Week 15

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apparently, last week some folks thought I was all wet. I can't imagine how anyone could get that idea, but just to be sure I stayed dry, I decided to drive to today's parish, which is 40 minutes from where I live. It didn't matter, actually, as the day was picture perfect though rather chilly-- but still a nice day for a drive, so hop into the Studebaker, drop the convertible top, and let's see what's out there. Engage!

The building is a squarish structure with plenty of parking. It probably dates from the 1960's or 1970's, but I again forgot to check the cornerstone. Now, that's a good reason to get married-- I can delegate that responsibility to my wife. Then I can say, "My wife again forgot to check the cornerstone," conveniently forgetting that I always forgot to check it myself. Be sure to remind me about that when the time comes. :)

Inside is found "in the round" seating surrounding kind of a small sanctuary. The pews are wooden benches with kneelers and continuous book racks on the backs (meaning that the parish has considerable flexibility to change the style of what's placed there). The racks are sparsely filled with Paluch missalettes and some illustrated booklets intended for children. The walls are lined not only with traditional depictions of the Stations of the Cross, but coats of arms for the twelve apostles. A typical tabernacle is located in the traditional location at the center of the rear wall of the sanctuary (I had no trouble spotting it as I entered). Over that is a medium-sized traditional crucifix with a bronzed figure of Christ. The altar is freestanding but not "temporary," as it looked to be of substantial marble or stone. The priest's chair is off to the right of the altar. Small horizontal strips of stained-glass windows are located near the tops of the walls. A "book of remembrance" rests on the steps of the sanctuary.

I arrived about five minutes before the 8:30 AM Mass. This parish is in a very wealthy area, so I figured that maybe I'd meet a rich young lady, but that didn't happen. I should make more of an effort to arrive earlier so that the young ladies will spot me and sit near me. (A bit of extra prayer before the Blessed Sacrament won't hurt, either.) The priest, a deacon, three altar servers, a reader, and two lay ministers of the Eucharist processed through the center aisle to the hymn "Blest are They." As everyone assembled in the sanctuary, I quickly noticed that everyone was wearing a robe of some sort with no exceptions. That's something I haven't seen. (I keep thinking I've seen it all, but...) I've seen several choirs that used robes, and I think I may have seen robed EM's on occasion, but I've never seen a reader or a cantor (at a non-choir Mass) wearing a robe. While it eliminates the problem of inappropriate dress for these liturgical ministers (perhaps the pastor had a problem at some point and got annoyed but wanted a diplomatic way to solve it) it does also obscure the distinction between the ordained priesthood and the laity. Also contributing to this is that all these lay people remained in the sanctuary for the entire Mass. Don't write off this parish yet, though; a surprise is in store.

The Confeitor was recited, followed by a recited Gloria. The readings apparently were from the new Lectionary, and the psalm was the one for the day. The deacon read the Gospel. The priest then ventured into the congregation to give a short homily. He used a corded microphone that normally rests on a stand in the sanctuary, but the cord is long enough that he was able to get about five to ten rows into the pews.

One thing he mentioned is that the Mass is the "unbloody sacrifice of Calvary," which made me start to think some good things about him-- that's language not often heard today outside catechisms. He also reminded us that we are "receiving Jesus" in Holy Communion, which I presume was his way of emphasizing the Real Presence, which would be commendable as well. He explained that repeating an action often can make it seem mechanical, so we have to work hard to remember what we're doing. Regular Mass attendance should change us, so if we race to beat everyone else to the parking lot, something's wrong.

At the end of the homily, he asked if anyone had any questions. One woman obliged him and asked a question that I could not hear; the priest said a few quick words about the sacraments of initiation, but I'm not sure exactly what the woman asked or what the answer was. He tried to prod some more questions from us, but it was still early, and he decided that we must be hungry, looked at his watch, and jokingly threatened to do a 22-minute Mass one day. He also said, "Imagine if anyone is here for the first time; they're probably saying, 'What kind of priest is this?'" Yes, he's a mind-reader!

