Week 58

First Sunday of Advent

Today, we take a break from the study of our usual diocese and take a 40-minute railroad ride to a parish in midtown Manhattan. One thing that is remarkable about Manhattan is that the sacraments seem to be thriving in what is a downright inhospitable environment. Masses are celebrated several times each day in most parishes, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is not uncommon, devotions are frequent even outside Lent, and confession is offered more than just an hour a week or "by appointment." So as much as I hate New York City and all it represents, I find myself attracted to this aspect of it, at least.

One of the saving graces about churches in Manhattan is that most were erected before the architectural desert of the 1960's and 1970's, so they maintain an appropriate atmosphere. Today's church seems to fit that mold: it looks largely unchanged from its original form. We see large stained-glass windows, sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross on the walls, and a grand, arched ceiling with large columns along the side aisles. The upper part of the rear wall of the domed sanctuary has a huge tapestry of a scene from the life of the parish's patron saint, with Mary holding the infant Jesus in her arms as he stabs at a dragon with a long cross. The lower part of that area is of green marble. The tabernacle is is a vault in the traditional location set in white marble with an outline of a lamb at the top. The marble altar is at the center of the sanctuary, and the ambo is at the left, ahead of the altar. The light-grained wooden pews seat about ten to twelve people across and are divided into four sections with center and side aisles and a break in the middle. A large choir loft is in the old location over the main entrance. The Advent wreath was at the left and already had one candle burning.

I arrived a little after 10:45 AM for the 11 AM choir Mass. Blue program sheets were in the pews; this is usually a good sign, as it shows that someone is taking the whole matter seriously, and this sort of trouble is not normally taken for Masses of lesser quality. I saw a pew with a column at the end and decided that it looked like a safe place, just in case something were to go wrong later in the Mass. At the other end of that pew was someone sitting alone, but I took no particular notice at that point.

The cantor appeared in a white robe and explained the blue sheets and that the readings were in the GIA Worship III hymnals in the pews. The hymnals simply rest on the ends of the pews; smaller racks hold a small booklet containing prayers used at daily devotions. The opening hymn was "Wake, O Wake, and Sleep No Longer." We sang all the verses of this and all the other hymns; this is rather unusual these days. The procession began from the sacristy at the front right and passed through the side aisle to the rear and then back up the center aisle. Four adult servers, five lay ministers of Holy Communion, two readers, and the priest participated. One server carried an incenser, which was well-used throughout the Mass. As the procession reached the altar, it was incensed as well.

The cantor led the singing of Form C of the penitential rite; the blue sheet identifies the tune as one by Theodore Marier. The Gloria was omitted as is customary on Sundays during Advent and Lent. That was kind of a shame for me-- I suspect that this choir would do an outstanding job on it.

One reader took the ambo to proclaim the first reading as it appeared in Worship. The psalm for the day was sung; the cantor sang the first and third stanzas but the choir sang the second one by itself. Then the second reader proclaimed the second reading; I presume that it came from the "new" Lectionary as it differed slightly from the reading in Worship. (I have to put "new" in quotes as that Lectionary is now a year old; today is kind of its "birthday.") During an Alleluia verse sung to a setting by Michael Joncas, the servers led the priest in a solemn procession as he carried the Book of Gospels from the altar, through the pews, and back to the ambo, where more incense was used. Two servers stood as candle-bearers alongside the ambo as the priest proclaimed the Gospel, probably using the old Lectionary (as the reading matched Worship). After the Gospel, the cantor went to the choir loft and remained there for the rest of the Mass.

Somewhere around this point I noticed something I had not seen until today (yes, all together now: "EVEN IN WEEK 58!"). Some movement occured around the person at the opposite end of the pew where I was sitting; believe it or not, she had brought a small dog to Mass with her! To its credit, it made no loud noises and I think just grunted once; many babies and small children could do well to follow that example. Only in New York City? Every now and then she placed it in her lap, but it otherwise caused no disturbance.

The homily began as the priest noted with a smile that we were really lucky that a water spill that threatened the ink-jet printed copy of his homily did not do any significant damage. Oddly enough, he seemed to be talking to me personally today, even though he never met me and could not have known that what he had to say would be so appropriate. He spoke about patient endurance, saying that a marriage only begins when the honeymoon ends and a priest's commitment to a parish doesn't end with the first anonymous note he receives. He also said that contentment comes not when we get what we want but when we are able to want what we get.

After the Creed was recited, the Prayer of the Faithful was offered by one of the readers in the usual way. After some short announcements, the reader then explained that two collections would now be taken, one for the pastoral work of the parish and another for maintenance of the parish facilities; one immediately followed the other, and the ushers used long-handled wicker baskets. As the gifts were brought forward and prepared, the choir sang an anthem called "Open Thou Mine Eyes," written by Lancelot Andrewes with a tune by John Rutter. Immediately after that, we all sang "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns," introduced by the reader. After the gifts were prepared, the server incensed them, everyone else in the sanctuary, and the congregation as well. A large cloud of smoke could be seen in the sanctuary at this point. The chalice was of metal; a glass flagon was also used. I think only the priest's host was consecrated at this Mass; the remainder of the Hosts came from the tabernacle later.

The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer and sang the concluding doxology rather well. The Our Father was recited; I noticed only a couple of people ahead of me with joined hands, although I was near the front and couldn't really observe too well. One small problem I noticed is that the lay ministers, readers, and servers were given Communion during the Agnus Dei; they really should be served afterward like everyone else.

The priest then announced, "The custom at this Mass is to distribute Holy Communion under both species, and I encourage you to receive from the chalice." Two stations were located at the front of the center aisle for the Precious Body, and two more stations for the Precious Blood were located on both sides (a total of six). The choir had its own minister (one of the servers). The choir sang a "Communion Motet" of Rorate caeli by Francisco Guerrero. As I rose for Communion, I saw the woman to my left fussing over something; when I made a closer investigation, I saw that she had a *second* dog, slightly larger than the first, stashed underneath the pew. It would not get up for Communion; apparently, it had either not fasted before Mass or thought it should go to confession first. Finally, she tugged on its leash, roused it, and they all went forward, although fortunately only the woman received. I thought I detected a look of exasperation on the priest's face as they left, but that could have been my imagination.

The priest offered the Prayer After Communion in the usual manner followed by a solemn blessing. He then announced the closing hymn, "Lift Up Your Heads, O Mighty Gates." (I can't help but think of Bill Gates when I see that these days. Sorry.) The procession returned through the sacristy via the original route; this is notable as it means the priest isn't standing by the doors after Mass. I think more incense was used as well.

Next week, we return to our usual diocese. Who knows what we'll find waiting for us there?

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