Week 33

Corpus Christi

Today's trip took about twenty minutes by car and landed me in a parish whose church was destroyed by fire some years ago and apparently has been rebuilt from scratch. The cornerstone bears the date "1987" which actually is an encouraging sign; overall, the last fifteen years seem to have produced better churches than the previous twenty-five. Outside we see a plain square bell tower between the attached rectory and the church; an entrance beneath this leads to a relatively large daily Mass chapel that seats perhaps 100. To the right of that is the entrance to the main church, underneath a large, peaked roof. Let's go inside and see what we find.

I arrived at about 9:40 AM for the 10:00 AM Mass. I had no clue about what kind of Mass this would be, so I was kind of anxious as I sat and looked around. The seating is similar to last week's arrangement (four sections and five aisles, no break), except that the center aisle is shorter and the sides flare more, but it's still more conventional than "in the round." The wooden pews are fully upholstered, which of course I found very comfortable. The building is also air-conditioned. A huge, traditional crucifix is mounted on the rear wall of the sanctuary. A marble ambo is to the left, ahead of the altar. To the right is a small metal baptismal font. Tucked in a corner further right are the cantor's lectern and organ, and the front two rows or so of the rightmost set of pews are obviously intended for a choir (which I don't think I saw today), as they are individual seats rather than benches. The main church has a large domed area behind the front peak, and this is made of dark wood. The windows are of stained-glass and had depictions of the apostles.

The chapel and main church are separated by a divider of sorts but each can be seen from the other; the seats in the chapel are not fixed and perhaps could be turned toward the main church for Christmas and Easter but were facing the altar of the chapel and probably were not used today (although I couldn't see that from where I was). The altars are side-by-side rather than back-to-back as might have been done in a similar layout. Between the chapel and church is the tabernacle; a sort of cap is fixed over it (reminiscent of the shape of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan for those who are familiar with that) and the sanctuary lamp hangs from that, so it seems to qualify as a prominent location in both chapel and church.

Before the Mass, a gentleman placed "reserved" cards on two front pews, which can mean many things. I was somewhat relieved to see an organist appear and play a prelude. I later noticed that she had a microphone and could be heard singing. A cantor stepped behind the lectern and read some short announcements, mentioning that the priest offering the Mass, who has been teaching a course at a local college for a semester, was returning to Uganda and this would be his final Mass here. She then introduced the opening hymn, "Table of Plenty." Three servers, two readers, and the priest participated in the opening procession through the center aisle.

The Kyrie was recited, and then the Gloria was sung to a setting unfamiliar to me, but nice. (I looked in the OCP Breaking Bread hymnal; it could perhaps have been the "St. Louis Jesuit" setting.) A reader took the ambo to proclaim the first reading, ending with a particularly emphatic, "THE WORD OF THE LORD." During this reading, I noticed that Breaking Bread hymnals (with Sunday psalm responses but without readings) in the racks in the pews outnumbered small Today's Missal missalettes (with readings) by about three to one, which seems to say that following the readings in the book is grudgingly tolerated but not encouraged here. Also, before the Mass, the psalm response was announced as being on "page 103 in Breaking Bread." It was also in Today's Missal, but that was not mentioned.

The cantor then walked across the sanctuary and sung the psalm for the day from the ambo. Then a second reader proclaimed the second reading. The "sequence" for Corpus Christi was omitted. As the cantor sung the verse before the Gospel, the priest stepped to the front of the sanctuary and held the Book of Gospels high before proceeding to the ambo to read the Gospel.

His homily was fairly good, although he started with a joke that was actually an irrelevant digression: it was the one about the girl who says she wants to be a prostitute and shocks a nun and her pastor until he realizes that she wasn't saying "Protestant." I don't know if that's a joke that should be told at Sunday Mass, only because some poor parent might have to explain to a small child what a prostitute is, and it isn't too ecumenical besides, although it could be far worse. The priest's Protestant friend made the joke come to mind; anyway, the friend, who finally converted, stated that what interested him most about the Church was that the Eucharist is so central. (Of course, many converts realize that we have something rather important in the Eucharist.)

