Week 18

First Sunday of Lent

First, I should make a minor amplification to an earlier post in this series in which I said, "Somebody in our parish must really hate it," referring to the hymn "Let There Be Peace On Earth." I have since looked through the Worship and Gather hymnals used in our parish and did not find the hymn in either one; perhaps that's the only reason why it's not used.

I have been avoiding 8:00 AM Masses if they're the first Mass on Sunday morning, because the first Mass is often a "no music" Mass, and I feel strongly that all Sunday Masses should have some kind of music-- after all, as St. Augustine said, "He who sings, prays twice." Sunday should be the high point in our week when we do our utmost to lift our minds and hearts to God. However, I can understand the desire to simplify the liturgy slightly during Lent, even on Sunday, so for the six Sundays of Lent, I'm going to take a chance on some of these 8:00 AM Masses I've been overlooking until now.

Our next stop is a parish about forty minutes from here by bus. The building bears a 1963 cornerstone, which makes it almost the same age as I am, so I was happy to see it in reasonably good shape. It's basically a fairly large rectangle with short extensions on either side of the sanctuary. Three aisles separate the four sections of pews in the main part of the building. The two center sections have long pews that can probably seat about 16 comfortably, and the two short side sections, directly against the side walls, probably hold only four or so in each pew. The extensions also have pews. A new marble altar stands in front of what must have been the original altar, and it matches the style of the older one well. The altar rail remains (with gates), although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it never saw much use; another year or two after 1963 it might have been omitted from the design entirely. The interior is basically light blue with heavy, white, colonial-type mouldings. The tabernacle has been relocated to the side altar of Our Lady. The large marble ambo matches the altars and has several steps leading to it. The windows are of stained glass. A bare wooden cross hangs in the center of the sanctuary; it appears that the figure of Christ has been removed (I guess for Lent).

The traditional wooden pews were stocked with OCP missalettes and hymnals in plastic covers. Also found in the pews, in plastic leaflet holders, were pledge cards for the Bishop's Annual Appeal, envelopes for the Stewardship program, and "welcome" cards for new parishioners, who are to complete them and drop them in the collection so that they can be registered. When I saw those, I said, "that's a nice way to start," but as I write this later, I wonder if it ends there too. If it does, it may not be enough; a welcoming telephone call from the right person (who is kind enough to know when to end the conversation if the new parishioner isn't interested in talking) is probably appropriate.

I arrived at about 7:40 AM for the 8:00 AM Mass. It wasn't apparent at first, but by the time the Mass was to begin, I could not help but notice that almost everyone sat on the left side of the center aisle-- the ratio was probably more than ten to one. I was almost all alone on the right; I guess this must have been a very liberal parish. Well, at least I didn't have to worry about anyone hugging me. :)

The Mass began with the reader introducing it, followed by the priest appearing with two altar servers. (I don't recall if they actually had a procession; they may have just walked from the sanctuary.) He asked us to kneel as he did before the altar, and the organist, who doubled as cantor and served from the choir loft, sang the Kyrie with invocations that I believe were the Latin, "Adoremus te Domine" followed by the English, "Lord/Christ, have mercy." The usual opening greeting and the remainder of the penitential rite was omitted; the opening prayer followed immediately.

The readings must have been from the new Lectionary. The organist read the verses to the responsorial psalm but sang the responses; however, he omitted the three middle responses, leaving just one at the start and one at the end of the psalm. The homily was good; in it, the priest concentrated heavily on the readings. He first pointed to the massive amount of suffering in the world and wondered why some people (particularly those in seminaries) would so easily accept the notion of God, a good being of higher power than us but have such a hard time accepting the existence of an evil, higher power-- Satan. He then explained very plainly that Satan does exist, saying that Satan didn't simply disappear after he was dismissed by Jesus. He recalled Flip Wilson's Geraldine character, whose trademark line was, "The devil made me do it," and explained that nobody, even the devil, can force us to do anything, although temptation is constant and relentless. Like Jesus, we don't have to win an argument with Satan but just have to cast him aside. The priest continued, suggesting that we may want to substitute the word "test" for "temptation" and look to see what we might do to strengthen our spiritual nature so that we can pass whatever tests come our way. He developed these themes considerably, but his rapid delivery kept it from seeming like a particularly long homily.

After the Creed and the Prayer of the Faithful, a collection was taken; the ushers used long-handled baskets. The offertory hymn, in OCP's Music Issue was "Change Our Hearts;" almost nobody apart from the organist was singing. The priest used a chalice of smoked glass. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, Our Father, and Agnus Dei were all recited. The Eucharistic Prayer was the first one for a Mass of Reconciliation. The priest broke the oversized Host in half at the consecration. At the sign of peace, he came into the pews to offer several of us along the center aisle (including me) a personal sign of peace, which was kind of nice since I wasn't close enough to anyone else to shake hands. (Not deliberate, I emphasize, as I got there well before most others.) At the Fractus, he further divided the oversized Host into many smaller pieces to include with those distributed to the congregation.

A priest and six lay ministers assisted with the distribution of Holy Communion. Large, flat metal ciboriums with depressed centers and large rims were used. The cup was offered as well. The Communion hymn was "Servant Song." After Communion, all the lay ministers stood around the tabernacle until the assisting priest closed the doors, and they all genuflected at once. I liked this; it gave everyone a clear signal when to sit and made it look as though these lay ministers were trained well. Then four of the lay ministers stood before the altar and received an informal blessing before they departed to take Communion to the sick and homebound.

The priest made two short announcements before ending the Mass; a special box in the bulletin indicates that no announcements except those pertaining to "spiritual events" will be made during Lent. (The boilerplate on the cover also warns that no baptisms or weddings will be performed during Lent.) The first announcement dealt with a book fair; the second was that "greeters" would now be stationed at the doors after Mass. (Actually, that sounds like a "farewell" rather than a "greeting.") The priest then asked for a round of applause for the greeters. No recessional hymn was sung; instead, the organist just played some soft music as the priest and the servers made their way through the center aisle. I then began the two-hour walk home.

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