"What on earth is he scheming now?" began the murmurs from the audience. "It's not bad enough we have to endure these pieces on Sundays and some holy days, but now a weekday? And what does 'MM Tour' mean?"
Well, I finally convinced my boss that the time had come to take a vacation, and he agreed that two weeks would be appropriate. The only thing left was to decide where to go-- but where does a fellow like me go on a vacation? A tourist trap? Theme park? Cruise on a luxury liner? White-water rafting? Elk hunting?
Why, of course-- the obvious thing to do is just to drive around the good ol' USA visiting churches. Thus, the birth of the "What I did on Sunday Magical Mystery Tour" (for Beatles fans), or perhaps the "WIDOS Millennium Tour" (thanks to Leanna for that suggestion; "MM" of course, is the Roman numeral for 2000).
We start by driving down I-81 through Virginia late Monday night. The map doesn't show too many large cities, so the sensible thing to do is to start looking in those that do cross my path. I exited the highway and stopped at a pay phone to call 1-800-MASSTIM (http://www.masstimes.org) to find at least the location of a church. One was right in this town, but the only daily Mass was at 12:10 PM, and I didn't want to have to hang around that town until after lunch. The next closest church was twenty minutes away in the wrong direction, and the daily Mass time was not given. I drove past the first church anyway just to get a look; it was an old stone church that looked interesting, but in the absence of a sign indicating an earlier Mass, I decided to head for the next large city on I-81.
There, I stopped again to obtain the two nearest churches. The first, again, was right in town, but the daily Mass schedule was not given. The next, again, was twenty minutes in the wrong direction with no schedule given for daily Mass. (Mass Times is a bit weak on daily Mass schedules.) Hoping to find a sign, I drove past the first church and managed to find the church despite the garbled instructions of the synthesized voice, but the sign had only the weekend schedule. Since it was about 11:30 PM, I decided to stay anyway and take my chances.
I awakened at 5:50 AM and really didn't get back to sleep, so after I was ready to leave, I just headed over to the church and hoped I'd get lucky and find an 8:30 or 9:00 AM Mass. I got slightly lost and made it there at just about 8:30; someone else was entering, so that was a good sign. When I got inside, I saw a reader sitting in the sanctuary, gifts were on a table in the aisle, and about a dozen people were sitting in the pews. That was another good sign, and believe it or not, the Mass started right after that! I want everyone to remind me of this the next time things don't go too well. I don't think I could have been much more fortunate.
The church, which sits at the top of a hill, bears a dual cornerstone reading "1850" on one corner and "1895" on another. It has a stone exterior with traditional, arched, stained-glass windows. To get to the only entrance, one climbs a long flight of stone-lined steps with a split in the middle for a bit of a garden. The inside has been slightly renovated, but the original main altar and side altars with reredos remain, and the tabernacle is still at the center of the sanctuary in its original location. On the other hand, the first five or six rows of pews were removed in order to pull the freestanding altar forward; an organ and piano are at the left, while about five rows of individual wooden seats are at the right. The new, wooden altar is small and squarish. The wooden ambo is at the left, while a tiny cantor's lectern is at the far right, to the right of the celebrant's chair. Over the original domed sanctuary hangs a huge, traditional, painted, ceramic crucifix, and the sanctuary lamp hangs from that. The Stations of the Cross are painted sculptures in square frames. The ceiling is full of smaller arcs which end in what in some churches would become columns that fall into the pews, but these just hang a bit. The wooden pews are upholstered and comfortable; the kneelers are among the heaviest I've ever lifted. A choir loft with a huge pipe organ remains, but with the music section at the front, I'm not sure the loft sees much use. Racks in the pews hold the GIA Worship/Gather II combination along with paperback copies of the St. Joseph Sunday Missal, and a few copies of the Paluch Seasonal Missalette were stacked by the center aisle, probably for daily Mass.
The Mass was fairly straightforward; the priest handled things by himself with no servers. He led us in the antiphons and the seldom-used Form B of the penitential rite; he gave no homily. During the Prayer of the Faithful, several people offered their own intentions. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. Two people (probably a husband and wife) joined hands at the Our Father-- the rest of us were probably too scattered. The priest distributed Holy Communion on his own using that tiny chalice/paten combination whose name I now forget but which I'd like to see used more often as it provides a decent way to distribute by intinction. After Communion, a woman's children marred the silence by running around the back of the church, talking, and otherwise making noise. After the final blessing and dismissal, the priest led the recitation of the St. Michael prayer.
Afterward, I was even able to find a lone bulletin stuffed in a kneeler in a small chapel underneath the choir loft, despite all the other bulletins' apparently having been removed. God was really looking after me today for some reason. Then when I looked in the bulletin, it said over this week's Mass intentions that this week's schedule is different than usual-- and the usual one shows only a 5:30 PM Mass on Tuesday. Also, this week, on Monday and Wednesday, the parish had no daily Mass at all! I often joke about people making changes just for me, even though nobody knows I'm coming-- but then again, Somebody always knows, I guess.
The only dark spot is that Fr. Benedict Groeschel is giving a parish mission at this parish starting Saturday. It looks like a big event too-- parking lots closed, visitors from neighboring parishes, and so on. Now, I'd just love to see him-- but it's time to leave. I can't stay too long in one place!