Regular readers will recall that the last two parish visits were somewhat disappointing. I imagine that this hurts the reader as much as the writer; we all hope for something pleasant and encouraging. In order to make an effort to do better this week, I thought long and hard about what might have caused the difficulties and plugged the key variables into the old Univac Electronic Brain, as Wile E. Coyote did in the 1956 Warner Brothers short To Hare Is Human. A scapegoat must be found.
After several minutes of grinding noises and flickering lights, the answer emerged on a slip of paper. The answer, of course, is the car! It must be the car; what else? I should have realized this much sooner, but it's never too late. I left the car home, then, on this picture-perfect day and walked an hour and a quarter to catch a bus that took me half an hour further to a parish in an old downtown area. Because the bus was ten minutes late, I missed the 10 AM Mass I had planned to attend and instead returned for the following Mass at 11:15 AM. I guess that's the one that God wanted me to attend anyway, and it was worth the inconvenience (although I could see that the 10 was good too.)
The church is a "T" style layout, with two sets of traditional wooden pews in the main section, divided by a center aisle and lined by side aisles, and individual wooden upholstered seats in the side sections. The front rows are for handicapped people and bear the international symbol for the disabled. I forgot to check the cornerstone again, but hat hooks (one fellow hung his bulletin from the hat hook) and the general architecture lead me to suspect a building of the first half of this century. The altar has been pulled forward, and the tabernacle is in a glass-enclosed chapel (with large glass doors left open during the Mass) to the rear of the right side section. The original domed sanctuary is now behind a large wall in front of which is the presider's chair. The stained glass windows are mostly abstract but some have portraits of the apostles and saints. The original choir loft, with a spiral staircase, remains but was unused at this Mass; the choir sat behind the organ, now located to the left of the altar. The ambo is to the left of the altar but behind it. The red, curved ceiling is rather high, and columns fall right into the pews (preventing free movement across those rows). A large, red crucifix depicting the risen Lord hangs over the altar; it is slightly reminiscent of the one in our cathedral (although that is a more traditional depiction of the crucified Christ with Mary and St. John beneath Him).
As I waited, I saw the hymn boards and decided to try to be smart again and write the names of the hymns on a scrap of paper. After I finished this, however, a small sheet was distributed by the ushers; it contained a program for the Mass, and it listed everything so I can be particularly detailed today. (It also indicated that the second of the three hymns posted would not be used. Next week, I'll probably write the date on the cornerstone and hear an announcement at the Mass saying, "The date on our cornerstone is wrong; it should read...")
Before the Mass, a choir emerged and took its place as mentioned. Each choirster was wearing a white robe and a cross hung around the neck. The organist wore a white altar server's robe with a Roman collar and, after everyone was in place, motioned for the choir to sit. The organ prelude was the offertoire from the Mass for the Converts by Francois Couperin. The reader stepped forward and read several announcements and introduced the priest (who is the pastor). Then four servers, the two lay ministers of Holy Communion, and the priest passed through the center aisle to the opening hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives."
The Confiteor was recited, followed by the Gloria, which was sung to the "New Plainsong" tune found in the Worship III missal. (The GIA Glory and Praise hymnals are also in the pews but were not used today.) The choir appeared to perform this mostly on its own, and since I wasn't really familiar with it I didn't make much effort to join myself until the end. The readings came from the old Lectionary, as they matched those in the old Worship book, and the reader served capably. The response to the psalm was sung by a female voice from the choir along with the organ, and the verses were sung a cappello by the entire choir (an interesting effect I don't see often). The Alleluia is listed as "Chant Mode VI" from Worship.
At the Gospel, the four servers (one a cross-bearer) came and stood facing the altar. One of them was carrying a book which I thought to be the Book of Gospels, and I figured that it would be brought to the ambo in procession (as I have seen), but instead she held it before the altar for the entire Gospel, and the priest, who read well, used a different book for his reading as the servers remained standing before the altar. After the Gospel, the servers returned to their places.
The priest's homily started with the notion of "knowing Jesus," but then wandered somewhat from the day's readings, although it wasn't really bad. A fellow once asked the priest, "What is the greatest gift you have ever received?" He replied, "My baptism." The fellow said, "I don't feel that way about my baptism," to which the priest replied, "That's your problem." He then talked about his niece in Littleton, Colorado, who wanted to know why God "did that," but he reminded her that God does not "do" things such as that; he allows others in their free will to do them. He lamented that college students today can graduate without taking courses in philosophy, and said that he had to take three such courses at St. John's University over 46 years ago before being ordained. He closed by making an observation "because they can't do anything to me now"-- that priests who left the priesthood did so because of a lack of faith and a weak prayer life. They lost the gift that was given to them because they failed to nurture it. He stated that we can work wonders through a life of prayer.
The Creed was recited, followed by a standard Prayer of the Faithful. The choir sang by itself as the gifts were brought forward; the program has the entire text of an unnamed Charles Wesley composition beginning, "Christ, whose glory fills the skies." The arrangement is credited to Philip Ledger. A collection was taken at this time using long-handled baskets.
The Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei all came from the "Community Mass" setting. The priest used the second Eucharistic Prayer. An oddity at this Mass is that owing to the seats in the side sections, which apparently did not have kneelers, most of those in the side sections stood throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, while those in the main section kneeled, and the choir sat. The Our Father was sung to the most common setting without any undue entanglements.
At Communion, an additional priest appeared to assist in distribution; at the same time, the lay ministers retrieved additional Hosts from the tabernacle. The cup was not offered. The side sections had their own ministers, and the stations for the two main sections were on the side aisles, so we approached via the side aisles and returned via the center aisle. The Communion hymn was "Eat This Bread." (Apparently, according to the hymn board, at the other Masses it was "The Strife Is O'er.") After Holy Communion, the choir sung a hymn labeled "Motet" by Hans Leo Hassler. Although the organist assisted, much of this was also a cappello. I guess that's part of this choir's style, and I kind of like it. The program shows a verse in Latin and a verse in English; I don't recall if both were sung, but it's quite possible. (They may not have exaggerated enough for me to notice.)
Following the Prayer After Communion, when everyone stood, the priest paused to share some good news. He once studied and served in Kentucky and developed an interest in the Kentucky Derby (even attending it in 1957 and 1958). The horse he selected yesterday, "Charismatic," won at 30-1. He selected it, as he said, "because I'm Catholic." He didn't say if he actually bet it or how much he won, but I hope he did well; he seems to be a straight shooter, and it shows in the liturgy at his parish, with minor exceptions. The closing hymn was "Sing With All The Saints In Glory." (The program was wrong about this; it shows "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" again. The hymn board was correct, though.) The organ postlude was "Fantasia in G Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach.
This was pretty good; I think the Univac pointed me in the right direction, with a bit of help from God, who made sure I got to the best Mass of the day at this parish by delaying the bus. I would not have gone as late as 11:15 AM on my own. Fortunately, God doesn't always leave us to our own devices.