Week 49

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I was going to attend Mass at a parish near my sister's house this morning, but I got to bed late and just didn't feel like leaving early enough to do that, so I remembered that the advance scout had checked a parish last week and suggested that the 10 AM Mass was probably the one to attend, as the noon Mass was a sparsely attended piano Mass-- certainly not worth waiting until that late in the day to attend. The only other Mass at this parish on a Sunday morning is at 7:30 AM, and that one might not have any music at all. So, swallowing hard, and not expecting a really good Mass, I decided to accept some penance if need be and put a check mark next to this parish sooner rather than later.

My lack of enthusiasm can also be attributed to some notes on the scouting report: "90-degree rotation" and "no crucifix." In other words, this church, originally built in 1964, according to the cornerstone, has been totally reoriented as was the church of week 20. Like that building, this one probably wasn't all that great to start, as the architecture of the middle 1960's tended toward large, simple auditoriums without much ornamentation, but the renovations probably haven't done much to improve it.

The wooden pews are arranged in a semi-circle around the sanctuary, carved from one side of the original rectangle. The first two rows or so are individual seats, as are all those on the far left and right of the sanctuary. The seats at the left are where the choir of about twenty to twenty-five people sat. A circular window on a milled wooden wall at the rear of the sanctuary depicts the patron saint of the parish; the other stained-glass windows, on plain white walls, are square and far more abstract. The peaked ceiling is of what appears to be office-building grade, white, acoustic tile with recessed circular lighting and some light wooden beams to accent it. The wooden ambo is to the right and slightly behind the dark wooden altar. A low, medium-sized, apparently wooden baptismal font is to the right of the sanctuary. The tabernacle is located in a separate chapel at the far right and is not particularly obvious. The building now has no choir loft; I presume that it originally had one over the old main entrance, which is still used (unlike week 20) but is presumably of less importance than the entrance from the parking lot in the rear, which is where the entrance procession originated (and which I believe the folks there now call their "gathering space").

I arrived at about 9:55 AM after a 40-minute drive and took a seat at the center of one of the longer pews after trying to locate the tabernacle; failing to do so right away, I settled for a brief bow towards the altar. In my peripheral vision, I noticed a young woman sit by herself at the right end of the pew. The choir leader began by stating that an older custom was being revived: the closing procession would leave via the same route as the opening procession-- that is, through the center aisle towards the rear and around toward the exit to the "gathering space" at the center of the right side, so everyone was to remain in place until the procession was complete instead of trampling the priest as happened at yesterday's 5 PM Mass. In addition to the choir, two guitarists (barely audible through the whole Mass) and a pianist served. I had anticipated this but figured I wasn't going to do any better at this parish, so I made no effort to leave today. I'm not even sure I saw an organ at all; since the scout says a piano was in use at the following Mass, that's quite likely. The opening hymn was "Sing to the Mountains;" two servers, a reader, three lay ministers of Holy Communion, and two priests participated in the procession.

Form C of the penitential rite was used. The Gloria was recited; I noticed that the priest said, "and peace to God's people on earth." I tried to convince myself that my hearing was going, and that I was going out of my way to spot things that weren't happening, and that I should be more charitable, but later in the Mass he also changed the end of the "concluding doxology" to "all glory and power are yours, almighty God," so I know I wasn't hearing things. Somewhere at this point, the young woman moved closer to me, and I wondered why she was doing that, but I then saw that someone had sat to her right. I subtly attempted to redistribute the empty space on either side of me equally, anticipating problems later in the Mass.

The reader then proclaimed the first reading; since the OCP missalette/hymnal found in the racks in the pews does not contain readings, I presume that the reading was given as it is printed in the new Lectionary. The psalm was sung, but the response was, "The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in life," rather than the one printed in the book, "Remember your mercies, O Lord." I gather that what was used is a seasonal psalm. After the second reading, the verse before the Gospel was also sung as the priest carried the Book of Gospels high over his head to the ambo and then read the Gospel.

His homily began by noting that today's Gospel reading is part of a group known as the "parables of mercy." He suggested that we have to see ourselves as those challenged by Jesus-- rather forecfully-- in the reading, saying that attending Mass without fail and avoiding mortal sin (I suspect he may use a lenient interpretation of mortal sin as it's all around us these days) is not sufficient if people are starving and naked outside. He mentioned that "in the days of the Baltimore Catechism, we figured we had it made, everything there in the book," or something to that effect, implying that things are better today. He also said that even priests don't get a free pass into heaven. He had a strong, loud speaking style, and when he made a few attempts at humor towards the end I just didn't feel that laughter fit well with the rest of the homily (although others were quick to laugh). Then again, I suppose Fulton Sheen could be the same way, going from Irish wit to fire and brimstone in one talk, so perhaps I'm wrong to be concerned.

The Creed was omitted. The Prayer of the Faithful was recited, although the priest sat during it for some reason (which confused most of us at first, so we did not all stand right away). It concluded with the Renew 2000 prayer, recited by the congregation, rather than the usual priest's prayer. A collection then was taken using handleless baskets passed across the aisles by those of us in the pews. At this point I noticed the wedding ring on the woman to my right. This is actually good, as we shall see later in this article. The offertory hymn was "Hold Me In Life." At first, a soloist sang the verses and the choir sang the refrains; not too many in the congregation participated at all. Then, for the last verse (really the first verse again) the roles switched as the choir sang the verse and the soloist took the refrain. Perhaps that's why few participated; that may be confusing without any advance instruction.

The chalice and paten were of metal, and a large glass flagon was also used. After singing the Preface, the priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were sung to a consistent setting familiar to me from my own parish but which I cannot name.

At the Our Father, the priest did not issue an invitation to join hands, but about half the people, mostly on the right, chose to do so anyway. I did not choose to do so, but the woman to my right did, so I was trapped. At times, I am thankful to see a wedding ring on a woman's hand; this was one of those times. Actually, I should have known better than to sit on the right anyway, since the parking lot is on the right; I might have fared better on the left today. I usually don't feel too comfortable as a leftist, but every rule has its exceptions.

The two priests and three lay ministers distributed Communion in a straightforward way as far as I could tell, with stations at the center aisle and side aisles. The cup was offered at two stations apparently shared by those returning from more than one line. The Communion hymn was "Shepherd Me, O God."

After Communion, some short announcements were read. Then a gentleman from the choir took the cantor's lectern to make a pitch for new members, beginning by recounting how he started by joining the choir at another parish, observing that several members have left (although the seats in the choir's section looked rather full to me) and then noting in particular that only four men are in the choir and that one need only like to sing to join, although the choir "does have some beautiful voices." After this moving address, he received a round of applause. The priest then added that the doors would be locked until five male voices offered their services.

Following the closing prayer, the priest imparted a Solemn Blessing. The closing hymn was "City of God." The procession took the route through the rear of the church as we were told it would. Most people remained at least until the end of the procession; many even stayed for all three verses of the hymn sung by the choir. Some scattered applause occurred at this point. At the exits, Renew 2000 pledge flyers were distributed; they didn't look too bad, actually. Suggested activities, each with a check box, include attending one weekly Mass each week (do they mean "daily" Mass?), offering one day of fasting and prayer, praying the rosary, spending 15 minutes a day with Scripture, praying the Renew 2000 prayer each day, and inviting someone to join in the next season of Renew 2000.

I can't say I was disappointed, as my expectations were low to start. Still, I have to wonder if we can't do better.

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