Today's parish is about a 15-minute drive from where I live. It would have made a nice walk (of an hour and a half) on a nicer day, but residual snow piles from last week made walking impractical today. The church is one of the smallest in the diocese, tucked neatly into a commercial strip on the main road in a small village, with the rectory immediately next door and the parish hall across the street alongside a small parking lot that holds perhaps 50 cars at most. Outside, the building is not particularly ornate; it is of white shingle with a peaked roof. Despite a diligent search, I could not locate a cornerstone, but my guess is that the building is pre-1950-- maybe even pre-1920.
Inside, the wooden pews are split into two sections by a center aisle, and side aisles are also available. The pews are very short; six across is even packing people kind of tightly. A large section in the rear has no pews and accomodates many standees. The traditional, stained-glass windows are rectangular and depict various saints. The sanctuary appears largely unchanged and has what looked like a wooden high altar underneath a traditional crucifix and a circular stained-glass window featuring a dove. A freestanding marble altar is at the center of the sanctuary; a small cantor's lectern is at the left, and a wooden ambo is at the right, both ahead of the altar. A choir loft is at the rear and was used today by a small folk group of no more than a dozen people. Racks in the pews hold large-type copies of Paluch's We Celebrate missalette.
I had assumed that the 10:30 AM Mass would be the choir Mass, but I was wrong and didn't even think to look for guitars; that is perhaps because guitarists rarely serve from the choir loft and are easily spotted as one enters. Besides, gathering information on each parish's Mass schedule is the advance scout's job anyway. I think I shall place a warning letter in his personnel folder. Fortunately, this was about as good as a folk Mass can get; in fact, it was a bit odd, as the rest of the Mass was much more traditional than average, and the guitars just seemed strange rather than offensive.
The Mass began like last week's Mass, with the sound of a bell. Two servers dressed in what looked a little like brown aprons over their cassocks, the reader, a lay minister of Holy Communion in a white robe with some red trimming, and the priest, dressed in an old-fashioned sleeveless vest (that probably has a special name) emerged from the adjacent sacristy and entered the sanctuary to the opening hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful," which had more of an organ sound to it than any of the other music, in which the guitar was dominant. None of the hymns was announced, and the church has no hymn board; this led me to wonder if I was expected to participate or simply let the folk group do the singing. I sang, but a bit more softly than usual. (Was I expected to rummage through the hymnal to find the hymn on my own?) I was familiar with the Christmas carols; that helped, I guess. The priest led the recitation of the Confiteor and the Gloria.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading as it appeared in the missalette. She also led the recitation of the psalm for the day and gave the second reading before yielding to the folk group for the Alleluia and verse before the Gospel.
The priest proclaimed the Gospel from the ambo and gave a homily that I can actually remember. It started with the recollection of his seminary days in Rome, where elderly priests of a religious order would always ask for the American students to bring them USA-made bourbon as a gift upon their return to Rome; the transportation of this involved considerable care and thought, but the priests would really appreciate the gift, and it was well-worthwhile. This was compared to the gifts of the Magi; to bring the things they brought involved considerable difficulty and risk. Also noted is that such gifts were probably completely useless to Mary and Joseph, but the thought is what mattered. The Magi gave totally and freely. Likewise, our attendance at Mass each week is our gift to God, even if we gain nothing from it. As we would not give a shirt to someone after cutting the sleeves from it to use as dustrags, our gift to God each week is flawed if we shave twenty minutes from the beginning of Mass and twenty minutes from the end of Mass for frivolous reasons.
We recited the Creed, and then the reader led the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets as the folk group sang the offertory hymn, "Angels We Have Heard on High." The chalice and ciborium were of metal. The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen were from the Mass of Creation. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer but was very careful to follow the rubrics closely, particularly as he recited the words of consecration. A server sounded bells at the consecration.
The Our Father was sung to a folk setting unfamiliar to me. I saw no evidence of hand-holding even though everyone was close enough to do so. The Agnus Dei was also sung to a setting unfamiliar to me. At Holy Communion, the lay minister went to the choir loft to distribute there (a bit before the final elevation) before joining the priest in the front. The servers held patens to prevent fallen particles from landing on the floor (although I noticed that they held them kind of low). The chalice was not offered. The Communion hymn was "We Three Kings."
A second collection was taken after Communion in the same manner as the first. The priest offered the Prayer after Communion and imparted a simple blessing before leaving via the center aisle. The folk group started a closing hymn that used the same "Alleluia" from before the Gospel as a refrain, but since it was not announced, I was unable to identify it or participate in it. Almost everyone else turned to leave immediately after the priest left the sanctuary.
Afterward, I visited three other parishes to collect bulletins; I had not been to either of the first two in almost a year and a half. In the first, something very unusual for me occurred. All the bulletins had been confiscated between Masses, so I was wandering around looking for a stray one when a woman asked if she could help me. In a stroke of genius that surprised me even as I said it, instead of using the tired saw, "oh, no, thanks," I actually said, "I'm just looking for a bulletin." Maybe it was anger and frustration beginning to swell in me, or maybe it is the dawn of a new era in my spirituality, or maybe I thought that I would look less suspicious if I was honest, or maybe I just blurted out my true feelings for a change instead of being careful and calculating as I usually am. In any case, the woman went to the sacristy and gave me two. The Mass schedule had indeed changed, too-- a Sunday morning Mass had been eliminated, and the Mass schedule is not posted anywhere on the grounds.
Now, for those thinking, "maybe he'll come to like guitars and hand-holding too," well-- a zebra can't change all his stripes and still be a zebra, now can he? Besides, I read in today's paper that one single man thinks that hand-holding is the "sexiest" thing going. We can't have that at Mass!