Today's parish is located about 45 minutes from where I live. It is probably one of the the poorest parishes in the diocese, yet its weekly collection is about the same as the one in my own parish, which is in a more affluent area. Still, it is in reasonably good repair. It must date from the 1960's, as it is a very large but simple auditorium-style building. The large, clear windows go from the peaked ceiling about two-thirds of the way to the floor. The lower walls and the sanctuary wall are of brown stone. The wooden pews are grouped into eight sections by a center aisle, side aisles, and a break about halfway back. The side sections are short, suitable for small families, whereas the center sections are somewhat longer and probably hold about twelve to sixteen people across. The OCP Today's Missal and Music Issue combination are stacked at the ends of the pews. The crucifix is suspended over the front of the sanctuary; it is a cross (pardon the pun, please) between a traditional crucifix and a figure of the Risen Christ, as it seems to show the crucified Christ but slightly elevated above the cross itself. It looks like another compromise borne of a spirited debate by a committee. The large, squarish, wooden ambo is at the left, slightly ahead of the marble altar. The celebrant's chair is to the left, behind the altar. The square, metal tabernacle is at the left where an old side altar may have been. Next to that is a ramp for handicapped access to the sanctuary. In the rear is a pair of what may be balconies that could have been for a choir, but I'm not certain. Currently, the choir and organist serve from the front right, where several rows of pews may have been removed.
I arrived at about 11:40 AM for the 11:45 AM choir Mass and selected a seat at the center of a pew about seven or eight rows back. The church was nearly empty when I arrived; by the start of the Mass it was not much more than a quarter full. The cantor, who was seated among the nine or ten members of the choir, announced the opening hymn, "People, Look East." Three servers, the reader, the deacon, and the priest participated in the opening procession through the center aisle. The deacon led the invocations of Form C of the penitential rite.
The reader gave the first reading from the ambo without any innovations. The cantor then led the psalm for the day from the choir section, and then the reader gave the second reading. The Alleluia and verse before the Gospel were sung to a setting familiar to me. The deacon proclaimed the Gospel and then gave the homily. His main stress was, "Are you ready for Christmas?" and an exhortation against materialism, which almost always leaves us unfulfilled no matter how many possessions or toys we have. He noted also that an interesting observation about today's Gospel is that the people who go to see John the Baptist are not the scribes or Pharisees or other learned people; it is the sinners of the time who approach him for baptism-- probably because they are the ones Jesus will later call to follow HIm. Another interesting observation the deacon made is that the rose-colored chasuble worn by the priest mixes the purple of Advent with the white of the *upcoming* (emphasis mine) Christmas season.
The Creed was recited rather quickly (the priest seemed to rush at many points), and then the deacon led the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. An RCIA candidate was dismissed at this point just before a collection taken using long-handled wicker baskets and the offertory hymn, "Maranatha (I) by a "G. Westphal," according to the missalette, which like last year at this time, also had another hymn of the same name by a different composer. This hymn was sung to piano accompaniment; I think all the other hymns were sung to organ accompaniment.
The chalice was of glass; the paten appeared to be a ceramic dish. A square crystal flagon held additional wine. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the third Eucharistic Prayer, substituting "from the rising to the setting of the sun" for "from east to west" as many priests seem to do when they use that Eucharistic Prayer. The Our Father was recited; this probably would be a hand-holding parish if enough people were at Mass, as most of those who were close enough did join hands. Fortunately, most people were too scattered to consider it, and I was in no danger.
At Holy Communion, six lay ministers assisted the priest and deacon in distribution at conventionally located stations at the front and break. The chalice was offered. The organist played a Christmas carol while the choir received; this was followed by a hymn whose name escaped me as I think I was just about to receive Communion myself when (and if) it was announced.
After Communion, a second collection was taken in the same manner as the first. Then the priest started talking for several minutes about various matters, including the schedule of Christmas Masses and other things discussed in the bulletin. Then he offered the closing prayer and imparted a solemn blessing. The closing hymn was "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; the priest was almost all the way down the aisle by the time it started, but nevertheless about half of those present remained for the two verses that we sang. As I left, I tried to look for a cornerstone, but rain was pouring on my head, and the cornerstone was definitely not in an obvious location, so I had to depart with a blank space in my report.
"Hey! You, there with the chain saw! What gives?"
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Why are you hacking away at our beautiful shubbery with that chain saw? How dare you destroy our carefully created landscaping!"
"How else is an itinerant worshipper supposed to determine when this structure was built?"
"You could have just asked, you know."
"Oh. I never considered that possibility. How clever..."