After the Creed and the Prayer of the Faithful, the collection was taken. The ushers used long-handled baskets, which I kind of like because they're efficient. During the collection, several announcements were read. That's something else I've never seen; announcements are almost always at the very beginning of Mass or just before the Prayer after Communion. It did keep me from having to sing while balancing a hymnal or missalette and waiting for the basket to pass, though. After the announcements, the offertory hymn sung was "Prayer of St. Francis."

The settings for the sung Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were not from the Mass of Creation. I guess even Marty Haugen is entitled to a day off now and then. I don't know which setting was used; I guess I should have asked the organist or cantor after Mass. In my parish, it's printed on the cover of the bulletin each week, which isn't a bad idea. The second Eucharistic Prayer was used, and the Our Father was recited without any joining of hands.

At Communion time, two priests appeared to assist with distributing Holy Communion. I wondered why, as I saw that the priest had consecrated only enough of the Precious Blood for himself. The building wasn't that big, and not that many people were there-- but wait, there's more, as they say on TV. After distribution of Communion began I noticed that people were kneeling before an altar rail! Apparently, most of the distribution on the right side was at the altar rail, while on the left were the more common lines. Since I was on the right, I decided to receive at the rail, where the celebrant was distributing in the same manner I found at St. Agnes in Manhattan-- the only other parish I can recall that still uses the altar rail. (I have a vague memory of perhaps one other, but I'm not certain-- it could be that I went to St. Agnes twice, once in the chapel during renovations.) An altar server assisted with a paten. The Communion hymn was "Gift of Finest Wheat."

After Communion, the priest took the microphone again and went into the congregation, asking, "Anyone from out of town today?" I guess I should have volunteered, but I'm just not like that. Two others in the congregation went along with him, though, and he chatted with them a bit. Then he asked, "Any birthdays this week?" followed by, "Any anniversaries?" Then he told a joke (I guess he always does this) that I should have remembered but just can't. It might have been "Why does a deer have buck teeth?" or something like that. He managed to crack up everyone and then returned to the sanctuary, where he started joking with one of the altar servers, who started giggling along with him. He was unable to regain his composure until about halfway through the Prayer after Communion.

The closing hymn was "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Worth noting here is that someone in my old parish must really have liked this one, because we sang it very often there. I always hated it, but I could never quite put my finger on exactly why. By contrast, it is simply not used at all in my current parish. Someone here must really hate it. I had forgotten about it for many years until one day I thought about it and concluded that I really didn't miss it. We usually get lots better hymns than that, so why fret?

Like many others, I dislike labels too, and this Mass is a pretty good example of why; pinning a label on this one is a real poser. How can one not have something good to say about a Mass where the term "unbloody sacrifice" and the altar rail are used? On the other hand, why so many robes and jokes? This Mass is certainly "interesting" and I guess that's the best label I can manage.

Afterward, I went to obtain a bulletin from a nearby parish. The 9:00 AM Mass was in progress, and I entered towards the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest said the "concluding doxology" in these words: "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty God, forever and ever." Can anyone spot what's different? It's very a subtle change, and maybe it's not too obvious, but I guess I'm getting really picky (my mother used the word "observant"). Perhaps that's what happens after one has heard something thousands of times; even the slightest changes are noticeable. The priest changed the word "Father" to "God." The correct text is "...all glory and honor is yours almighty Father..." As I did last week, I shall leave the significance of that as an exercise for the reader. (It wasn't as bad as what another priest used to do-- he'd change all the instances of "him" to "Christ" which interested me the first time I heard it since I had never really thought about the meaning of "him"-- perhaps because it was in lower case-- but it was wrong.) I spent less than five minutes there and spotted something worth mentioning; if I keep going like that, ushers will toss me on my ear even before I get into the building!

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