Week 61

Fourth Sunday of Advent

"And the big, bad wolf huffed, and puffed, and blew Santa's house down..."

"Aw, Grandpa, do you have to keep telling us boring old stories?"

"Yeah, Grandpa, tell us something interesting."

"Yeah, Grandpa, how about another one of those stories from the days when you were attending Mass at a different parish every week?"

"Cool idea, man! Go ahead, Grandpa, we love those stories-- they're sooo exciting!"

"Well, you know how Grandma gets upset when she catches me telling you about those days. She thinks you're too fragile."

"We promise we won't tell Grandma. Pleeeeeeeeze, Grandpa?"

"Wellll, okay. But just one. It's too close to your bedtime for more. You might have nightmares."


One Sunday morning, way, way, back at the turn of the century, I decided to head for a parish about half an hour from home. The 10:15 AM Mass there is a Polish Mass, and the others are unlabelled, so I thought that perhaps I'd get lucky. When I arrived, I looked inside and saw a guitar strap over someone's shoulder. I saw no point in looking to see what was attached to it and made a note to scout the last Mass there some day. Then I collected bulletins from a few neighboring parishes and peeked in one church after the end of a 9 AM family Mass that apparently had a handbell choir. It was most noisy there, and a woman was barking instructions of some sort over the loudspeaker as if it were a bingo hall. Ugh. I know they don't do it deliberately, but still...

I finally landed in a smallish parish on the northern shore of the diocese for a 10:30 AM Mass that seemed safe, as the "Family/Children Mass" was the previous Mass. The building, covered with grey, wooden shingles, bears a plaque reading "c. 1909" and another reading "rededicated 1988." The design is fairly conventional: a peaked rectangle with short extensions near the sanctuary. One might have expected the sanctuary to have been pulled forward and the side sections turned toward it, but the only major change was the move of the metal tabernacle to what was probably a side altar on the right. Each wooden, partially upholstered (only the bottom, not the back) pew holds about eight people, and I think the main area had about thirty rows or so. A center aisle divides the pews; side aisles are present, but the common break towards the rear is not. The walls and ceiling are very dark wood, and dark, old-fashioned stained-glass windows remain. One large window on the rear wall of the sanctuary shows the Crucifixion, with Mary and John at the foot of the Cross; beneath that is a small, traditional, wooden crucifix over the presider's chair. A small freestanding altar is at the center of the sanctuary; a large wooden ambo is to the left, ahead of the altar. Plain blue banners with narrow purple stripes were on either side of the sanctuary. A large statue of the Blessed Mother is set into a stone wall on the left. This church is among the darkest I've seen-- small spotlights seem to illuminate the main areas of the sanctuary.

As I headed for the main doors at about 10:15 AM, I saw a woman heading away from the church; she was wearing a short skirt and carried a guitar case. At least she was heading in the right direction, so I entered and took a seat about ten rows back. Someone posted the hymn numbers after I arrived; apparently, they differ from the ones used at the family Mass. The sound of the organist playing softly was very reassuring as I copied the hymns from the hymn board. By the time the Mass started, it was about half full. The reader went to the cantor's lectern and read several announcements as well as the theme of the Mass, concluding with the names of the priest, cantor, two servers, and five lay ministers of Holy Communion, followed by his own name. He then returned to the rear of the church to join the entrance procession, which went through the center aisle to two verses of the hymn "See How the Virgin Waits."

At this point, the priest took his place and then said something along the lines of "Since Christmas is so close, and we've been doing this the last few weeks, let's take a few moments to introduce ourselves to one another..." All I could hear were the roars of laughter from somewhere in the unseen part of creation. Two people ahead of me turned to me, and I managed some sort of polite pleasantry; although I survived, I certainly could have done without this bit of innovation. Things went up from here, though. The priest used the Confiteor; the Gloria was properly omitted.

The reader proclaimed the first reading as it appeared in the OCP missalette. (NALR Glory and Praise hymnals from 1984 were also in the pews but were not used.) The cantor led the refrains of the psalm from the lectern but a male with a deep voice sang the verses solo from the choir loft, doing well. Then the reader proclaimed the second reading. The verse before the Gospel was also sung before the priest read the Gospel. I almost cried when I heard Mary's words, "May it be done to me according to your word."

The homily was a wide-ranging discourse that began with a recollection of the earlier days of Covenant House and touched on many points along the way. The main theme seemed to be that we should be open to God's will in our lives.

The Creed was recited, and then the Prayer of the Faithful was offered, with the reader leading the invocations as usual. A new wrinkle was added here, though. We've seen the "Stewardship Prayer" and the "Renew 2000" prayer inserted here instead of the usual priest's prayer at the end, but today we recited the "Jubilee Prayer." I guess a sort of a cottage industry is developing with the composition of these little prayers. Meanwhile, I know of nothing allowing this sort of change. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as we sang the offertory hymn, "Mary, Woman of the Promise." The chalice and ciboriums were of metal; a large glass flagon originally held additional wine, but the priest emptied it into two serving chalices as he prepared the gifts.

The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer, singing, "Let us proclaim..." and the concluding doxology. The Our Father was sung to the most common setting. A few people, including the lay ministers of Holy Communion sitting on a bench in the sanctuary, could not resist the temptation to hold hands, but most in the congregation did resist.

Communion was distributed at six stations, two of which were for the chalices. Two ministers started at the side sections but later moved to the center sections. The servers and the reader held patens; also notable here is that all the ministers stood on the step of the sanctuary, which helps the shorter ones to do a better job, especially for those who wish to receive on the tongue. The seven or so choir members received first; after they returned to the choir loft, the Communion hymn, "Marantha (I)" (the only one today from Music Issue; see last week) was sung.

The priest made a few more announcements, including one about "Hospitality Sunday" and another about a communal penance service, before offering the closing prayer. After the cantor announced the closing hymn, someone in the choir loft interrupted to congratulate the priest on the thirtieth anniversary of his ordination. I tried to balance my hymnal on the pew so that I could join in the applause, but it fell on the floor. I bent over to grab it so that I could join in the closing hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Most people remained for both verses; the closing procession went to a side door by the main parking lot so that the priest could greet those leaving. Afterward, I visited some more parishes and heard a few organs and a piano. Not bad, actually-- but it was kind of late by then, when the organ seems to fare better in most places.

"Tell us another one, Grandpa!"

"No, you'll have to wait until next week for that. It's your bedtime now, you know."

"Oh, oh, Grandpa, here comes Grandma!"

"Sweetheart, are you filling those poor childrens' minds again with those dreadful tales about driving hither and yon to go to Mass every Sunday? It's not good for them-- and you know how it bothers me!"

"Sorry, dear, but they begged me."

"If you don't stop that, you'll be begging for mercy!"

"Yes, dear."

"You should just be thankful we have good Masses with magnificent churches, beautiful choirs, and great organs these days instead of like the old days."

"Yes, dear."

"And you're so lucky you married a good woman like me to keep you out of trouble."

"Yes, dear."

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