From the mailbag, Mr. Q. W. of Boise, Idaho writes: "Dear Sir: You must make up this stuff. I attend Mass at my parish at 10 AM each week and have never seen a choir in fifteen years. Choirs are extinct. Quit trying to fool us-- we know that Vatican II did away with choirs."
Mrs. S. P. of Boise, Idaho writes: "Dear Sir: You must make up this stuff. I attend Mass at my parish at 11:30 AM each week, and we always have a choir and an organist. I simply cannot fathom a Mass without a choir, yet you repeatedly insist that you find such things. Absurd! Vatican II made sure that choirs and organs would remain a vital part of the Mass."
Miss A. V. of Boise, Idaho writes: "Dear Sir: You must make up this stuff. I attend the 1 PM Mass at my parish every week, and it is always chock full of eligible singles-- but you claim to see very few. I just don't believe it. Vatican II made it harder for people to marry, and everyone knows it except you."
Mr. D. F. of Boise, Idaho writes: "Dear Sir: I attend the 7:00 AM Mass at my parish every week, and I haven't heard music in twenty years, but you keep writing about all these parishes that have music at Mass. You must make up this stuff-- Vatican II killed music at Mass."
Mrs. E. T. of Custer, Montana writes: "Dear Sir: Everyone knows that Mass is rare these days; the last priest left our parish five years ago, and that was the last time Mass was celebrated here. It must have something to do with Vatican II. You must make up these tales of places where Mass is not only celebrated every Sunday, but two and three times at that!"
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Today we take a 45-minute drive to the parish where my sister's godparents once lived. It recently eliminated one Sunday morning Mass, leaving it with three, at 8 AM, 10 AM, and noon. I figured the 10 might be the right choice but was prepared to look for greener pastures if need be, as it was still early enough. As I approached the church on a street with 30-mph speed limit, driving very close to the limit, several cars were tailgating me, and one crossed a double-yellow line to pass me. Finally, I turned right into the church driveway, and the car behind me also entered the lot, which made me worry that the driver might attack me, so I hurried into the building before he had a chance to park, hoping that he'd not be able to find me after I disappeared inside.
The building carries a 1969 cornerstone, meaning that the designers really must have been scratching their heads about how to conform to the changes caused by Vatican II, as the Church was really in a serious state of flux at the time. It is a simple rectangle with a peaked roof, but lower, flat sides with some simple square columns inside. The ceiling is dark wood, with some arches descending into the white walls on the upper sides. The lower walls are of concrete block painted white, with square, stained-glass windows depicting various saints, but not in a particularly abstract way. The light wooden pews are divided conventionally into four sections with five aisles; the side sections are somewhat narrower than the middle ones. The sanctuary is not recessed; at the left is a small section of seats for a choir, along with a piano and an organ. The rear wall of the sanctuary is made of red brick, with vertical slats of dark wood in a stripe over the metal tabernacle at the center. The altar is ahead of the marble ambo at the left; the smaller cantor's lectern is just to the left of the ambo. Over the altar is suspended a red cross with a painting of Jesus, I guess half-risen and half-crucified-- it looks as though they weren't quite sure which they wanted. The celebrant's chair is at the right, and benches for servers and concelebrants line the rear wall.
I arrived at about 9:50 AM and selected a place at the center of a pew in the middle left section. The organist began to play soft organ music as a prelude, so I was able to relax a bit after I copied the hymns from the hymn board. By the time the Mass started, the church was probably about three-quarters full. The cantor began by announcing the opening hymn, "This is the Day." She also read an announcement or two before the hymn started. By this time, I noticed a woman at the right of the sanctuary signing the Mass for those with hearing impairments; this was sort of a surprise, as I thought I was aware of all such Masses in the diocese. Five lay ministers of Holy Communion, including a nun in a habit, the reader, and the priest formed the entrance procession through the center aisle. We sang all three verses of the hymn. Immediately after the opening greeting, the priest called all children aged four to seven forward to bless them and to be led by one of their number (and several adults) downstairs for a children's Liturgy of the Word. The penitential rite followed; the Gloria was recited. Somewhere around this point I noticed that a server had appeared on one of the benches; he must have been late, as I don't recall seeing him before that, and I saw no sign of the processional cross.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading. I presume it was from the new Lectionary; the pews were stocked only with GIA's RitualSong hymnal from 1996. I saw some people with OCP's Today's Missal book, so maybe that was in racks by the doors, or perhaps some people have purchased individual subscriptions to be mailed to their homes. The cantor then led Psalm 81, sung to a piano accompaniment. After the reader gave the second reading, the cantor led a folksy Alleluia, also to piano accompaniment. (After that, the piano was not used.)
The priest read the long form of the Gospel and then gave a decent homily in which he first noted that the point was not to take our responsibility to attend Mass lightly but also said that he wished that people would see Mass attendance as more than an obligation. Rather, we should attend Mass as an act of love for our Savior who redeemed us on the Cross. He then gave a brief history of the Mass, saying that the first Christians attended what we would call the Liturgy of the Word at a temple on Saturday; they would then gather elsewhere on Sunday for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After the Christians got away from Judaism, the two services were combined into what we now know as the Mass. The end of the homily was a brief exhortation on the approaching season of Lent; the priest noted that we might do small things such as arriving on time for Mass and not leaving early, and that attendance at daily Mass was the best thing we could do for Lent. He also said that we should not wait until halfway into Lent to decide what we might do but instead take a few days now to think about it. Further, we not only have to "give up" things but also do other good things instead.
Before the Creed was recited, the five RCIA candidates were called forward and given a blessing by the priest; we then sang a bit of a blessing verse as they made their way towards the door. The Prayer of the Faithful was recited in the usual manner, with the cantor leading the invocations from the cantor's lectern. Then a collection was taken using wicker baskets with no handles; they were passed across the pews according to the instruction the advance scout noted in the usher's room in week 62. About halfway through the collection, we began the hymn "I Danced in the Morning." The ciboriums were of metal, but the chalice was of glass; a glass flagon was also used for additional wine.
After the gifts were prepared, a new wrinkle was added; the children who had been dismissed earlier found their way back into the church, and they were instructed to gather in front of the sanctuary, facing the congregation. They were followed by a gentleman wielding a guitar; after some fidgeting, they sang a short hymn that began, "Jesus, Jesus in the Morning..." Upon the completion of this song, they received a round of applause.
I believe that the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Community Mass, although I'm least certain of the Agnus Dei. (We've used the setting at my own parish, but I'm just not 100% sure of its identity.) The priest used one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.
We recited the Our Father, and I saw quite a few folks joining hands, but the practice was not universally accepted. Considerable space was found on either side of me, so I was not in any serious danger. The five lay ministers assisted the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion; they were given the Precious Body by the priest but left to fend for themselves to receive the Precious Blood. Two stations were located at the center, and two were located on the far side aisles by the walls; two more stations for the chalice were located near the aisles with the columns, midway between the other stations. The Communion hymn was "You Are Mine."
Immediately after the nun returned the ciboriums to the tabernacle, the priest gave the Prayer After Communion, mentioned that refreshments were available afterwards for a CCD group, and then imparted a simple blessing. He and the server left alone via the center aisle to the closing hymn, "Sing A New Song." Some people left immediately; about a quarter left before the third verse of the hymn was complete; but most remained until the end.