Week 21

Fourth Sunday of Lent

The weather this morning was beautiful, and a parish within walking distance had an 8:00 AM Mass, so I set the alarm for 6:30 and journeyed there on foot. My estimate of the time needed to get there was slightly optimistic, so I arrived just in time for the opening procession.

By the time I got there, I was thinking only of not being too late, so I failed to look for the cornerstone, but the building likely dates from the 1940's or 1950's. The church is somewhat small, with a rather conventional seating arrangement of two sets of wooden pews with side aisles and a center aisle. The tabernacle was moved to the side altar on the left, and half of about four or five rows of pews on the left were removed to make way for a large baptismal font. The sanctuary may have been pulled forward, but it's not too obvious; if that was done, entire rows were removed in the front, not leaving traces such as short rows of pews at right angles to the rest. A life-sized traditional crucifix hangs on the rear wall; behind that wall is a sacristy. The ambo is rather modest. The simple wooden altar was bare except for a strip of violet cloth hanging over the front; I saw no sign of anything that looked like an original altar.

The lower portion of the walls is dark wood, and the upper portion is painted white and holds square stained glass windows. The raised ceiling is dark wood, which makes the matching trusswork less noticeable. A choir loft remains, but a set of chairs on the front right is obviously intended for a choir or folk group. (At my parish, the folk group sings from the sanctuary, but the choir sings from the loft, so both could be used.) On an easel at the side altar to the right is a picture of one of the parish priests, who is currently serving in the Persian Gulf. Prayers would later be offered for his safe return.

Three servers accompanied the priest, reader, and four lay ministers in the procession down the center aisle. The servers took places in the front row. I hadn't yet collected my bearings, but I think the opening hymn was "Hold Us in Your Mercy, Lord." (It could have been just a chant with invocations by the cantor; I'm not certain.) The priest asked us to kneel for the penitential rite, which was the Kyrie, with the invocations led by the cantor and the responses in Greek. After this, the cantor left the sanctuary and apparently served from the choir loft the remainder of the Mass.

The readings matched those in the Paluch missalettes-- but those now have the readings from the new Lectionary, according to the copyright dates given in the fine print on the back cover (1970, 1986, 1998 I believe). The reader seemed straight and did a good job. The psalm was sung but not the one for the day; instead, "Be with me Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me Lord, I cry," was used. (Perhaps that's a seasonal psalm.) The priest read the short form of the Gospel; some of it looked as though it could be omitted without harm, but the last paragraph or so is also omitted, including the lines, "If you were blind, there would be no sin in that. 'But we see,' you say, and your sin remains." I find those rather significant and wish they'd been included. (Of course, nothing stops any of us from going home afterward to review the entire passage-- or from studying it beforehand.)

The homily was okay. In it, the priest, speaking from one spot in the center of the sanctuary rather than from the ambo, started by mentioning Helen Keller and recalled an incident in her life in which someone helped her to experience something for the first time-- something she found very beautiful and moving. He then compared Helen Keller's experience to that of the blind man in the Gospel. After that, he basically reinforced the Gospel message as well as that of the first reading and did a reasonable job.

After the Creed and a standard set of general intercessions, a collection was taken using long-handled baskets. The organist played "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" as interlude music without singing as the servers prepared the altar. The Sanctus was sung in a familiar English setting that I am unable to name. (I wish more parishes would print this information in the bulletin, as my parish does each week.) The first Eucharistic Prayer for a Mass of Reconciliation was used, and the Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen were sung to the same setting (I believe) as the Sanctus.

Following the recited Our Father and the sign of peace, the Agnus Dei was sung to the Latin setting that I know from my own parish. I'm beginning to think that rather than being dead, Latin is more like something that will not die despite the best efforts of many to eliminate it (much to their surprise). The little bits and pieces that are left may well sprout unexpectedly one day. Sometimes it's just a case of "absence makes the heart grow fonder"-- but the absence, as difficult as it is for many in the Church, has to come first. Even Jesus had to be dead for three days, and even He conceded that if He remained with us physically after the Resurrection, He could not send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Maybe something really good will come of the loss of Latin for these many years.

Four lay ministers and another priest assisted the celebrant in distributing Holy Communion. Four stations (two for each line) were located in the center aisle, and two ministers offered the cup off to the sides. The Communion hymn was "We Remember."

After Communion, the priest sat as he offered the Prayer After Communion; everyone else sat too. As in the last two weeks, I ask why it has to come before the announcements. I also wonder why, in a haphazard sampling of parishes, some of these oddities occur in bunches; until a few weeks ago, I had not encountered this problem, but then it happened three or four times. Then the reader went to the cantor's lectern and read a few brief announcements, including a notice of a funeral Mass at 9 AM on Wednesday, which also happens to be the time of a regular weekday Mass-- listed as a "multiple intention" Mass. Maybe the funeral Mass is downstairs?

Then everyone stood for a blessing (the one preceded by a short prayer, called the "Prayer over the People"). The closing hymn, in OCP's JourneySongs hymnal, was "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name." After the Mass, a member of the Holy Name Society (which was in attendance-- two or three rows in the front were reserved for the members) led the Holy Name pledge. Then the hour and fifteen minute walk home began (interrupted by a stop at a diner for a nice break-fast).

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