Ps 34:2-3, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Today I drove an hour and a half to a church in an Italian neighborhood in New York City. It bears a 1941 cornerstone and appears not to have seen any renovations in that time. Without planning, I landed there at about 10:35 AM and checked the bulletin to see when the next Mass would be. I had a choice of two Masses at 11:00 AM: Italian or English. Since I studied only a year of Italian in college, and what little I could remember of that is rusty and non-liturgical, I settled upon the English Mass. I also figured that I'd only get frustrated if a pretty Italian woman started trying to make converstaion with me in Italian.
The church is decidedly asymmetrical; it has four sections of wooden pews in the front of the nave, the rightmost of which abuts the wall (whereas the leftmost has an aisle along the wall-- a rather unusual combination). Copies of WLP's Word and Song are found in racks in the pews. The rear of the nave narrows to just two sections of pews. I saw two confessionals in the rear at the foot of a large choir loft. On the left wall is a large side altar. The original altar is beneath a huge domed canopy typical of its time, with four massive pillars. A small metal crucifix is affixed to the wall above the altar. A large, wooden, balcony-style ambo is at the left; a small cantor's lectern is slightly to the right and behind the ambo. The celebrant's chair is to the right of the altar. An unused hymn board is mounted on the wall to the left of the ambo. The original altar rail appeared to be intact. Various traditional stained-glass windows-- open today because, according to the bulletin, the air-conditioning failed permanently last week-- complete the picture.
The organist played some soft music for about ten minutes before Mass. The reader, a very young woman, welcomed us, read two announcements from the ambo, and then hurried to the side aisle to join the priest and an adult server in a surplice for the entrance procession. The cantor (possibly the organist doing double duty, as all I heard was a disembodied voice from the rear) asked us to join in the opening hymn, "Gather Us In." We sang three verses. The priest used Form C of the penitential rite without invocations. We recited the Gloria.
The reader ascended the steps of the ambo and gave the first reading. We sang the responsorial psalm for the day (which I notice is taken from Psalm 34, just as last week and partly like next week-- that raises my eyebrow a bit). The reader then gave the second reading and returned to her place in the front pew. We sang the Alleluia, and then the priest proclaimed the Gospel. His homily was short and easily summarized. When we go to a wedding reception, we have two purposes in mind: to eat and drink and to enjoy the company of other people. Those two purposes are also found in our celebration of Mass: we come to be nourished by Jesus in the Eucharist and we come to be in communion with God and those around us. He mentioned an old custom of which I never heard: the tabernacle, in addition to being the place of reservation of the Eucharist, also held a Bible to symbolize the twofold ways that God sustains us-- the Word and the Eucharist. I have to wonder why that custom was abandoned.
We recited the Creed, and then the reader gave the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful from the ambo. A collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The offertory hymn was "Sing of Mary;" again, we sang three verses. At the Orate Fratres, everyone stood after the people's response.
The musical setting used for the remainder of the Mass was the Mass of Creation. At this point, something strange happened to this priest, who looked reasonably straight throughout the Liturgy of the Word. He decided to roll his own Eucharistic Prayer and, after the Preface and Sanctus, dived straight into the words of consecration, which seemed correct and valid though obviously illicit in the absence of an approved Eucharistic Prayer. I tried to fit the rest of the prayer into an approved form I knew, but although all the principal parts of a proper Eucharistic Prayer seemed present, clearly the whole thing was off the cuff. I couldn't see if he was using the Missal at all, because I foolishly chose to sit in a location that placed a huge pillar between me and the altar; thus, my view was completely and irretrievably obstructed. I had this tremendous urge to write "Sacrosanctum Concilium #23" on a scrap of paper and drop it into a suggestion box if I saw one, but by the end of Mass I was just looking for the cornerstone and had largely forgotten about the departure from the universally approved itinerary.
The priest got back on track for the concluding doxology, but after the Our Father (no hand-holding as the church was at best half-full), he meandered off the beaten path again and added a Hail Mary and a Glory Be before returning to the approved liturgy with the "Deliver us, O Lord..." prayer. The Sign of Peace was short and dignified.
Seven lay ministers assisted the priest in distributing Holy Communion. Two stations for each form of Communion were in the front and two were in the rear. The Communion hymn was "I Am the Bread of Life." We sang three verses. The ciboriums and patens were of metal; the serving chalices were of clear glass.
A second collection for the replacement of the air conditioning system was taken after Communion in the same manner as the first. The priest offered the Prayer After Communion and imparted a simple blessing. The closing hymn was "Joyful, Joyful We Adore You." We sang two verses as the server, reader, and priest departed via the center aisle. About half the congregation left during the second verse. In front of me, two boys who chatted with each other quite a bit during the Mass actually remained past the end; this shows that just as no one is perfect, no one is entirely corrupt, either.
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