At dinner, the residents of the nursing home were gathered around the table in their wheelchairs, trading old war stories. They reached a point at which they were all reminiscing about their glory days, when they could walk and even run with the best of them. "When I was 40, man-- I used to play soccer with my kids-- and I'd beat 'em too!" "And I played basketball," chimed another, adding, "They called me "One-Shot Mike." "A third added, "I played tackle football with my kids and they were always the ones who walked off limping." Finally one grizzled old man decided to trump them all. "Guys," he began, "Let me tell you about the year I ran in the New York City Marathon."
"The Marathon?" they all shouted in unison after a gasp of silence. "You? This we have to hear."
"It was back in 2003. I remember it as if it were today. Nobody believed I could make it, so I prepared as best as I could. I started running, and I was in the lead and doing well. Then on the side of the road, this big church just stood almost in my path and I saw people going inside-- that meant that Mass was about to begin. I was so far ahead of everyone else and I was in such tip-top shape that I knew I had time to stop for Mass; what could be more important, anyway? I'd spot everyone else that hour and still beat them all. Surely the angels would carry me on their wings if I kept my priorities straight."
* * * * * *
I went inside and made it just in time for the 10:30 AM Mass. Despite the 1956 cornerstone, this building could easily pass for one ten years younger. It is basically a large auditorium with tall, abstract stained-glass windows and a peaked roof with dark, wooden arches as rafters. Small, square, grey plaques depict the Stations of the Cross. The light-stained, wooden pews are split into two sections and hold copies of OCP's Today's Missal along with a yellow leaflet that contains a selection of about 15 or 16 mostly modern hymns. The square tabernacle is at the right of the sanctuary and is covered by a white and green cloth. The altar is at the center; a wooden ambo is at the left; a small cantor's lectern is at the right. A larger-than-life figure of the risen Christ is affixed to the rear wall of the sanctuary; the cross behind Christ is broken and separated from Him, and He is looking toward heaven in the way we might imagine Him looking as He speaks in the Gospel according to John. A choir loft is over the narthex and the organ is still there.
Shortly after I arrived, the reader introduced the servers, lay ministers, the priest, and finally himself ("...and I'll be your lector for today"-- why does it just sound so much like a restaurant?) Then the cantor (who I believe was also the organist but from where I sat it was hard to tell) announced the first hymn, "God Has Made Us a Family," asking us to sing it "heartily." Like all the other hymns today, it was in the yellow leaflet. The servers, reader, and priest processed through the center aisle as we sang it. The priest, who is new to the parish, introduced himself and cracked some jokes before he led the intentions of Form C of the penitential rite, and then we sang the Gloria to what I believe is the Mass of Light setting by David Haas. It was credited to him in the leaflet but not named; a Google search of the refrain ("Sing glory to God!") and "Haas" produced the title.
The reader went to the ambo and gave the first reading, Wisdom 3:1-9. All Souls' Day allows for pages upon pages of different readings; the missalette includes one set but notes that many others are permissible. This reading, the psalm (sung by the cantor), and the second reading (Romans 6:3-9) were the ones in the missalette. We sang the Alleluia, and then the priest proclaimed a Gospel that was not the one in the missalette (John 11) but must have been one of the other options for the day.
The priest stepped away from the ambo (oh, no!) and called all the children forward and sat on the floor with them. He introduced his friend "Lamb Chop" (perhaps a puppet of some sort; hard to tell from where I was three rows from the rear) and recalled the song, "Mary Had a Little Lamb." He asked the children to sing "Jesus Had a Little Lamb" and explained that the way we become "white as snow" is to attend Mass and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as often as we can. When he was ready to conclude, he asked if the children wanted to sing the verse one more time, but many of them said "no," and a discussion ensued. (Perhaps they wanted to sing "Panus Angelicus" or some Gregorian chant instead.) One child said that she would sing it by herself if no one else would. Finally he convinced them that they should sing it one more time, and after that they were returned to their places.
Next, the pastor appeared and exchanged some wisecracks with the other priest before introducing a woman who would introduce two or three dozen students preparing for First Communion. It sounded as though she had rehearsed for reading the names of all those who died in the past year and had her script changed at the last minute; it seemed as though a minute passed after each child's name was solemnly announced and the child walked forward to receive a golden book as camera flashes lit the front of the church. After all the prospective communicants went forward, they received a round of applause (for what, I can't imagine-- they haven't even done anything yet).
We recited the Creed, and the reader went to the lectern to lead the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. We sang "Blest Are They" as the offertory hymn as a collection was taken using long-handled wicker baskets. The chalice and ciboriums were of metal. At the Orate Fratres, no one stood until after the congregation's response.
We sang the rest of the Mass to settings I am unable to identify. The priest offered the second Eucharistic Prayer. We recited the Our Father; I didn't see any hand-joining. Two lay ministers and another priest (not the pastor; I presume he became unavailable) assisted in the distribution of Holy Communion. The chalice was not offered. To my surprise, two stations were located on the side aisles; in a church of this layout, this is uncommon. We sang "Peace Be to You and Me" as the Communion hymn.
After Communion, the priest offered the closing prayer and then asked us for "one second more" so he could give a prayer of commendation for the dead; afterward, the cantor sang "Come to their Aid." The priest imparted a simple blessing and then departed via the center aisle behind the servers and prospective communicants but ahead of the reader as we sang "Wherever I Am, God Is." The cantor had asked us twice to remain until the end; most did remain until after two verses were complete.
* * * * * *
"After that, I jumped back into the Marathon and ran for a few more blocks-- but guess what I saw?" Another church! Now I knew I couldn't stay for another whole Mass, but I just had to have a peek inside. Then I ran a bit more, still figuring I could catch up, but I saw another steeple and just had to duck inside. This continued all through Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan; I'd run a few blocks, and almost right in my path was another church and I just couldn't stop myself from running off a bit to check it out."
"So did you ever catch up?"
"Sad to say, no. But I did finish."
"How long did it take you?"
"About a month, actually. There were just so many churches... but I would have won if it hadn't been for the churches. I just know it."
"You expect us to believe that rubbish?"
"Well-- do you have a better story?"
"As a matter of fact-- I was in the Boston Marathon one year and I was in the lead when I passed this really old basilica..."