Week 20

Third Sunday of Lent

I still had some "A" cards from last week, so today I drove 40 minutes to a parish bearing a 1964 cornerstone. I had not looked for it on my way into the building, but the parking lot was in the rear and the cornerstone was in the front, so I would not have seen it anyway. Maybe that's why I forget so often. In fact, I had to drive past the now unused front entrance, exit the car, and peer over a small hedge to read the date. However, most traces of the 1964 design are gone, so the cornerstone isn't too relevant anyway this one week when I made a determined effort to find it. (Oh, well.)

The building is a simple rectangle with a raised roof and wooden arches inside and was probably typical of its era when it was built. The auditorium in my old parish, built around the same time, is very similar apart from the flat roof. This church appears to have undergone a 1980's-style renovation (as did the auditorium in my old parish) which rotated the pews into a semi-circle around the new sanctuary on one side of the building. In fact, here they went a step further and slightly pushed out a section of the old side wall behind the new sanctuary and added a small peak to the roof there. It couldn't have been like that originally; the old choir loft, a dead giveaway, remains over the original main entrance. The original sanctuary, now just an indentation on the left side covered with banners, is not obvious but is evident to a careful observer. Stained glass windows with abstract designs remain (although one panel must have been removed for the new sanctuary, which now has a circular window over it).

A medium-sized traditional crucifix hangs on the wall behind the new sanctuary; a violet cloth (obviously for Lent) was stretched across the wall, obscuring most but not all of the crucifix. Also, three small cactus plants were on the steps of the sanctuary (I guess signifying a Lenten desert). The altar consists of two glass or marble planes slightly elevated on short spindles over a wooden box with decorative graining and some moulding. The matching ambo is to the left of the altar but further back. A cantor's lectern is slightly to the left of the sanctuary, and a theater-style section of seats was created for the choir (which does not serve at this Mass).

As I entered about 7:50 for the 8:00 AM Mass, I looked for the tabernacle but was unable to locate it and decided it that was in the adoration chapel located in the adjacent convent as a sign outside points to that chapel. I selected a seat but noticed that no hymnals were anywhere near despite the racks in the wooden pews and remembered that they were on a cart by the main entrance (getting a hymnal is never on my mind as I enter but the cart did register subconsciously). I started toward the door but noticed that a few pews did have a hymnal, so I went into another pew several rows back to get one when two people moved in alongside me. I didn't want them to think that I had something against sitting next to them, so I reluctantly remained in the new location. Then I looked around and noticed the tabernacle, in another chapel (perhaps used for daily Mass) behind a screen in the original lobby underneath the old choir loft. (The old main entrance is now an emergency exit only; probably nobody ever used it anyway as all the parking is in the rear.)

The entrance hymn was "Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days." Three servers accompanied the priest and deacon in the entrance procession down the center aisle. Form C of the penitential rite was recited with invocations read by the deacon. This parish uses OCP's Breaking Bread without the readings, so I don't know which Lectionary was used but the readings are familiar to me and were read in slightly unfamiliar language, so I'm guessing that it was the new one. One reader proclaimed the first reading and a different reader handled the second reading-- which is probably a good idea when formally, canonically installed lectors are not used. The responsorial psalm was the one for the day and the cantor sang it from the ambo, which is a notable detail as she sang everything else from the lectern (as it probably should be, since the psalm is Scripture).

When the deacon began to read the Gospel, I could not help but notice the priest hovering over him, and I was wondering why on earth he was doing that. Then the priest began to read the words of Jesus in the Gospel, in the style of Passion Sunday. Oh. Afterward, he gave a fairly decent homily. He started by mentioning that he tried to get into shape twenty years ago by running and noted how important hydration is to athletes (but also to everyone) and went from there into relating that to the Gospel story, in which water-- life-- plays a key role.

