Today's visit was to a non-territorial Italian parish located a half an hour's drive from here. I figured that perhaps I'd meet a nice young Italian lady, but I had no luck, so I guess they all must attend Mass at the Polish parish up the road. For the casual reader, "non-territorial" simply means that the parish has no physical boundaries, as do most parishes. The intent is that any Italian can register there and be a member of the parish. In practice these days, most parishes do not enforce their boundaries and will accept anyone who chooses to register, but a pastor could conceivably refuse someone outside the parish boundaries.
The building's cornerstone (1937) was kind of high on the wall and stared me straight in the eye, so I was unable to forget to look for it this week. The structure has a medieval look with a dark stone facade and a small steeple off to the right. The front steps ascend about half a floor to the main entrance. Inside, the church has a bright, airy look with lots of marble. Unlike many bright churches, this one didn't look sterile; somehow, it was done well. It's not a particularly large church, with a simple layout of two sections of wooden pews separated by a center aisle and flanked by side aisles. Each row holds about eight people comfortably. The ceiling is peaked, with some trusswork evident but not too obvious. The tabernacle is in the traditional location, the altar appears to be permanent, and the altar rail must have been removed. The ambo remains in the old location, but the presider's chair must have been moved and is now between the ambo and the altar.
The small sanctuary has kind of a domed shape, with a large painting of the crucifixion over the tabernacle. It depicts Mary and John standing at the foot of the cross, much like the crucifix that hangs over the sanctuary at my cathedral (one I like even though it's a bit abstract). I looked at the painting for a time and realized that something is missing-- namely, the two thieves who were crucified alongside Christ. I don't know what the artist was trying to say by that, but I find it a bit curious. Certainly it isn't historically correct, although that may not be necessary in every case. A statue of Jesus stands over the tabernacle, and two life-sized statues of angels are found on either side. (Actually, I guess nobody really knows how big an angel is, but they were the size of adult human beings. In fact, angels are spirits... oh, never mind...)
I decided to attend the 10:15 AM Mass. I arrived around 10 AM, but the 9 AM Italian Mass was not yet finished, so I had to wait outside. I believe I heard "All the Earth" sung in Italian as the closing hymn of that Mass-- at least I thought I recognized the tune. (I don't know enough Italian to have recognized the words.) The Mass schedule (7:45, 9:00, 10:15, 11:30) at this parish is rather tight, with only an hour and a quarter allotted for each Mass; actually, an hour and a half is more comfortable and leaves more time for people to arrive a bit early and prepare better for Mass without creating traffic problems in the parking lot. Unless a different schedule is used, Christmas Day, Passion Sunday, and Easter Sunday must be close to chaos.
Last week, we saw lots of robes; this week, it was blazers. The ushers and lay ministers of Communion all wore maroon blazers with a patch with the parish logo. I like the idea of a blazer better than robes for lay ministers; it better separates them from ordained clergy while solving the problem of insuring that they're appropriately dressed. Also, unlike last week, they sat in the front pew rather than in the sanctuary. The blazers help the ushers too; it gives them a professional look.
The announcements were read before the Mass started. One interesting announcement asked anyone who had palms from last year to bring them next week for burning for Ash Wednesday. I always read that ashes came from palms, but I never heard any announcement like this one and figured that leftover palms were stored the ten months somewhere at the church.
The opening hymn (in the Breaking Bread hymnal, as were all the hymns) was "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name." I found that unusual; usually, I see that as a recessional hymn, particularly with its resounding refrain. I'll take it, though, since it's one I always liked, even as a child. A small choir of about half a dozen people served from the choir loft in the traditional location. Two altar servers accompanied the priest and the lay ministers through the center aisle. Form C of the penitential rite was used, but the Gloria was omitted entirely. (Lent is coming, to be sure, but as they say in the Army, "Wait for it...")
A Cub Scout in uniform stepped forward to handle the readings and did a reasonable job from what appeared to be the new Lectionary. I don't usually see youngsters reading at Sunday Mass, but often when schoolchildren are attending daily Mass at my parish, one will be assigned to read. Actually, they have as much business as any other non-installed lay person to serve in this capacity, I suppose, and it may not be a bad thing for a responsible young person. The psalm, sung by the cantor, was the one from the day but the response was somewhat different from the one in the Paluch missalette (and kind of long and hard to remember).
After the priest read the Gospel, another priest-- who must be the pastor-- stepped forward to give a talk on the Bishop's Annual Appeal, so we really didn't get a homily. I was not surprised as pledge cards and pencils were in the pews. He gave a rather dry talk, listing all the activities funded by the diocese, and ended by quoting his two favorite verses from Scripture. He has an accent, so I didn't quite get the first one, but the second is "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers..." After he finished, he took a white basket and began to walk around the church personally collecting the pledge cards and warmly thanking those who pledged as the organist struck up "Whatsoever You Do" on the organ. I was very briefly tempted to offer a card so as not to be embarrassed, but then I realized that I would be effectively transferring my parish membership and just sat quietly as the pastor passed me (I was right on the aisle). Fortunately, I was not the only person from out of town; many other people did not submit cards either. After all this, no time remained for the Creed in the hour and a quarter available, so it too was omitted.
The offertory hymn was "We Have Been Told." Two collections were taken, one immediately following the other; the second was to pay the parish's assessment for the diocesan newspaper, which the bishop requires to be sent to every registered family. (Taking that collection the same day as the talk for the Bishop's Annual Appeal may raise some legitimate questions in people's minds.)
The priest's chalice was traditional metal, but plain glass serving cups were used. The third Eucharistic Prayer was used, and the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei all came from Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation. The priest took a moment just before the "concluding doxology" to add some sort of introduction to the Great Amen. He also has an accent, so I'm not sure exactly what he said, but it seemed to have to do with the great importance of that "Amen." The Our Father was sung as well.
The Communion hymn was "Flow, River, Flow." Three (I think) lay ministers assisted with distribution of Holy Communion in a fairly simple manner, with two stations at the center for each form. After the Prayer after Communion, a woman stepped forward with the Cub Scout to give a short explanation of something having to do with scouting, and he received a round of applause. The closing hymn was "Glory and Praise to Our God." Two verses were sung, but few waited for the end of the second verse to leave.
I usually don't leave through the main entrance, as the priest is usually there (ten points extra credit for anyone who knows why by now-- okay, I hear those shouts; I guess people are paying attention), but I wasn't sure of the other exits, so I changed my usual practice and left that way along with everyone else, stopping in the vestibule to shake the priest's hand as I left. Outside, the pastor had more pledge cards and was handing them to folks as they left. I don't think I saw him distributing Holy Communion, though. (I was sure when I left, but in retrospect, I'm not positive now.)
All in all, this Mass was decent and could have been a whole lot worse. I just get concerned that so many things (stewardship, Renew 2000, bishop's appeal, mission talks, etc.) seem to be getting in the way of the homily, which is required at Sunday Mass by canon law, and the Gloria and Creed shouldn't be seen as expendable at Sunday Mass.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, they're still asking us to introduce ourselves to one another before Mass in my own parish. My father, who is an extrovert, is now growing weary of this. At first, he didn't mind too much, but he says that it's making more enemies than friends, and people are sitting further and further apart. My mother claims that Mass attendance is down; I jokingly tell her, "Sure, they're all hopscotching around the diocese like me." Maybe I should charter some buses and start tour groups!