to make a better third thing.

New features of this forthcoming fifth edition include some new blessings, including The Blessings of a Space Craft; a collection of Various Prayers, ranging in time from Mozarabic Spain (A Prayer for the New Year) to A Prayer for Nursing Homes, A Prayer for Worker Priests and Deacons, and A Prayer for Explorers in Outer Space. There are collection of Ecumenical Graces and Ecumenical Blessings. We hope that the new Index of Prayers will be helpful to many.

The Editor deeply grateful to wise counsellors, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and lay-folk who have helped with the making of this book through the years. I am even more grateful to my Superiors, past and present, for the privilege of having a part in the service of so many of my brethren in the sacred ministry through the editing of this book. May God bless all the users of the Manual most richly; I hope they will remember me at God’s Altar as I pray daily for them.

—Earle Hewitt Maddux, S.S.J.E., in Cowley, Vol. 39, No. 4, 1968, pp. 125-131.

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