Week 256

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Reading I
Nm 21:4b-9
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Reading II
Phil 2:6-11
Jn 3:13-17

This morning I took a bus and four subway trains to a parish in the heart of the Eastern industrial complex. Having left at 7:50 AM, I figured I'd arrive in plenty of time for the 10:30 AM Mass in the target parish. Owing to a lack of basic mathematical skills, I found myself exiting the last train at 10:31 AM. I walked to the church anyway and from the vestibule heard what sounded like an interesting homily describing the history of today's feast, including how Emperor Constantine saw a vision of some sort and decided to place crosses on his soldiers, which caused them to win every battle and eventually made Constantine receptive to Christianity. I left that Mass because my research the night before revealed an 11:00 AM Mass at a parish only a few blocks from that. Owing to a lack of basic navigational skills and a lack of a map of the area and a lack of the address of the church, I managed to get lost and was unable to find the second parish in time. I walked a bit further and totally by accident found myself in a park I recognized from a visit to another parish in the area some time ago. (I had to park my car near the park because parking was tight closer to the church.) Thus I decided to sit in the park for half an hour or so and hoped that a nice young lady would sit on the park bench with me and maybe pray a decade of the Rosary with me before Mass. By 11:40 AM those hopes were dashed and I set forth to return to the original parish for its noon Mass.

The church is very much traditional and probably dates from the early twentieth century. It has twin spires on the outside; inside, it is very ornate. A rest room in the vestibule is very modern and obviously renovated but lacked any sort of soap. The pews are in four sections, with the side sections abutting the walls. Hat hooks hearken to a bygone era, racks hold copies of OCP's Today's Missal and Music Issue. I noticed a decided asymmetry in the placement of the hat hooks (particularly, the side sections had three close to the aisle but none right against the wall) and wondered if some sort of custom of the time meant that none were needed in certain places. (Maybe ladies-- who did not have to remove their hats-- sat in the places with no hooks?) The usual side altars to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, including integral tabernacles, remain at either side of the sanctuary. Four ornate free-standing confessionals with their own spires are near the sanctuary. An old-fashioned spired reredo surrounds the original altar, which has a small metal crucifix mounted atop it. An ornate freestanding altar has been erected at the center of the sanctuary. The circular ambo is at the left and is imposing and probably made of plaster. An organ is at the right; the organist served from here today, but the original massive choir loft is still present and looked to have an additional organ (or another location for controlling a single organ). The traditional stained-glass windows are on two levels: a higher level towards the center, and a lower level next to the side pews (underneath a lower ceiling). Pillars underneath the higher windows fall into the ends of the center pews. A larger wooden crucifix is at the right of the sanctuary on a pillar.

As I entered, everything looked so traditional that I figured the center tabernacle was in use, so I genuflected toward that one and took a seat near an air-conditioning vent in the floor of the side aisle. This later proved to be an erroneous standard for pew selection. At noon, two women went to the cantor's lectern at the right and led the Angelus. After that, the organist announced the opening hymn, "Lift High the Cross." A priest dressed as a monsignor (red band around his cassock, who I presume to be the pastor, as only one monsignor is listed on the bulletin cover) actually served as cantor (always a welcome sight). Two servers in albs, a reader with a white alb and a red V-neck trimming of sorts, and the priest passed through the center aisle. The priest used Form C of the penitential rite and led the recitation of the Gloria.

The reader gave the first reading, read the psalm for the day, and then gave the second reading. The Alleluia was sung. Then the priest proclaimed the Gospel and gave his homily. At this point my foolishness in deriving standards for selecting pews became apparent as I could hardly understand any of what the priest was saying. I saw a loudspeaker a few rows ahead of me and was sorely tempted to move closer to it as several rows ahead of me were empty; about 200 people were in a building that can probably hold four or five times that. I'm sure you folks are thinking "hey-- after 255 churches-- don't you think he should know better by now?" I'm thinking the same thing-- but I still don't think to look for missalette racks by the doors either, and sometimes I even forget to look for a cornerstone. I can say that the priest based his homily on the Scripture of the day; he made reference to both the first reading and the Gospel. He seemed to be saying a lot of good things about God and Jesus and Mary. But I was wishing that I had made the earlier Mass (the pastor seemed to have a clearer voice) or that I was less worldly as I selected my pew.

We recited the Creed, and the reader led the intentions for the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets; notable was the presence of two women as ushers (still rather unusual, much more so than women in any other position in the Church apart from priests or deacons). The pastor led a hymn at this point. It was not on the hymn board and seemed to have a refrain of "Oh, that rugged old cross." It sounded lots like something that may have originated in the Bible Belt and might even have gone well with a guitar. [sounds of fainting in the audience] A web search reveals several pages with a hymn by George Bennard. Maybe that is it.

At the Orate Fratres, no one stood until the congregation's response was complete. The responses in the Liturgy of the Eucharist were recited; no Mass setting was used. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer.

At Holy Communion, an elderly priest who had been seated at the side assisted and had to be helped to the Communion station by a server. Two lay ministers also assisted. The pastor did not assist but led the Communion hymn, "We Remember." Two stations were in the middle and two were at either side. I don't believe the chalice was offered. After Communion, my foolishness was once again exposed for all to see as all the remaining Hosts were placed in the tabernacle underneath the Blessed Mother's statue instead of the center tabernacle; at this point, I could see that the green cloth at the center tabernacle was moved to either side; I guess this signifies that that tabernacle is not in use. I have a feeling that the flower stand approach is more obvious, especially to an itinerant worshipper.

A second collection was taken in the same manner as the first. I can't say what it was for as I couldn't hear the reader either when she explained it earlier. The priest gave the Prayer after Communion and imparted a simple blessing, holding what looked like a small monstrance as he made the sign of the Cross over us. The closing hymn was "We Are Many Parts." Almost everyone remained until one verse was complete.


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