Today, we take a 1 hour and fifty minute drive to a parish in a rural part of the diocese. The building appears to be somewhat old, although a cornerstone is not present, and the interior is sufficiently altered that the exact age of the building is difficult to determine. Outside we see white, probably wooden shingles. The inside is somewhat small, with about twenty-five rows of wooden pews separated by a center aisle and trimmed with side aisles. Each pew can hold only six people comfortably. Hat hooks give a hint as to the actual age of the structure. Large, tall candles decorated with red bows were fixed on several pews along the aisles; the sanctuary had a creche; and the remainder of the church was still decorated for the Christmas season.
The sanctuary appears to have been pulled slightly forward, probably as much as they could dare do in such a small building. No trace of an original altar remains; the current, freestanding altar is just ahead of the marble ambo to the right. Chairs for the servers are along the left wall, and chairs for the reader and cantor are along the right wall. The presider's chair and deacon's chair are to the left of the altar. A large portrait of the risen Christ, in the shape of a cross, hangs on the rear wall of the sanctuary. The tabernacle is in a niche to the left in front of what looked like the sacristy. Arched, stained-glass windows bearing abstract designs line the walls. Two on the rear wall of the sanctuary appeared slightly more intricate. The choir loft remains in the rear; it hangs over the rear pews, balcony-style. My guess is that they would have preferred to put seats for a choir in the main area but simply did not have the room. The walls are mostly white with some dark wood trim.
The parish has but two Sunday morning Masses at this time of year, at 8 and 10 AM. I chose the latter, figuring that it might be a choir Mass. I didn't fare too badly, although I could not really detect a choir if one was serving. I arrived at about 9:45 AM and selected a seat in pew number 70, about two-thirds of the way back on the left. A pianist played music before the Mass; I noticed that although the church was full by the time Mass began, it was very quiet, especially given that the church is so small and even small sounds would have been noticeable.
The cantor (who used the ambo throughout the Mass as the church has no cantor's lectern) introduced the opening hymn, "We Three Kings," sung to piano accompaniment. We sang all five verses of the hymn; all verses of all the other hymns were sung as well. A cross-bearer clad in a flak jacket, two servers dressed in cassocks, a lay minister of Holy Communion, a reader, a deacon, and the priest participated in the entrance procession through the center aisle. The priest began by observing thankfully that no major calamities accompanied the start of the new year as many had feared. Then Form C of the penitential rite was recited, followed by a sung Kyrie. The Gloria was also sung, to a setting with long notes on the words "peace" and "people" in the refrain. An examination of the Gather hymnal shows that the Gloria from the Mass of Creation fits this description. I did not recognize it because although the Mass of Creation is by far the most common Mass setting these days, for some reason its Gloria is not usually used, even when the Gloria is sung, and even when the rest of the Mass is sung to that setting.
The reader took the ambo to proclaim the first reading, which along with the other readings, came from the old Lectionary, despite the current OCP Today's Missal books in the racks in the pews (along with Music Issue). The cantor sang the psalm for the day to piano accompaniment. After the reader gave the second reading, the verse before the Gospel was sung. The deacon read the Gospel, apparently having some trouble; perhaps he needs a large-type edition of the new Lectionary and it is not yet available, which might explain why they're still using the old one.
The priest gave the homily from the center of the sanctuary. First, he asked those standing in the rear to be seated and requested that those already seated make room where possible. He recalled the days when he had to purchase "standing room only" tickets for ball games because he could not afford better, and did not want others to suffer as he did. The homily began with the story of a little girl who participated in her parish's Christmas pageant, carefully and diligently rehearsing her part in private for several weeks, causing her mother to wonder just what important part she might have had. At the pageant, the mother looked all around but did not see her until she emerged holding a bright star high over the heads of the Magi, leading the way to Jesus. Later, the girl asserted that she had the most important part in the production, because she "led the Magi to Jesus." The priest then reminded us that Christ said that we are the light of the world, and that we cannot keep our lights hidden underneath a bushel, among other points. He closed with the story of a man in Austria who decided to attend vespers at a parish but noticed that the church had no lights whatsoever and began to wonder how vespers could be held in a totally dark building. Finally, after dusk, he saw the answer: villagers began to head towards the church, all carrying lanterns. They were "the light of the church."
The Creed was recited, and then the deacon led the usual Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. A collection was taken using handleless wicker baskets that never left the ushers' hands. Noteworthy here is that two of the four ushers were women; in most parishes, this role seems to be handled almost exclusively by men, which I find curious as I can think of no reason why women are not suitable for this task, and I rarely hear any clamoring for women to be ushers. The Communion hymn was "The First Noel," sung to piano accompaniment. The chalice was of metal, but the ciborium was glass.
At this point, I was surprised to hear a different instrument used for the Sanctus, which along with the Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei, came from the Mass of Creation. Apparently a revolution occurred in the choir loft and the forces supporting the piano were deposed, as the piano was silent for the remainder of the Mass. Organ loyalists must have taken control, as the organ was used instead. Also commendable is that the priest used the first Eucharistic Prayer, which is especially appropriate for Sunday Mass. At the consecration of the Hosts, the priest and deacon glanced at the servers, who had neglected to ring the bells, and they then did so. They fulfilled their role properly at the consecration of the Precious Blood.
I feared some silliness at the Our Father, which we recited, but despite the close quarters and capacity crowd, I saw almost no evidence of joined hands. At Communion, a lay minister assisted in distribution at one of two stations in the center aisle; the deacon stood at the altar the whole time, and the chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "What Child Is This?"
After Communion, one announcement was made, concerning an "open house" at the rectory. Then the priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a solemn blessing. The closing hymn was "As With Gladness Men of Old," sung to the tune of "For the Beauty of the Earth." Almost everyone remained until the end.
Afterward, I passed a parish whose parking lot was filled to overflowing for the 11 AM Mass. Inside, I heard organ and choir music. That will probably be a future week's article. Then I stopped at the parish from which I was unable to obtain a bulletin in weeks 37 and 38; finally, I achieved my goal. A girl ran to an usher and asked for a bulletin too; she exclaimed, "I collect bulletins!" Hmm-- perhaps she'll be my successor someday? At the next parish, I arrived about halfway into the Mass and knew that the bulletins there were closely guarded, so I decided to wait until the end of Mass to obtain one. Laudable is that only about a half dozen people or so left after Communion. The bright spots are there, but sometimes we have to search hard for them.