Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Today was another halfway-decent summer day, so I decided that it was finally time to visit a church that is open only in the summer. I took a 50-minute railroad ride and then walked about fifteen minutes to a ferry dock near the target church. After a half-hour ferry ride, during which I could see the steeple for the last half of the trip, and a five-minute walk through a summer resort area where no cars are allowed, I located the church.
I had heard about worship in this area, and I figured I'd land in a spartan meeting hall of some sort. I also expected far-out liturgy at the bargain; that is one reason why I never made much effort to attend Mass in this area. In doing research, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find a photograph of the church, which was utterly traditional in almost every aspect. I was further interested to see that the administrator is a priest who I know not to be the far-out type. Thus, with hopes raised for something not as bad as I had originally feared, and with a quick prayer before I entered, I approached the fairly small white building with a peaked roof and steeple. I saw no evidence of a cornerstone; the building, among summer bunglaows, is probably too modest for such a detail.
After opening a pair of aluminum screen doors-- the only significant concession to the relaxed character of the area-- I entered and took a place at the center of a wooden pew about five rows from the front left. Because the only door was in the rear, not too many people journeyed all the way to the front, which made me safe just in case the worst might happen. Near the door, I had found a one-sheet program/bulletin, which also impressed me, as does anything which suggests that someone is taking the Mass seriously. Flyers announced a concert in the church later in the week. Racks in the pews hold copies of GIA's Worship hymnal (third edition, old Lectionary, with readings, still in very good condition for such an old hymnal, hardcover notwithstanding).
The pews are divided into two sections and probably hold two or maybe three hundred people if fully packed; today may have seen a hundred or so at this 10:00 AM Mass. (The parish also has a Saturday afternoon Mass and an early Sunday morning Mass.) The domed, metal tabernacle is on the original marble altar (remembering that everything here has to be ferried across a bay makes this a bit more impressive) and bears an icon of the Lamb of God on the door. Over that is a small, traditional, metal crucifix, and at the peak of the sanctuary is a large, traditional stained-glass window depicting the Annunciation. Smaller double-hung abstract stained-glass windows are at the sides of the church. On either side of the sanctuary are the usual statues of Mary and Joseph, on very small side altars (they may even be too small to qualify as altars). A "temporary" wooden altar is at the center of the sanctuary, while an organ is at the right (and probably was always there as I saw no choir loft). Remnants of an altar rail are at either side of the sanctuary; this may have been a full rail originally. A single confessional with signs reading "screen" and "face-to-face" is at the front left.. A larger traditional crucifix showing a bloodied, suffering Chirst hangs on the rear wall. A battery of fans hanging from a ceiling showing dark wooden trusswork kept the church tolerably cool on this not excruciatingly-hot day.
Just before the Mass, the priest entered wearing shorts (like almost everyone else around these parts) but soon emerged wearing a stole and alb, which relieved another fear of mine. He sat in the celebrant's chair at the left for a few moments and then rose to announce the opening hymn, "Praise to the Lord," two verses of which we sang to organ accompaniment. The priest also served as cantor and lector and he had no altar servers, so I suppose an entrance "procession" might have looked a bit strange anyway. He used Form C of the penitential rite before leading us in the recitation of the Gloria.
The priest then went to the metal ambo at the right and gave the first reading, led the recitation of the responsorial psalm for the day, and gave the second reading. He led the singing of the Alleluia (with organ) but omitted the actual verse before the Gospel. After proclaiming the Gospel, he gave a homily of reasonable length, which he started by noting that the longer he spoke, the more he'd sweat (he had already wiped his brow a few times), but he had to give a good homily so that his students at the seminary would not be ashamed of him. He started by describing some of the depictions of Jesus at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC-- one shows Jesus rather stern-looking, in judgment, while another, more contemporary artist shows the Lord enjoying a good belly-laugh. The priest contrasted that with the image in today's readings, particularly the Gospel-- in which we see a Jesus who was moved with pity at the crowds without a shepherd. He also mentioned road signs reading "men working," sometimes replaced with what he termed more "politically correct" signs reading "people working," and which are sometimes also replaced by "Give 'em a brake," which he showed as a more compassionate way of saying the same thing. The conclusion was that we are called to be compassionate and merciful, like Jesus in today's Gospel.
We recited the Creed; I noted the priest's omission of "men" in "for us men and for our salvation." He's not the only one, but in the world of liturgical distractions, that one is low on the list though unnecessary nevertheless. The priest led the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful, and a collection was taken by four ushers using handleless wicker baskets. Instead of an offertory hymn, the organist played background music as the priest quietly prepared the gifts, which were presented by a what appeared to be a mother and her young son, who moved the table from the center aisle to the right front.
At the Orate Fratres, the congregation stood at what is now the correct point in the United States-- after the priest's invitation but before the response. We sang the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Great Amen to Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation setting. The priest offered one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Special Needs and Occasions, namely, the one with the theme "Jesus, Way to the Father." (III) Of course, even in this remote mission church, kneelers were present, and everyone kneeled for the consecration (another fear dashed).
We recited the Our Father and I could see no serious hand-joining, but almost no one was in front of me so it was hard to tell without being seriously distracted. We sang the Agnus Dei to David Isele's Holy Cross Mass setting. For Holy Communion, one lay minister assisted the priest in distribution; the chalice was not offered. Again, we had no hymn at Communion apart from whatever the organist was playing on her own.
After Communion, the priest reminded us about the concert, saying that he had invited some friends for dinner and was going to make them "sing for their supper." He imparted a simple blessing (I think, memory is starting to cloud) and announced the closing hymn, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." We sang one verse as the priest departed via the center aisle; almost everyone remained until the verse was complete. The priest greeted members of the congregation as they left, but I managed to slip past as one particularly needy congregant distracted him, so I was spared any awkward conversation for which I was unprepared.
Since the Mass was finished in about 32 minutes (assuming that it started on time), and the next ferry would not depart for almost 45 minutes, I walked around a bit before boarding the ferry. I passed an "interdenominational" church; I could hear laughter coming from within. No matter-- God was good to me today, so I just counted my blessings and rejoiced in His mercy.
A crew member on the ferry approached me to collect my ticket. She looked at me and then the otherwise empty bench I had all to myself. "You really have to believe in the haircut, you know, if you want to fill that seat," she shouted above the roar of the boat's engines. "You're making it look a week old."
"It is a week old!" I shouted back.
"See-- you just don't believe!"
"But it is-- ask my barber!"
"I don't know... you guys come in here every week and just don't get the message... no sense fighting with you."
* * * * * * * * * *
When I boarded the train home, the conductor approached with a sad look and began, "You know, you really have to believe..."
"Oh, will you stop!" I yelled in exasperation.