After the Creed, the Prayer of the Faithful was offered with petitions recited by one of the readers and a sung response ("O Lord, hear us, hear our prayer.") led by the cantor. The final petition was for "all those on our prayer list and..." followed by about fifteen or twenty more names, which seemed to negate the main purpose of having a prayer list printed in the bulletin. At the offertory, a collection was taken using unhandled baskets passed across the rows. The offertory hymn was "On Eagle's Wings." The three servers prepared the altar by placing a linen over it, among other things. As the gifts were brought to the altar, an usher presented the large basket containing the collection, and the priest said an inaudible prayer over it. As the priest prepared the bread and the wine, I noticed that his traditional chalice appeared to be about as big as the glass pitcher of wine and wondered if he couldn't have used just the chalice instead of both.

The Sanctus was sung to a setting I know but am unable to name. The Eucharistic Prayer was that of a Mass of Reconciliation. After the consecration, instead of one of the four approved Memorial Acclamations, the first verse of "We Remember" was sung. The Great Amen was sung to the setting that goes, "Praise to You, Lord, Amen."

At the Our Father, which was recited, all the ushers quickly moved forward to the front row and joined hands with those there, forming an obvious circle around the sanctuary. The priest and deacon as well as many others also joined hands; I was fortunate, however, as those to my left and right seemed indifferent. (I had been wishing that I were in the pew I originally selected, as through the entire Mass it was totally empty from left to right, about twelve to fifteen people across.)

The Agnus Dei was sung with English invocations offered by the cantor alone, followed by Latin responses in a setting I knew. Actually, the English and the Latin separately each constituted the entire prayer. (Cantor: Jesus, Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world; have mercy on us. All: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, misere nobis.) After the Fractus, the priest improvised kind of poorly, beginning with "Here is Jesus..." which kinds of waters down things, and as is usual when priests do this, nobody really knew when he was finished, so nobody offered the response until he began it for us.

Six lay ministers assisted the priest and deacon as they distributed Communion. The center aisle was used for return instead of approach, which surprised me. Two stations were located to the left and two to the right (on the 45 degree lines from the center), and the cup was also offered at each station. It's not an obvious arrangement (almost everyone would start with two stations at dead center) but it makes sense. The Communion hymn was "We Remember" which forces me to ask, "why twice in the same Mass?" It really didn't belong as the Memorial Acclamation, and using it again just makes things worse. (It's not all that bad, actually, but nothing is so good that it's worth using twice.)

After Communion, everyone stood for the Prayer After Communion and promptly sat again for the announcements. (As I asked last week: what's wrong with announcements before the closing Prayer, when everyone is already seated?) Then everyone stood again for the final blessing, and the deacon ended the Mass with, "The Mass is ended; go forth to live the Mass." I'm tempted to say something about that but will leave it as an exercise for the reader. The closing hymn was "Jesus, Remember Me." Actually, that's not much of a hymn-- at my parish, it's used as a response in the solemn Prayer of the Faithful on Good Friday. Then again, perhaps nobody has any patience for anything longer than that at the end of Mass. Afterward, coffee and perhaps other refreshments (I tried to look but couldn't see) were served in a Hospitality Room located in the attached parish center (which I suspect to be a converted school) across a lobby from the church.

I thought about this parish and really sympathize with those who predate the 1960's. This building, as renovated, makes a statement. It says that almost everything done before 1970 was wrong-- and that's a stunning blow to those whose sentiment lies there as well as to those who were responsible for making any decision prior to 1970 or so. Combine that with the changes in the liturgy conducted within and I wonder why we didn't read of mass numbers of Catholics dying of strokes and heart attacks at relatively young ages in the late 1960's and early 1970's. In fact, I'm now wondering if I actually attended Mass in the old school auditorium, and an original church was razed at some point (or planned but never built). Now, the big question is this: Can both views be correct? In 2020, will someone come along and place the altar and tabernacle in the old choir loft and rotate the seats again? What can we do to stress the similarities and continuity between the pre-1965 Church and the current Church?

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