Week 54

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The chairman of the board of directors opened the meeting with a bang of the gavel. The atmosphere was tense; serious division could be sensed easily. The first director spoke. "We have to add a bit of Halloween frivolity to this week's report," he said solemnly. "People will be expecting it, and we have to keep the ratings strong..." he continued until interrupted by a second director. "That's absurd. Halloween is a pagan holiday; these are Catholic articles," the second director said. A third director agreed, saying,"We should be promoting Catholic values instead of contributing to a frenzy of satanic rubbish." Another director said, "Oh, it's all so harmless-- not worth an argument. If Sam wants to have a bit of fun, why not?" Yet another director offered, "What happened to our countercultural charter?"

Finally, after much shouting, the chairman called for a vote on the matter. He said, "I won't tell you how to vote, but I do want you to remember this: Tomorrow is All Saints' Day. Despite the common emphasis on the preceding day, November 1 is among the most solemn days on the Church calendar. Pray for a few moments to your favorite saints for guidance-- particularly those who made it to heaven by riding the wave."

After five minutes of silent prayer, the chairman collected the votes. The tally was unanimous.

* * *

This week's parish is located about thirty-five minutes from where I live. Once again I forgot to check the cornerstone, but it bears the look of a 1960's auditorium-style design. It is on a long, narrow strip of land at the end of a huge parking lot, with the main entrance facing the side of the lot. Inside, we see that the altar has been moved far into the original pew area. The square, metal tabernacle remains in its original location in the old sanctuary niche, which now serves as a chapel of sorts; it is surrounded by a railing (perhaps the original altar rail, although it looks rather high now) and has a row of pews along the rail. About ten to fifteen rows were removed to construct the new sanctuary, which now has about five rows of pews on either side at a right angle to the main pews. About two or three rows of pews are behind the new sanctuary as well, facing the altar and main pews. The organ is to the far right of the altar; I saw no evidence of an old choir loft. A baptismal font is to the right of the altar. The cantor's lectern is behind the altar and to the right; the ambo is behind the altar and to the left. Over the altar hangs a traditional crucifix.

The peaked ceiling is of dark wood planks with darker wood arches, and an air-conditioning duct splits the center. I noticed that the air flow from the square vents (each of which is designed to send air in all four directions) has produced a dark cross around each vent, which is an interesting effect. The walls are of concrete blocks, painted tan; they have small, simple depictions of the Stations of the Cross. I don't recall what type of windows the building had, actually, but I recall that the building seemed bright, for what that may be worth. The main section of light wooden pews is split by a center aisle and has side aisles. Each pew holds about 16 people comfortably.

I arrived at about 10:40 AM for the 11:00 AM Mass and selected a place at the center of a pew about six rows back in the main section. After saying my usual prayers, I looked around and saw no racks, missals, or hymnals; a light bulb then flashed over my head saying, "Yes, of course; that's why they had racks at the doors, you fool." I am amazed that no matter how many times I visit a new parish, I fall into the same traps, including this one; one would expect that I'd learn. Well, at least I knew enough to arrive early this time, so I had plenty of time to head back to the door and obtain the required materials, which consisted of the OCP Companion Missal (with readings) and Breaking Bread as well as a bulletin for scribbling some short notes, including the hymns from the hymn board. I kept waiting for the crowds to arrive, but by 11 AM the pews were still mostly empty. Perhaps many people selected earlier Masses as a result of the clocks' being reset from Daylight Time. Despite that, a couple chose to sit almost right next to me on my left. This is no horrible crime, but it is unusual and did leave me rather puzzled, and I was wondering if they were going to want to hold hands later.

The cantor began the Mass by announcing the opening hymn, "Blest Are They." I expected a choir as the time seemed right but none was present. Two servers, two lay ministers of Holy Communion, the reader, and the priest participated in the entrance procession down the center aisle. The penitential rite consisted of a Kyrie sung in English by the cantor without invocations of any sort. The Gloria was omitted.

The reader had a separate seat next to the ambo; he proclaimed the first reading without incident. The cantor led the responsorial psalm from the cantor's lectern, and then the reader gave the second reading. The verse before the Gospel was sung; the priest stood at the front of the Sanctuary with the two servers, who held candles, and held the Book of Gospels high before proceeding to the ambo. The two servers remained at the ambo until the conclusion of the Gospel. The priest changed the line, "You are all brothers," to "You are all brothers and sisters." He also changed the closing line to "whoever exalts themselves..." which as William Safire would say, "grates on the ear." Instead of the usual acclamation, "The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ," another Alleluia was sung.

The homily consisted of three main points which were given as "homework" for the next few days. First, as preparation for the next two days, we were to spend a few moments praying to a departed friend or relative who touched us in some special way and might now be in heaven. Second, we were to try to recall a moment of forgiveness in our lives when we experienced the power of God's mercy, either directly or through someone else. Third, we were to prepare to vote, giving special consideration to our Catholic faith and the needs of others rather than our own needs-- in other words, voting to advance the common good rather than our individual interests. The priest also spend a considerable amount of time speaking about an ecumenical agreement now being made final in Augsburg on the anniversary of Luther's posting of his 95 theses. He is happy that many of the original misunderstandings among Protestants and Catholics have been eliminated but still hopes that full communion can be attained, as much work remains.

The Creed was recited; it was followed by the usual Prayer of the Faithful. It ended with a Hail Mary, but this was in addition to the priest's prayer at the end rather than a replacement for it as is seen occasionally. Two collections followed, one immediately after the other; the priest announced that the second collection was for the regional Catholic school. After the ushers took the first collection, they combined it into one basket to present to the priest, who added his own envelope. The Communion hymn was "Be Not Afraid;" I had to juggle my hymnal twice as the long-handled wicker basket was passed in front of me for each collection. Once again, the Sacramentary was presented as one of the gifts; perhaps this is more common than I realized. The chalice appeared to be blue ceramic (I could be wrong) and the ciborium was metal. A small amount of wine was poured into a tiny glass cup on a stem as well.

The Sanctus appears to have been the St. Louis Jesuits' setting (ending in "Hosanna on high.") The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer. The Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen were sung to settings unfamiliar to me. The priest used a very large Host and broke it in two at the consecration, breaking it further during the Fraction Rite. The density of congregants in the church was too low to encourage much joining of hands at the recited Our Father, but a few people near one another went ahead anyway. The Agnus Dei was from the Mass of Creation.

At Communion, a lay minister went to the tabernacle to retrieve additional Hosts. The tiny glass cup was given to a boy at the far right near the altar who apparently had some sort of emotional or medical condition; apparently, he was unable to receive any other way, so an effort was made to accomodate him, which is good to see. Otherwise, Communion was offered under the form of bread alone at three stations, two of which started at the side sections in the front but moved to the main sections along with the priest at the center. The Communion hymn was listed on the board as "Gift of Finest Wheat," but for some reason unknown to me was changed to "Here I Am, Lord."

After Communion, the priest and congregation remained seated as he offered the Prayer After Communion. He then read two announcements, one of which was the elimination of one Sunday morning Mass, leaving only three. I suppose that if all the Masses are as empty as this one was, the change is well-justified. Then everyone stood for a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "For You Are My God;" most people began to leave after the second verse.

Later, I revisited the parish from week 10 to update my schedule of Masses; I saw that the 11:30 AM "family Mass" actually had an organ. I'd have been sure that a "family Mass" was a guitar Mass (or maybe a piano Mass). As Mr. Spock would say, "Faaaascinating." Every day brings an opportunity to learn something new!

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