The priest then mentioned that he was impressed that no matter where he attends Mass, whether in Uganda, here, or elsewhere, the basic elements are present: readings, a homily, the offertory, the consecration, the "lining up" (as he put it several times) for Holy Communion, and a dismissal that tells us to go and bring to the world the Christ we have just received. The "ambiance" is more spartan in Uganda, of course, but the elements are still there. He mentioned that he enjoyed many things about this area, including walks on the boardwalk at the beach, Broadway plays, and the like, but he enjoyed the parish most of all. Finally, he closed by saying that he would pray for the parishioners and asked us to pray for him. I had expected a round of applause, but none materialized.

The priest then rose, and most people rose from habit, but the priest asked the RCIA candidates to stand, and some "To Tell the Truth" maneuvering began as people were unsure of what to do. Finally, those who were not RCIA candidates sat, and the priest gave those standing (who were in the "reserved" pews) a blessing. We then sang the refrain to the hymn "May God Bless You" as the RCIA candidates (three, I believe) filed towards the exit. We then recited the Creed; following that, one reader returned to the ambo to recite the Prayer of the Faithful.

The servers took the two candles from stands beside the ambo and took them to the rear of the church to be used in the offertory procession. Two collections were taken, one immediately following the other; handleless baskets were passed across the length of each pew (which has the advantage of making one's contribution more private). The second collection was for a retirement fund for religious. The offertory hymn was "Panis Angelicus"-- the first two verses were sung in Latin, and the third verse was sung in English. After the offertory procession, the servers placed the candles beside the altar, signifying that the focus of the Mass had shifted from the Word to the Eucharist.

The chalice and paten were of glass. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were sung to settings unfamiliar to me, but nice nonetheless. The third Eucharistic Prayer was used with the notable change of "From east to west" to "From all corners of the world." I think it means the same thing, but still...

The Our Father was recited. At the Sign of Peace, the priest stepped into the pews to shake hands with some in the congregation. A priest (probably the pastor) and nine lay ministers appeared to assist with distribution of Holy Communion. During the Agnus Dei, one lay minister poured the Precious Blood from the large flagon into serving cups and another lay minister took Hosts from the glass paten and distributed them among several glass ciboriums. (I presume they weren't clear plastic, but actually, they were very plain, flat, short cylinders-- not ornate at all, reminiscent of large petri dishes-- so it's not obvious.) Then the priest distributed Holy Communion to them one at a time.

The Communion hymn was "I Am the Bread of Life." The stations were located on the 45-degree lines, and the dual-station method was used. That was probably unnecessary; although the Mass was reasonably well-attended, the church is not particularly large, and it served only to confuse matters. After Communion, about four or five of the lay ministers remained near the tabernacle, and the priest gave them a one-line blessing as they prepared to bring Communion to the sick.

After we rose for the concluding prayer, and that was concluded, the priest-celebrant asked us to be seated, and the other priest who must have been the pastor gave the departing priest some compliments and warm wishes, invited us to a small reception following the Mass, and finally led us in a hearty round of applause. Then the departee made some remarks and received two more rounds of applause before imparting a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "Sing a Joyful Song." After one verse of that, the organist quickly started "Lift High the Cross" as a postlude.

The bulletin lists exact Mass attendance figures for the preceding week:

Saturday 5:00 PM 445
Sunday 7:00 AM 259
8:30 AM 472
10:00 AM 488
11:30 AM 502
1:00 PM 359
5:00 PM 244
Total 2979
Last Year 2769

It then adds, "This number includes adults and children (not infants) present by the homily conclusion." The bulletin also includes a Catholic Update insert on "Eucharist: Understanding Christ's Body."

Next week, we're back to Sundays in Ordinary Time. Mass is almost never totally ordinary, though, so I'm sure we will continue to see interesting things regardless of where we visit.

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