Once again, the weather was extremely favorable for a trip minus the internal combustion engine, so I set forth at about 10:25 AM on foot and walked twenty minutes to the local railroad station, making the train just in time for an 18-minute ride that left me twenty-five minutes to walk to one of the larger churches in the diocese. I managed to arrive with a minute or two to spare for the 11:30 AM Mass, which is listed as a "choir" Mass. That struck a warm note in my heart, so I was eagerly hoping that this would be a really good choir.
The building, which has the date "1963" inscribed on the wall by the main entrance, is large enough that the choir loft alone is almost as large as a small church. From the extra-high, peaked roof to the huge sanctuary and long, long altar, everything about this church says, "big." This building definitely gives a sense of connection to the infinite spaces of the heavens. It is not particularly ornate, but it is not nearly as barren as other buildings of its time. The large, traditional, stained-glass windows depict scenes from the life of the patron saint of the parish, including some penances she undertook that would make us rather uncomfortable these days. This is a good example of sacred art being able to teach us something we need to learn these days, when we wince at the slightest penances, and in fact think that penance (even in the general sense) is something of the past, even though Jesus explicitly told the disciples to preach "penance for the remission of sins."
The wooden pews are arranged in eight sections; the side sections are very short, obviously designed for a family of a mother, father, and two children. The middle sections are somewhat longer and probably hold about ten to twelve people comfortably. A break is about halfway back, and side aisles are also present. A large baptismal font is at the front right, near the side altar of St. Joseph (the side altar of the Blessed Mother is, of course, at the left). Racks in the pews hold the usual combination of OCP's Today's Missal and Music Issue in a blue, plastic binder.
The square, metal tabernacle is in the traditional location at the center of the sanctuary underneath a huge, round canopy of dark wood but with blue on the underside at the top. More tall, narrow stained-glass windows are on either side of the sanctuary. The freestanding marble altar is raised rather high; the celebrant's chair is directly in front of it. The huge wooden ambo is at the right, against the right wall; an absolutely identical cantor's lectern is at the left, against the left wall.
The cantor, who, like the choir of about a dozen people or so, was dressed in a red robe with a light green "V"-type trimming, went to the lectern and introduced the opening hymn, "For the Fruits of This Creation." I must confess to not having paid too close attention to the opening procession and don't recall if the lay ministers participated, but I'm sure the two servers, reader, deacon, and priest passed through the center aisle. The choir led the singing of the Kyrie in English without any invocations; the Gloria was also sung, although I am not familiar with the setting.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading as it appeared in the missalette. The cantor led the psalm for the day from the lectern, and then the reader gave the second reading. Each reading was followed by a brief but noticeable pause. After the cantor led the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel, the deacon slowly and solemnly carried the Book of Gospels to the ambo before proclaiming the short form of the Gospel. It differed from that in the missalette, so I presume that he was using an old Book of Gospels. As for using the short form, I have to say that I can understand that, since the omitted part (dealing with becoming like children) seems disconnected from the rest of the Gospel (dealing with the sanctity of marriage).
The priest, just ordained last spring, gave a rather good homily that started as though it would be a talk on priestly vocations, until he observed that perhaps the biggest reason for the shortage of priests and religious is that we have just as dire a shortage of quality vocations to married life. He struck a chord with me there-- if we don't have strong, committed Catholic families, from where are all those priests going to come? If the soil is barren, not fertilized, and not watered, how can we be surprised when we have no harvest? He then noted that Catholic families dissolve at the same rate as other families and pondered several reasons why this might be so, concluding that it is most likely a blatant disrespect for God's law on marriage given in today's Gospel. (He also mentioned what I think is the number one reason-- poor choice of spouse-- but he didn't think that is as important as I do, that is to say, perhaps 90% or more.) In any case, he was straight about it and minced no words, being sure to reinforce what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage being adultery, and he made no attempt to minimize or gloss over the importance of what Jesus was teaching. Once again, I see strong faith in our young priests, and they give us great hope for what lies ahead for the Church.
We recited the Creed; as I raised my head after bowing for "by the power of the Holy Spirit..." I caught the priest and deacon (but no one else) on the upswing as well. Just what is it about these young priests? Have faith, folks. God has not abandoned His Church. The Prayer of the Faithful was recited with the intentions led by the reader from the ambo. She then read a few announcements as the collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The choir sang a hymn on its own during this time, although I was unable to ascertain what hymn it was. As much as I love traditional choirs, I do wish they would exaggerate more so that I could understand the words a bit better. During the preparation of the gifts, the priest incensed the altar; however, since the church is just so huge, I don't think I was actually able to notice the scent, even though I was only about ten or fifteen rows back. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal, but a glass flagon was used for additional wine, and empty glass serving chalices remained on the altar throughout the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei were from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the first Eucharistic Prayer, including the entire canon of saints. He was very careful to maintain the correct posture at all times. The server sounded bells at the consecration, continuing to ring them the entire time the Host and chalice were elevated (about ten seconds each). We chanted the Our Father without accompaniment to the most common setting; only a few people joined hands. (The church was about half full, but it probably didn't matter.)
At Holy Communion, twelve lay ministers assisted the priest and deacon in the distribution. Rather than approaching the sanctuary as a group, they just seemed to wander toward the altar individually in such as way that one would think, "will this never end?" An unusual practice found here is that the choir not only had its own minister of the Precious Body but one for the Precious Blood as well. (In many places, the choir actually has to descend from the loft to receive.) Four stations each for the Precious Body were located across the front and break, with the stations for the side sections along the walls and the stations for the middle sections at the center; the returning lines shared a minister of the chalice. Another oddity is that the cantor received last; in addition, he received from the chalice first. I don't know if I ever saw anyone do that before. The Communion hymn was "One Bread, One Body."
After Communion, several of the lay ministers informally approached the altar to receive pyxs from the priest. To conclude, the priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a simple blessing. The final procession was so fast that I did not see where it ended, although the front left is a good possibility, as that is where most of the parking is located. The closing hymn was "Blessed by Your Sacrifice." The cantor and choir and I sang all three verses, but most people started to leave after the first verse. Even though I remained, I was able to return to the railroad station in time for the next train home, so God does sometimes have mercy on those who try to do His will, and we don't always have to suffer for it. (The next train was an hour later.)
On the other hand, despite my carrying the church bulletin in my hand the whole way home, no nice young Catholic ladies spotted it and tried to start a conversation, and despite carrying my radio playing nice Italian music the whole way home, no nice young Italian Catholic ladies took notice and said, "Say, what nice Italian music-- how about we find a nice Italian restaurant and have lunch?"